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Saturday, December 16, 2017

On "Lesbian" Identity and the Cultural Construction of Sexual Orientation

I follow a page called Social Justice Ninja that posts comics.  There was one I screencapped a couple days ago that I've been cringing about ever since:

Frame 1: "You're not REALLY a lesbian! You date trans men, and that makes you BISEXUAL!"
Frame 2: "You're not REALLY a lesbian! You date trans women, and that makes you BISEXUAL!"
Frame 3: "There is NO SUCH THING as a lesbian! God created Adam and EVE!"
Frame 4: Can people please stop telling us how to define our sexual orientation?"  "Right?"
This comic is making a lot of trans men (including myself) really uncomfortable, and I wanted to talk about that... with my article on newbish queer tendencies as a suggested prerequisite text.

When I wrote that essay, one of the takeaways is that the language our community has historically used is extremely messy.  It was not long ago that most trans men started out in the butch lesbian community and were there for a very long time, and similarly, trans women regularly traveled through crossdressing and drag performance communities before transitioning.  While that by no means indicates that these identities should be conflated, we need to understand that finding resources for such things has historically been really damn difficult, and trans people do not spring from the womb understanding how we, as we get older, will be expected to describe ourselves.

Nowadays it's very common to find trans guys like myself who were never lesbian-identified, not just trans guys like me who have always been into men, but hetero trans guys who were able to see trans men outside of queer communities in a way they may not have been able to fifteen or twenty years ago.  And in some respects we kind of forgot that this was how our community originally developed, and we grow these really hard-line "if you call yourself a lesbian when you're dating a trans man you're transphobic bullshit" stances.

I used to have a hard-line stance like that.  I mostly dropped it because I eventually met a lot of lesbian-identified partners of trans men and realized that the issue is way, way more nuanced.

On a pedantic note, not everybody defines "lesbian" as exclusively attracted to women.  There are people who concurrently consider themselves lesbians in addition to "bisexual" or "pansexual" or some other mode of attraction that isn't monosexual (I don't have an opinion on it, as I am not a member of that community, but I do occasionally own "gay," and it is definitely a thing that happens).

We also ignore the many people who transition while in an already-existing relationship whose partners stay despite already-existing identities.  Is somebody who has called herself a lesbian for ten years, who has only been interested in women that whole time, somehow fundamentally changed if her partner transitions and she chooses not to leave him?  Women who have maintained lesbian identities also have occasionally fallen for cis men, and plenty of them are reluctant to stop using that terminology for themselves... but nobody looks at this and thinks she's misgendering her partner for it.  They might think other things, but not that she's misgendering him.

Finally, sexual orientation itself is something I think we get way too worked up about.  The idea that our attractions can be expressed in "I'm straight," "I'm gay," "I'm bi," "I'm a lesbian," "I'm pan," etc. is ludicrous... every single one of us is attracted to people based on hundreds of factors that are not gender and yet we have singled out this one that's supposed to define us and constructed the concept of "sexual orientation" around that.  Not only have we constructed this whole concept, when we deviate from whatever we've labeled ourselves as (whether by picking a different label or sticking with one that you've been attached to for ages that other people don't think applies) we're socially punished over it.

Because of all this, when it comes to lesbians dating trans men?  My opinion is pretty much "meh."  I choose not to expend that much energy on that sort of thing, because there's more to it than just "cis people being garbage."

So what about this makes me uncomfortable?  The framing of this is just terrible, as you have three scenarios that aren't even close to each other in terms of offensiveness being presented as if they're the same thing.  I think there are solid arguments both for and against allowing people to identify as lesbians while dating trans men... there are zero for saying women (cis or trans) cannot call themselves lesbians if they date trans women, and zero for saying homosexuality is wrong.  It's an apples and orange comparison that means absolutely nothing.

Anyway, that's enough soapboxing for the day.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Article On Newbish Queer Sensibilities I Wish I Could Read

I'm, well, not a young queer.  I'm not old enough to have experienced a lot of things older queer people have, like Stonewall or the AIDS crisis, but I have been out for almost fifteen years, long enough to have witnessed quite a few dramatic shifts in what constitutes appropriate language and praxis.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  So a while ago some friends and acquaintances who attended Northland college started posting something their professor posted on Salon, called "Has queer culture lost its edge?"  With a title like that, I always hope I'm going to find something I really resonate with, because I identify strongly with the frustration that comes from dealing with younger and newer queer people and more importantly how they enforce an ahistoric, super sanitized version of queerness.  But I'm always disappointed, because what we wind up getting is the queer version of "Are Millennials Killing The Beer Industry?" in which younger queer people are wrongfully accused of being "oversensitive" and talking derisively about how they're "triggered."  I wrote a really long Twitter thread on it in (it's a great thread, you should read it) which I talk about the super shitty parts of this article, but I keep going back to something I thought I tweeted but apparently didn't, which is this that I really, desperately want a piece to exist that talks about the sanitation of queerness... but without treating queer youth like they think they're fragile little victims.  You can read the thread in order to learn why I don't consider queer youth fragile.  This, instead, is the article I wish I could read.

Like I said, I'm not an old queer.  But I'm not a young queer either... I've been out for almost fifteen years at the time of this writing.  A lot can change in fifteen years... and it has.  If I talked today in the way I did in my late teens and early twenties I have no doubt people would brand me as irredeemably problematic, even though it would have been considered normal--or even preferred--when I was younger.  And had you told me at that age that when I would get into my thirties I would no longer feel comfortable calling myself a "tranny," I would have been really offended, because owning "tranny" was considered radical and inclusive by many trans communities at that time.  And no, it wasn't just trans men.

Back in my day, we used a lot of slurs as well as other words that weren't necessarily slurs but were definitely coarse.  We called ourselves "fags" or "dykes," we were "genderqueer" and "genderfuck," we used "tranny" and derivatives like "trannyfag," and practically nobody used singular "they," favoring neo-pronouns that twisted cis people's tongues into knots.  "Transgender" didn't just include trans men and women alongside nonbinary folks, but was a full spectrum including crossdressers and drag performers and all sorts of other people who Tumblr posts derisively call "cis" now whenever they say something Tumblr doesn't agree with.  The folks I knew who hated to be called "queer?"  It wasn't because it was a slur, or even because they were trying to be sensitive and inclusive to the much older people who hated that term, they just preferred different slurs, like my friends who hated being called "queer" because they hands-down preferred to be called "faggot."

And quite frankly, it was fantastic.  We were fucked up, messy, beautiful, sexy people... if admittedly very problematic in the way we chose to express that.  Gradually most of this terminology became sanitized and de-sexed, and entire identities were re-written, often by choice and personal growth but also often by the shame and force.  And people started applying this stuff retroactively, as if we all must have known back then that this was "bad" language and deliberately chose to use it anyway.

Suddenly it was a faux pas to call people "drag queens" or "transvestites" who had called themselves such their whole lives.  The blurred lines between these identities and historical trans women and the language people used were sharpened and binarized by people who weren't even born until after many of these people had already died, and so misconceptions wind up proliferating until you get some nineteen year old queer person performatively educating a history scholar for talking about drag queens at Stonewall or lecturing Kate Bornstein (who transitioned way back in the 1980s and has contributed to saving countless queer and trans people's lives) on her use of "tranny," a word few would have cared about as early as ten years ago.

This sort of attitude winds up burning contemporary queer and trans people a great deal, because not only are younger and newer queer people forcibly shoving the language and praxis escalator faster and faster, the internet has given us the unprecedented ability to harass and shun people for the most menial of sins, as well as people who continue to defend them.  And listen, it may sound gross, but shunning has its place... a very specific place, reserved for people who do actual harm to queer and trans people through their political activities combined with outsize money and power; think Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But most queer and trans people are not Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

As I put the finishing touches on this essay, a couple of days ago there was a trans woman who made a silly pun joke on Twitter.  It was since deleted and I don't want to contribute to the storm of call-outs, but it went something like:
"Remember, Christmas without HRT is just Cismas."
It's a clever wordplay joke, but also problematic in that it made a lot of pre-HRT and non-HRT trans folks uncomfortable.  After all, people aren't cis just because they don't have HRT.  But the response to this was ridiculous, with people throwing tweet after tweet at this woman.  There were some particularly egregious comments (like a trans man who called her joke "TERF-y," which is as offensive as it is nonsensical), but mostly a sea of people who felt it was their duty to expose this woman and call her out for her terrible crime.  A lot of people unfollowed her, making sure to be extremely performative about it.

Another particularly egregious and slightly older example was Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide due to her transphobic parents and a bigoted society.  This was a child who killed herself over transphobia and yet people--queer and trans people, not our enemies--saw it as necessary to root through her blog digging up dirt, declaring her "truscum" and somehow believing it was necessary to "expose" her for being anti-otherkin (in other words, she needed to be exposed for sharing an opinion with like 99% of the world).

When I think about oversensitivity in the queer and trans communities, it's this sort of thing I'm thinking about.  Not people demanding trigger warnings and other accommodations for their disabilities and challenges, nor people insisting they not be misgendered just because their outward appearance doesn't match what people expect their gender to look like, nor people creating a culture where they ask each other's pronouns and refuse to use ableist words even though they are ubiquitous, nor any of the other things whiny old queers like to call "oversensitive."

It's the looming methods of silencing and disposing of large swaths of our population in favor of an ahistorical, sanitized fantasy.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Four Weird Things I Forgot About Being Estrogen Dominant

Site housekeeping note:  Due to Patreon's change of policy--which forces patrons to pay fees on every single transaction without giving creators any option to pay it instead--I took down my Patreon creator account and refunded everyone.  You can still support me through the CashMe link in the sidebar.

In this whole personal journey back to estrogen dominance, there were a lot of things I expected to happen that didn't (I didn't lose a whole lot of physical strength--not yet, anyway--and my blood pressure didn't go down a whole lot, either) and some things I didn't expect to happen that did (tendency to cry a lot, virtually non-existent sex drive).

Then there were the things--the weird things--that I totally forgot were a thing from my pre-T days that came back with eerie familiarity.  This post is about those things.

A couple notes... I don't mean to imply in this essay that these are actually connected to estrogen, although a couple of them definitely are.  They're things that were true for me before going on testosterone and after going off of it, but not being on it.

I fantasize as if it were a long-running soap opera.

I fantasize about romance again, something I didn't really do a lot on testosterone.  It wasn't that I didn't want romance, but it wasn't like now where I might lay in bed for a half hour picturing a very vivid, long-running scenario that I picked up from the night before.  One with a plot.  On testosterone I liked romantic gestures because I was there and could experience them, but there was a weird disconnect there where I couldn't as easily replicate those feelings in fantasy format.

I remembered pre-testosterone having the same thing, where I was basically able to concoct these really long, intense storylines and backstories for the imaginary people I fantasized about rather than mentally fast forwarding to something graphic, and most importantly that intense need to get to that point (I wrote about that in-depth in a different essay, though).

There are random pains in my abdomen that do not feel alarming.

One time when I was still on testosterone I went to urgent care because I felt something that vaguely--but not quite--reminded me of uterine cramps.  It only happened once the entire time, and I was overcome with this fear that there was Something Wrong (the doctor, I now believe, thought I was trying to score a free hysterectomy).

After going off hormones, when the ovaries were starting to kick back into gear, but before I started bleeding again, I suddenly felt this super familiar feeling in my abdomen... not a sharp pain by any means, but a dull and persistent pain in the ovary region that isn't comfortable but somehow feels entirely normal.

I remembered pains, but I misremembered them as being only during my period... they certainly aren't, though, and show up at seemingly random times.

I'm super into boys.

This isn't something that is well known to be an estrogen effect (I know there are lots of homophobic creeps who think it is, but... no).  Actually, stereotypically speaking trans guys tend to be more into men when we go on testosterone (especially if we were straight before, which I wasn't), but I didn't specifically crave boys so much when I was on testosterone so much as people in general.

Way back when I still identified as gay, there was sort of an understanding on my part that I probably could be physically attracted to women but not emotionally; I determined before testosterone that that's actually kind of sexist and am happy to report that I didn't go back to it (I have a girlfriend so that would have been super embarrassing).  But the number of women I actively am interested in versus the number of men I am actively interested in has tipped from the roughly 45/55% it was on testosterone back to like 20/80% (with strictly nonbinary folks being kept out of the numbers because my attraction to them exists but varies wildly).  It's pretty much sat at that point ever since.

I'm better at hunting and shooting guns.

I am a deer hunter, and can say that my entire time on testosterone was basically a giant deer hunting dry spot, and target shooting was a mess for me.  I got my first deer pre-T, and then my next after going off it.

It was... baffling.  "How did I get this deer as a teenager?"  "How come I could hit targets so well when I was a girl?"  I had a reputation for being a really good shot, only missing deer because I wouldn't take shots I wasn't sure about.

Then I went on testosterone and it was like I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.  My brother blamed the gun... but I've shot the same gun since I was 15, so that didn't make any sense.

Back on estrogen, I'm suddenly better at shooting again... and I have no clue how that works.  It wasn't something I expected by any means.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why I'm Glad I Am A Girl Scout (NOT A Boy Scout)

Recently with the Boy Scouts' plan to admit girls, there have been a lot of opinions floating around.  The initial stuff I saw was all positive, like this is some great idea, with increasingly more people coming out to talk about why this isn't the progressive thing people think it is.  This is one genderqueer trans man's perspective.

When I was still a girl, like many other girls I was in the Girl Scouts.  I started at Brownie level and then went all the way up through being an adult scout, working for a Girl Scout camp for several years.  I was a fairly dedicated and serious adult scout, too, seeing a lot of shifts in the organization (local, national, and international alike), many of which I didn't like, but there was one thing that I was always happy about as an adult:  We were not the Boy Scouts.  We were not affiliated with them.  We were nothing like them.  I was not the only one with that sentiment... but I'll go into that later.

As a kid I didn't have that perception.  One of the problems with the Girl Scouts is that often the leaders of individual troops don't understand that we aren't the Boy Scouts or weren't whatever they wanted the Girl Scouts to be.  One leader, during a weeklong stay at our camp, complained about all our staff members (including me, over my hair, which she euphemistically criticized for being "short" when what she really meant was "looks like a lesbian").  My mother, when she was a leader, thought that it was a Catholic organization.  So if your childhood experiences do not match my adult experiences... I get it.

And as a boyish girl, I get the aversion many folks have to the Girl Scouts.  There was a point in my childhood Girl Scout experience when I was very involved in the Boy Scouts... or at least watching them.  My brothers were big time Boy Scouts, and as a little butch girl I was envious of the stuff they got to do, things I would come to understand very differently as an adult.  This was during one of the heydays of anti-queer and anti-atheist sentiment in that organization, and I would later learn that my brothers' leaders were teaching things like that "morally straight" in their Oath literally meant "heterosexual."  So although as a proto-transboy I was predictably envious of a group of people doing "boy things," there's no doubt that were I a Boy Scout as a child I would have been absolutely miserable and traumatized by it in a way that no pinewood derby win was going to heal.

So where was I... as a young child I was envious, but as a mid to late teen and throughout my adulthood I grew a strong attachment to the Girl Scouts, especially my Girl Scout camp that I went to every year.  It was a good week or two (depending on the program) of being able to experiment safely with expression when I was doing to be bullied the rest of the year for it, and it granted me opportunities to do stuff I never would have been able to do otherwise.  Even though it took up very little of my year, most of my major memories from childhood came from the Girl Scouts.

 The Girl Scouts was also where I met people like myself for the first time... when conservatives jaw on about how terrible the organization is, it's because it's loaded with progressive queer people.  I met my first other trans guy "in the wild" (that is, outside of explicitly queer space) through the Girl Scouts, in addition to a seemingly infinite supply of queer women.  It was also where I met my first other Pagan, and I was relieved to learn you weren't bound to a particular type of religion to belong (although the Girl Scout Promise mentions God, and I admittedly wish it didn't, it's now "God*" and you're perfectly entitled to omit or change it).

"Well that's all well and good," you may be saying, "but not everyone has to be a Girl Scout."  And I'd agree wholeheartedly.  I'd even openly state that there are some serious problems with the Girl Scouts.  I remember when they tried piquing interest by creating a bunch of very shallow, girly programs (cue picture of Steve Buscemi holding a skateboard).  They could have made something great and empowering for femme girls but wound up with a shitty limo ride to Claire's.  And I'd certainly love to see a real comparable attempt at a non-gendered scouting organization.

But the Boy Scouts--even one that allows girls--just isn't that.  And that opinion is informed heavily by my teen and adult experiences with the Boy Scouts.

See, again, as a proto-transboy type tomboy I was really envious of the Boy Scouts and hung out with them often, but also as a tomboy I was intent on being, you know, "one of the guys," and that can lead you to ignore a lot of bullshit.  Don't want to be some shrill harpy ruining people's fun, that's not being "one of the guys."  So I didn't interpret the things that were happening at these Boy Scout meeting events as clearly as I would later, when I was on a multi-camp visit as a teen Girl Scout.

I think that, at that age at least, I had never been sexually harassed so much in my goddamn life.  And there were literally no consequences for the boys who were doing it.

So there we were, ages 15-17, I think maybe eight of us?  And we're at this Boy Scout camp all excited to see what Boy Scout camps were like.  One of my experiences with the Girl Scouts is that the troops are very different from the camps.  It's hard to oversee troops because they're so flavored by the local culture, while camps have all these people coming to check in and make sure people aren't doing dipshit things like running them like an anti-queer and/or Catholic organization or singing a bunch of racist or misogynist songs (side note, according to a friend I'd meet at a disability-centered camp years later there's like one person charged with going camp to camp and eradicating their racist and misogynist songs, standards of course changing every year).  I assumed that the Boy Scouts was similar, and that the gross misogynist stuff that happened at my brothers' troop would be muted a bit by this being a particularly large and well organized camp.

And I was just super wrong.  As we walked through our tour, little boy after little boy would come over to feed us dirty pick-up lines, to which staff would just giggle as if it were cute.  We'd see the few women who worked at the camp get harassed coming out of the shower, complete with jokes about drilling holes in the walls, and there was basically no repast from this at all the entire time we were there.

Then we went to go eat in their mess hall, and I shit you not, they sit us all up on this stage with a table on it, like this space of honor up where everyone could gawk at us, as we got to hear these jerkwad boys giggle and be wildly inappropriate, with nobody saying anything about being respectful.  We were introduced with something like "You may notice there's something... huh huh... different about them" by one of the adult staff.  We all just sort of giggled and sunk into our chairs and didn't speak of that aspect of our trip again.

I'm not saying that Boy Scouts environments are necessarily like this, only that the shitty behavior that we normalize in boys that demeans women and girls and treats them like objects was super amplified and treated in such a "boys will be boys" manner that was fully and completely unchecked.  So I'd gone from this space that was very open and affirming of difference--where people could be openly queer and where disrespect wasn't treated as cuteness--to one where we were ogled and treated like objects.  At the very least, my experiences with the Girl Scouts have been immeasurably more positive than my experiences with the Boy Scouts, and it scares me to think that there are people who think taking girls out of the Girl Scouts and planting them in the Boy Scouts is feminist in any way.

Finally, I want to address some things about the whole neutrality argument.  I love the idea of a gender neutral, progressive scouting organization... but you're not going to get that from the Boy Scouts, for a number of reasons, whether by girls joining it en masse or by the patently offensive idea of merging the two organizations that people keep throwing around.

First of all, the Boy Scouts are still anti-queer (even if they are marginally less anti-queer than they were back then) and is still heavily controlled by religious conservatives.  Some people have argued (probably correctly) that allowing girls in is a targeted marketing effort... few churches and conservative groups recommend mass flight from the Boy Scouts, because the Boy Scouts aligns fine with their beliefs already, whereas there is always some boycott or "alternative" to the Girl Scouts proposed whenever they make a progressive change to the organization.  No longer obligated to serve God?  Told that you need to allow trans girls?  Working with Planned Parenthood?  Better join some conservative indoctrination farm like The Heritage Girls instead.

Again, people keep wanting to suggest merging the two organizations.  These people don't understand just how different the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts really are.  Either the Boy Scouts will wind up having to conform to the Girl Scouts' largely pro-queer and often progressive views (which cause them to lose a lot of the support they get from conservatives) or the Girl Scouts will have to conform to the anti-queer, anti-atheist environment of the Boy Scouts (which would quite frankly be a tragedy and would result in the Girl Scouts losing like half their staff).  So while I'd love to see a large, viable, comparable organization that's all gender, it's just not going to happen by merging these two particular organizations.  You'd be much better off starting a chapter of a smaller group, or making one up yourself based on local needs (there have been some great projects doing this, particularly those serving marginalized children).  You're not going to get the national and international structure of the major scouting organizations, but whether this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing will be subject to your children's needs.

Anyway, that's just my own drop into that hat.  I have no desire to treat the Boy Scouts as progressive over something like this, nor do I suggest you encourage girls to join the organization.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

You Are Not Your Testosterone Level

Back before I was on testosterone, I was running under a number of assumptions about myself that--although I tried not to say it out loud--I thought validated my transition.  I could reminisce forever about the things I thought validated my transition (I do have excellent spatial awareness) but I want to talk about one thing in particular:  Testosterone.

Before I ever got tested for my testosterone levels, I was running under the assumption that I had high testosterone for a woman... perhaps even immensely high.  Sure, not on testosterone high, but certainly above average for a woman.  My level?  It was... a touch higher than average.  Just a touch, like you could have accidentally bumped a gland wrong and had an extra tiny spritz of testosterone that day.  Not enough to justify my personal assumption that I was some testosterone-driven monster woman for whom transition to male was the obvious option.

I put it out of my mind, and eventually started really noticing the way we talk about testosterone not only in trans male communities but in other places as well.  We talk about testosterone like the level you have is a value judgment.

I mean, we say we don't.  We say things like, oh, "you're a man as soon as you say you are."  But there's still this anxiety related to testosterone levels.  Lots of conversations I've had devolved into people puffing up their chests bragging about their high pre-T testosterone levels, but my favorite is the people who think having an average male level of testosterone is bad.  "My testosterone level was only 600ng/dL today and my doctor says it's fine but IS IT REALLY FINE?!" somebody may ask, having probably stumbled on some obnoxious man health blog trying to get cis guys to buy its supplements.  And other trans guys step in to do some damage control because Aidan #12 thinks a level of 600ng/dL means he'll never get a moustache, but the same thing will happen with #13 next week.

(Clarification: There's nothing wrong with picking Aidan, obviously, speaking as a trans guy with a different but equally stereotypical trans guy name).

Testosterone fever has always been a thing in our communities, but the recent cis male obsession with testosterone levels that escaped from bodybuilder culture is making it a hell of a lot worse, aided by the sweep of advertising for Androgel and other testosterone supplements a few years ago.  As somebody in the wider paleo diet community it's getting hard to navigate past all the gross testosterone obsession, including people suggesting hormone replacement therapy in cis guys.  So you have these whole communities of mostly cis dudes who base their entire dietary and exercise lifestyle on the premise that they should let their bodies behave the way evolution pushed them to also insisting they need pharmaceutical HRT because... reasons?  Because they think having a testosterone level under four digits makes them sick?

Obviously testosterone replacement has its place (and one of my goals in life is to get trans guys who need it on it) but the undercurrent here is anxiety over men becoming "feminized," which is nine out of ten times a huge red flag that somebody is a homophobic and/or transphobic concern troll with large pockets of racism from people who equate low testosterone levels with low fertility and low fertility with "white genocide" and other fake concepts.  These are people who attach absurd, non-evidence-based ideas to testosterone levels, like that having lower levels of testosterone makes a man gay (it doesn't), makes him act in feminine roles (it doesn't), or makes him infertile (testosterone replacement actually makes this worse).

The thing is... you aren't your testosterone level.  People didn't even know about testosterone before less than a hundred years ago outside of some weird experiments injecting extracts of dog balls into themselves, so the idea that this is some yardstick of manliness is patently absurd.  You could have a testosterone level of 15ng/dL and it still doesn't mean anything about who you are.

So don't stress out about your testosterone level (whether you're on pharmaceutical HRT or not).  The number is not the goal, the goal is to get the physical changes you need and to get your levels to a place where you physically feel good.

If you feel good at 600ng/dL?  That's fantastic.  If it genuinely takes more?  That's fine, too.

And if you're like me and eventually feel fine at 80ng/dL?  That's also fine.  Don't let that number mess you up.  It doesn't mean as much as you think it does.

Friday, September 22, 2017

De-Graying the Moustache

First, in general updates, I've written scripts for I think three new videos (including one for cramp bark in my trans male herbal series and an addition to my genderqueer mysteries series), but have been going through a bit of a slump lately due to both personal stress (I lost my motivation to eat well as a side-effect of that DietBet fuckery, although to be fair I exercise a hell of a lot more) and general worldly anxiety (it's the end of September and it was almost a hundred degrees today in Wisconsin, so I'm having a lot of climate-change related angst).  Not that I owe anybody an explanation for anything, but I thought I'd mention anyway.  I'm also sick.  Yuck.

Outside of the stress and sickness there have been some pretty good things going on.  I'm starting to sew clothes (I'm making a cool long jacket with a fox pattern on it right now) and play around with fashion.  Two days ago I did something I've been considering for a long time but hadn't actually done.

I de-grayed my moustache.  With dye.

Now, I don't actually mind the gray of my facial hair at all.  I've had gray beard hairs since I started growing a beard (I hear that's an estrogen side effect but even at peak testosterone it was coming in that way!).  Plus, my girlfriend likes it  But the moustache is a different story, because although I'm certainly cute (in a baby bearish sort of way), the extent to which my moustache lacks color means that it's hard to see I even have one sometimes.  My moustache sort of washes into the rest of my face.

Moustache washed into face, complete with
wiry gray hairs on the chin.
So I went out and got some hair dye specifically made for facial hair.  I started with just the moustache, but decided in the end to do a little sideburn and beard too, although I left the gray on the chin as it was.  Basically anywhere I'd use eyebrow pencil (except for my eyebrows) I dyed a bit.  And I really like the result.

I mean, I styled it better and everything too, but still.
Keep in mind that when I want to look put together what I usually wound up doing was use eyebrow pencil and dark tinted moustache wax to get it to stick out.  The problem is when it's sunny or otherwise bright, you can see right through the moustache and fixate onto the eyebrow pencil on the skin, which kind of sucks, and moustache wax is its own pile of irritation.  My moustache is trained enough where I shouldn't have to wear moustache wax for an average day, but I wind up doing so because otherwise it's invisible.  This way I can use my homemade non-tinted wax and decide not to use it sometimes.

I think I left it in a touch too long.  I got a light brown color, but beard and moustache dye runs very dark and leaving it in too long makes it even darker.  It's toned down now so it doesn't look awkwardly black, and matches pretty well.

Oh, fun fact, I've been off of testosterone and back on my natural estrogen for well over a year now, and I'm still gaining new terminal hairs, something I didn't expect to happen anymore.  The old beard's still trying to fill in between the moustache and little pointy tips like the trooper it is.  I guess I shouldn't be super surprised by this as the women in my family also tend to gain more terminal hairs on their faces as they age, but it's like... the same rate I'd been gaining new ones before.  The point is, other than being a little more emotionally volatile and losing a chunk of sex drive going off estrogen changed less than I would have expected.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Warning About DietBet

Note:  This post may be triggering to folks who have eating disorders or certain addictions, particularly gambling addictions.  It contains very detailed descriptions of eating disorder like behavior I just came out of.

I'd written a few days ago an update about how I stopped using DietBet as a catalyst for losing weight, despite my former posts (and there are a lot of them) talking about this program quite cheerfully because for the first three or four DietBets I was losing weight very easily and with it making back the money I put into it.  It was rather an exciting thing to do for that couple months.  Then I hit... the plateau.

I don't know if I've hit a real plateau or if it's an issue of dietary creep (this is when you start eating more and more foods outside of your diet and exercising less and less, gradually, without realizing it) or changed metabolism.  What I do know is that I haven't lost weight in quite a while now.  I lost my last DietBet and will probably lose my next one.

That one will be my final one.

And it's not because of the stall, really.  There was always a chance I'd start losing and it would become financially unfeasible for me to continue on that path, and so I would probably just be able to moan about it a bit were it not for the fact that this sort of competitive app really started triggering some eating disorder bullshit in me.

The worst part is that I knew better. That's really how it goes, isn't it?  You intellectually know something isn't going right, but you're really into doing it and so you just ignore the problems.  I was going to go ahead and just post this and just let the other posts stay the way they were as a sort of record of what had been going on, but I decided after a couple of days of soul-searching that I can't do that with a clear conscience as I have no idea who will stumble on this and possibly emulate my behavior.  So what's going to happen in the next few days or so is I've already put every post except for this one mentioning DietBet into draft mode and will be going through each one one-by-one to add more robust warnings and take out parts I think are likely to encourage particularly destructive behavior, perhaps even just straight up delete posts that have no redeeming qualities in hindsight.  I'd rather that descent all be in this post where people can see it as a warning rather than believing whatever was going on in my head when I originally wrote those posts.

So here's the warning:  Diet competitions (and that includes DietBet as well as those Biggest Loser knockoff contests so many workplaces are doing under the guise of "healthy living" programs and literally everything even vaguely similar to that) encourage eating-disorder-like behavior, and I strongly encourage you not to get mixed up with them.

What happened to me in a nutshell was that I started off this DietBet thing at 270 pounds after a pretty long stint of repeated binge eating.  I decided to go back on my paleo diet--something I started because it eliminates quite a few foods that do legitimate damage to my body, like wheat--and prevents me from binge eating.  In all transparency:  I love paleo.  I don't preach diet, but I do strongly believe in eating a paleo-like diet.  But paleo wasn't the problem, it was combining it with things that are quite frankly quite far from a paleo philosophy.

So I joined DietBet.  This is an app where you bet money that you can lose 10% of your body weight in about a month.  Everyone who makes weight gets a share of the pot.  You prove it by taking pictures of your scale with code words.

Here's the thing about weight loss:  It starts out easy and gets harder.  But winning money while also losing a lot of weight gave me a rush that clouded my brain a lot.  I was setting these lofty expectations, like that I could reach my goal weight in less than seven months if I just kept up my current progress.  I thought this stuff even though I knew--and I do mean knew--that this initial weight was probably mostly water.  But I looked thinner!  The scale was lower!  I felt great!

I hit a stall after around 20 pounds of weight loss.  Had I been diligent about losing weight without DietBet, I'd probably just view it as a temporary setback to wait my way through, re-read my favorite paleo article on weight loss plateaus, and get on with my life.  But I'd put down actual cash money on this that I was going to lose, and so I started strategizing in a way that was, in retrospect, extremely self-destructive.

I started replacing meals with shakes strategically.  I'd already been making shakes for myself because I don't really have an appetite in the morning, but I started doing it explicitly to start losing pounds during key weigh-in times.  I even made the base liquid coffee for the diuretic and laxative effects and would not weigh myself until I was sure those effects had occurred.  This led to me more than once going to work--where I work twelve hour shifts--and consuming nothing but a protein shake all day in hopes of shaking a few pounds off by nighttime.

This worked great for those first two months when I had a lot of water to lose, but afterwards it stopped being so reliable.  I'd try it anyway, only try it worse.  I started doing things like avoiding certain exercises because I was worried about gaining too much muscle or retaining water, just in case it interfered with the number on the scale.  The number would still not budge.

These are all eating disorder level activities.  If you've ever gone to pro-eating-disorder websites (and please don't), this is exactly the sort of strategy they talk about.  So in the end I had to stop.

I railed long ago in my other blog about the Biggest Loser knock-off contests that workplaces keep doing.  This was because one year, when I was doing contract work at a hospital that had a contest like this, their repeat winner always won by fasting and taking laxatives only to gain the weight back again when the competition was done.  I've watched lots of people get serious anxiety from this sort of thing, including my mother who entered a lot of them and lost a lot of weight only to become depressed when it suddenly wasn't easy anymore and the quick money was gone.

I'm OK.  I've nipped this in the bud before it took over my life (at least I think I did).  But since it's been such a big part of this blog I wanted my readers to understand where those buds all went.

Like I said, I'm not giving up my eating style.  Even if I fail sometimes (or a lot), I love paleo and similar diets.  I believe in it as an overall biologically appropriate lifestyle, not just a weight loss strategy.  Paleo has been great for me even if I lose exactly zero more pounds in my life.  In fact, part of why I'm giving up DietBet and other high-stress strategies I've tried is because they're so bafflingly unpaleo to me.

It's not paleo to work against your body to lose undifferentiated body mass for some ridiculous contest.  It's not paleo to obsess over the number on a scale to the point where you start panicking over it.  So I'm revising my strategy.  A lot.  I'm revising my exercise.  I'm revising my diet.  And the kicker:  I'm not going to try to lose weight anymore.  I'm going to work on my overall health, and if I lose weight, good, if not, I'll at least be healthy.

Until then, happy trails,
-- Jackson

An Herbal Hike-and-Bike and some Words on Ghost Pipe and Herbal Ethics

I was able to get my bike all fixed up (new tires, adjusted the brakes to get rid of a weird sound they were making, added a back rack), strapped a basket on it, and took it on an herbal run.  I'm creating some herbal routes that took me to places I didn't actually know existed in this area... including a trail that led to a more wooded trail that I'll be visiting more often due to a lot of promising herbal terrain and just generally gorgeous scenery.  The non-wooded trail has a lot of ditch weeds, which are my wheelhouse.

Gorgeous bridges, too, over rushing waters and some less-rushing waters that clearly are being used as a swimming hole by local folks.

There are also fields and fields of jewelweed, a highly healing plant that is used as a cure for poison ivy and other skin conditions (it's in a lot of soaps made for poison ivy dermatitis).

I saw a one-antlered deer that was staring at me through some grasses and weeds that was stunning.

Anyway, I just learned about ghost pipe--a plant that's really popular to harvest and tincture despite starting to become rare and being a plant we cannot cultivate--not that long ago, meaning I now hear about it everywhere, and I wanted to talk about it because it's a great example some toxic attitudes that permeate herbalists.  And I don't mean this as a finger-pointing exercise... these are attitudes that permeate in herbalists because they permeate through the rest of society, and I am prone to them just as anybody else is.  I mean, this is basically the reason I started a pine powder regimen, isn't it?  Yes, pine pollen is abundant and can be collected in my bioregion, but that doesn't mean it wasn't marketing hype that made me initially start taking it.  So these toxic attitudes are things that we all need to be working on, even if we think we're ethical and good people.

Seriously:  Don't harvest ghost pipe.  Don't make tinctures of it.  Don't buy tinctures of it.  I've already heard your excuses, and they're all bad.  To elaborate...

"I feel spiritually called to harvest ghost pipe" or "The plant told me I could harvest it," or--ugh--"I have been called by the spirits bring this plant to the masses," is likely bullshit.

As a bona fide spiritual person who talks to Goddexes and spirits (including plant spirits) and tries very hard to listen for when they speak back, this is one that requires some serious tough love:  The spirits of plants that are being actively overharvested are not giving you permission to pick them, you are just confusing your selfish desires for spiritual messages.

This is an especially important thing if you are new at listening to spirits and deities, because many of us spend years trying to learn to sort out our own stream of consciousness from divine intervention and still wind up having to really think about it when it happens.

One thing I am always super suspicious of is when I think I hear spirits telling me I should go ahead and do something I want to do but know has serious ethical ramifications.  There's a very good chance this is your id--which is looking for immediate gratification without concern for consequences--trying to convince you to do something you know deep down is wrong.

But let's say that this message really is real, and that this plant spirit is really, genuinely saying it's OK for you to harvest.  Have you ever had (or been) a friend that was really easily taken advantage of, like you could ask zir for anything and ze would exhaust zirself and expend more money and time than ze had in order to do what you asked without ever saying no?  Just because somebody consents to something doesn't mean it's automatically ethical to do it.  Finally, keep in mind that due to a lot of factors plants aren't necessarily used to people making medicine out of them anymore, they may very well not be experts on the commodification of nature or the epidemic of overuse going on.

The idea that these plants exist only for us to use them is extremely anthropocentric.

Herbalists can acquire some damn weird ideas about plant medicine.  There are folks who strongly believe that if we just look hard enough we will find easy, natural cures for literally every malady or condition in the plant world, because it's part of a pseudo-creationist worldview they have in which every cure is already provided without scientific achievement.  A corollary to that is the idea that plants exist for us as humans to make them into medicine.

Even if you have a belief somewhere that plants intentionally have healing properties through some spiritual world clockwork, it's extremely important that you try to avoid the belief that these plants exist only for us.  Life on earth is a big web of interactions; the same plants we use for medicine may be used by other animals for food or habitats or even their own medicine, they may protect other plants or provide nutrients for them.  So although it is our natural right to use plant medicine, they don't exist exclusively for that purpose, and it's irresponsible to imply that they do.

Buying and selling a plant like this is even worse.

People traipsing off into the woods harvesting the aerial parts of ghost pipe for personal use might still have ethical ramifications, but the real problem comes in doing so when there is a huge market for the stuff.  There are folks picking and purchasing pounds and pounds of this stuff to make into tinctures that are purchased by new agers largely because the tinctures themselves are pretty and purple.  Said new agers could have gone out and picked a small amount to make their own tinctures and left the purchasing to folks who have access issues with getting out to find them, but instead there's a massive market for them.

I'll be writing something someday about the "no ethical consumption under capitalism" idea that permeates social justice spaces right now, but the gist of its relevance to that is this:  Ethical purchasing is bullshit, but what isn't bullshit is not purchasing at all when you have the ability.

Furthermore, although there are certainly small dealers of ghost pipe tincture who pick and tincture it themselves, there's a good chance this could turn into the next American ginseng where people are going out and picking it only because they want to sell it to corporations.  

"But what if I really, really need it?"

This is another very anthropocentric, egocentric way of looking at herbs.  Ghost pipe's scientifically demonstrable medicinal value is quite dubious, and many folks use it for the spiritual messages rather than any tangible healing use.  It is a good plant to get such messages from, tapping into the hidden network of the forest as it does, but it just doesn't have enough objective value to justify telling people they should "only" pick it if they "desperately" need it, because there is no such thing as desperately needing ghost pipe.  There is no desperate human need for this plant, and there are other more abundant plants that you can harvest instead.

And for that spiritual connection stuff?  You're really better off working for it while its roots are still in the ground, and leaving it there when you're done.

Rarity does not equal usefulness.

One of the reasons I'm into explicitly bioregional plant medicine is because the herbal communities I first started learning in were into exotic and rare plant medicines.  They would import something from China or India when they could have been creating a thriving local medicine culture instead, or they would go for the rarest plants they could find because abundant plants were not cool enough.  Ghost pipe, as it becomes rarer while also becoming more popular, is a part of this category.

If you live in an area with loads and loads of ghost pipe (as areas like this still exist), I'm not going to press you about taking a few pieces to make tinctures.  But I'm willing to bet most of you aren't, and if you're picking this plant or considering it I would encourage you to seriously look at your wildcrafting ethics.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

YouTube Channel Introduction

I'd like to finally formally announce that I've created a YouTube channel!

I actually started it a while ago and have been slowly embedding video adaptations of my essays on their respective pages (most are not direct readings, they're more like "inspired by" pieces).  I decided on this for accessibility purposes, because when reading some tips and tricks on bringing anti-capitalism to the masses I found the suggestion that keeping everything in books and blog posts is not accessible, as there are folks who learn better by hearing than by reading.

I'm the exact opposite, so I have mostly stuck with text, but one of the parts of my personal history in which this hasn't been true is FTM transition videos, which were monumental in helping me through my transition on testosterone.  When I decided to go off testosterone, I tried using the same resource but didn't find nearly as much information, so I think it's important to have somewhere people can see a trans guy transitioning back to estrogen without socially detransitioning.

I will also be posting herbal and spiritual stuff, the same subjects in this blog as I really view the YouTube channel as an extension or alternative to this blog.  I tend to post in spurts, so as of now there is no regular posting schedule, just whenever I happen to have time to film something.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pine Pollen Day #5 and Adventures in Repair, Herbal Remedies, and Other Radical Praxis

It's day #5 of taking a pine pollen supplement daily.  I did notice an increase in sex drive, although who knows if it's the pollen or just some residual sex drive left over from my period.  Normally the menstruation-enhanced sex drive ends when my period does, though, so if that's the case it's a little weird.  Whatever the case, my sex drive did increase, and not in the scary way it did when I was on testosterone.

I've been working a lot to fine-tune my personal praxis, meaning the practical ways we manifest our philosophies, in other words, how do you "do" whatever your political or social beliefs are.  How do you "do" anti-capitalism, or anti-consumerism, or communism, or anarchism, or feminism, or queer liberation, or whatever else your philosophy may be?  That is praxis.  In this essay I'm going to talk mostly about my anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist praxis, namely trying to avoid the medical industrial complex (unless medically necessary, of course; I'm not David Avocado Fucking Wolfe) and consumerist throwaway culture.

My increase in motivation for making natural medicines has continued, at least for now.  I've been tincturing basically everything available to me that can be tinctured and am just starting to run out of space.  Most recently I started tincturing some motherwort, chamomile, and peppermint.  I may tincture some broadleaf plantain if I can find a good reason to (I did start some plantain oil as I associate plantain for medicinal uses with topical use).  I did find a company in Australia selling broadleaf plantain tincture for a seriously exorbitant amount.  Yikes.  I also started a large amount of fire cider, something I am making almost entirely because some asshole company decided to trademark the super generic term "fire cider" and heckle people who use that term for their own products.  And while I roll my eyes at the assertion that small businesses are better than large ones, trademarking general knowledge is bullshit.

Patched a huge hole right in the seat of my pants.
I'm in a nice repair spurt.  For the past couple months I've gone to great lengths to repair things that I normally would throw away and replace, often (when appropriate) in a way that owns that I have repaired them.  For instance, in the picture of the pants I patched up to the right, I used bright red thread so it is very obvious these pants were torn and repaired.  It's similar to the concept of kintsugi in which pottery is repaired in gold to emphasize where it was broken, but the red actually was inspired by my family's age-old tradition of using red yarn to knot their quilts no matter what the color of the quilt was.  Most of the other repairs I've done aren't this obvious, just because doing so was out of my skillset or not practical.  For instance, I did glue together one of my wolf dishes recently, and while kintsugi is super cool, I don't have the materials or skills to do something like that.

These pants, by the way, were super cheap and a great example of the type of thing I'm fighting against.  Clothing and pretty much everything else is literally made to break and wear down easily in order to encourage people to keep replacing them; this strategy makes sense in a world where "a good economy" is one in which people are spending more and more money all the time.  So I'm going to especially try repairing clothes a lot, and I'm also going to try getting most of my clothes second hand (this is actually very psychologically hard for me as I went through some bouts of poverty where I rarely got new things, which makes shopping particularly addictive for me).

My next little repair project will probably be the bucket I take camping, which has some holes in it.  My partner tried patching it when we were camping but it didn't quite work (it was a lost cause; we didn't have good enough materials).  I also have a pair of flip flops in which the thong came loose.  These are a pain to repair, but I'm going to try anyway.

My "new" bike, with night lights on.
Finally, I've been working on getting my bike fixed and ready for my purposes.I replaced the back tire after finding there were no holes in the innertubes, and I did some repairs on the chain as well.  Does cutting the locks off count as a "repair?"  My uncle left two locks on the damn thing that don't have keys.

Since this bike is going to be used for errand running, I want to get a basket for it of some sort.  They have some that have lift-off shopping baskets which might be perfect or they might be a shitty idea.  One of my best friends, though, fixed up his own bike by putting kitty litter buckets flanking the back wheel, so we'll see.

I noted last night when I was taking a casual ride that the front wheel kind of moves funny and makes noise.  I'm hoping it just needs a tire replacement, but I may need to replace the rim as well.  Either way it should be pretty easy, considering I did replace the tire on the back wheel successfully, and that's the hard wheel.

Admittedly I did go against the whole repair-and-buy-second-hand thing by getting a helmet, but come on, I'm not going to try DIYing a fucking helmet.  Plus it is built to accommodate ponytails and has a lot of space for radical and quirky stickers.

Speaking of radical quirky stuff, I'm considering doing booklet drops in Little Free Libraries and other such things.  I tend to get a lot of radical queer literature to donate to my alma mater's LGBT center library  (this has documentedly influenced people and come to think of it I have a copy of "Queering Anarchism" for them I keep forgetting to bring) but I want my scope to be wider... but in the case of Little Free Libraries, there's a not insignificant chance that people will find radical or queer-friendly literature and just throw it out, so I need options that are inexpensive.  I have a couple ideas, but as I don't really commit to one political ideology I want to make sure there isn't anything utterly awful in them before I distribute (they're things I've read but when I read something without intent to distribute I'm not taking too many notes).  I also want to donate any queer Pagan books I can find to the LGBT center, since like most places it's overpopulated with queer Christian books without much representation for other faiths.  Yuck.

Anyway, it's getting late so I should probably go to bed so I can do more excellent praxis tomorrow.  Tongue-out emoji.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Radical Weed Herbalism

No… not that kind of weed.  This kind of weed:
Motherwort found in my backyard.
As an aspiring radical herbalist, I am a big fan of localization of herbal knowledge.  What this means is that whenever possible I think it’s best to learn and use herbs that are available locally… not just imports available at a local health food store, but plants that you are able to either find or cultivate yourself in your own bioregion.  In theory, you should be able to go out to your garden or to a natural space like a park and create a number of your own basic medicines without any exchange of capital at all, excepting maybe a solvent or carrier if you don’t have the skills necessary to make your own.

I started writing this as a love letter to local herbal medicine, about how you should go out and do this, you should definitely do this, it’s such great praxis.  And then I remembered American ginseng.  And I decided to both tone down the excitement a bit and clarify what kinds of medicinal herbs I am talking about, because although in a perfect world we would be able to go out and harvest the bounty of nature unfettered, we are not living in a perfect world.

Let me first talk about the ginseng.  Ginseng is a plant that grows wild around here, and is widely renowned as a highly medicinal plant.  Because it is in such high demand, you can sell this stuff for gobs of cash.  Because you can sell it for gobs of cash, a lot of people go out to pick it.  In Wisconsin (and probably elsewhere) you need to purchase a fairly inexpensive license to pick it as an individual, and a more-expensive license in order to purchase it from harvesters.  It’s hard to find a place to harvest it because it’s not legal to pick it on public land; you basically need to own property or have permission from somebody to take a highly lucrative item from their property.  This, of course, hasn’t stopped overharvesting, and especially poaching.  People are constantly trespassing, clearing out entire populations of plants, taking plants that are very young, taking plants that don’t have fruit (this is illegal; it needs to have berries and you need to replant them), and clearing out cultivated ginseng, as people often plant this herb in ways that don’t look like they are being cultivated.  These are by and large not used for local medicine, but to sell to companies that put them in supplements and sports drinks.  This is exacerbated by shows like Filthy Riches, which show people making a lot of money doing this without a nuanced perspective of the ecological harm done by an oversaturation of harvesters.

I decided against getting a ginseng license for this reason.  Even if I did find property to hunt for it on and only used it for myself, I would be further harming a very threatened plant.

Recently I learned about a plant called ghost pipe that is being seriously over-harvested as well.  People take whole stands of this stuff, often uprooting it (a dick move that kills the plant) to make tinctures to use and sell.  When called about it people babble about how spiritual they are and how they asked permission of the plant (something I'll need to address at a later time).

A lot of herbalists use the term “plant ally” to refer to plants they work with.  As a social justice activist, when I think of an “ally” I think of a fair-weather friend who ultimately only works with an oppressed group when it benefits them, and this is the perfect description of how so many people view plant medicines.  I use the term “plant comrade” instead; no, I’m not trying to make that “a thing,” and yes, it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and kind of backwards), but it’s also a good way to describe my philosophy on working with plants and fungi in this way.  An ally relationship is very often one-sided, and that’s exactly how it looks when somebody treats medicinal plants as these selfless organisms that exist only to create medicine for us, as if all making of medicine from them is by nature honoring that plant.  A beneficial relationship by contrast is one in which your use of that plant helps the plant or avoids wasting it or poisoning the planet… which I admittedly call camaraderie mostly because it’s super pinko communist and that just happens to be my aesthetic.

That’s where ditch weeds come in.  These plants are the biggest victims of plant blindness--people see them and just see generic bushes of weeds without value-- most people believe them to be nuisances, and most importantly, they’re abundant.  Some of these plants may very well have a market, but their local nature is kept hidden for the benefit of people selling them.  Recently I found motherwort in my backyard, a plant that it didn’t even occur to me lived around here and that has probably succumbed to the weedwackers of many a suburbanite.  It is invasive.  It is a plant that shouldn’t be here, that through no fault of its own is ecocidal in this environment.  So instead of pretending it’s a big secret thing that should be purchased in tincture form at an alternative health store, I have been making it into medicine myself, honoring the plant and its healing properties without harming its species.

There are many plants that almost nobody harvests--or not enough people harvest to make an impact--that can be made into local medicinal preparations.  Biking down a heavily-used trail I will not find any ginseng, but I could find buckets of dandelion, chicory, mullein, yellow dock, plantain, red clover, purslane, burdock, yellow wood sorrel, wild carrot, pineapple weed, motherwort, lamb’s quarters, rocket, ground ivy, mustard, and plenty more I’m forgetting.  There are a lot of trees that are intentionally planted in high enough numbers that collection is not a problem, such as ginkgo in certain parks, pine, maple, willow, elderberry, mulberry,  and several species of nuts.  And that’s not even mentioning plants that are easy to maintain once they get going, like raspberry (of which the leaves are used as an herbal), grape, garlic, chives, most types of mint (preferably in pots as it likes to escape), echinacea, and rose.  These local plant comrades can help with a wide variety of ailments and assist in nutrition without needing to participate at all in the exchange of capital and without paying somebody to destroy entire populations of rare plants.

So why don’t we do that?  Because so much popular herbalism is vapid and consumeristic.  We’re led to believe that exotic or rare plants are better for us or contain some special property that we can’t find anywhere else so that we’ll purchase them for a high price when there are local alternatives widely available, or we're not told when we are spending money on plants that literally grow two feet away from us.

Does everyone have the ability to learn wild plants, harvest them, make medicines out of them, and so forth?  No.  People have disabilities, they have time constraints, they have--dare I say it--a normal lack of interest.  And there are certainly very valuable herbs that cannot be locally acquired.  Because of this I’m not saying that there is no excuse ever to purchase a medicine or sell a medicine (local herbalists need to survive under capitalism too, after all).  But I think it is best praxis to create a local natural medicine culture, one in which we first look to plant comrades which are close to us, accessible, and abundant before we start turning to the exotic and rare stuff.  Through that we can make herbal medicine free to affordable as well as kind to the planet.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Beating Meat Fatigue, Sprouting Experiments, Gardening, Wildcrafting

In the great wheel of food experiments that I cycle through year after year like the fickle hipster I am (fermenting - hunting - wildcrafting - gardening - curing - etc.) one thing I haven't done in a while is sprouting.  There's a reason for this:  I generally strive for paleo, even if I'm pretty loose with it, and most of the seeds I know how to sprout are legumes.  In addition, when I went through my "sprouted wheat phase" I found that it didn't really improve my wheat tolerance (I can often handle einkorn wheat, but even that is probably because it's too prohibitively expensive to buy a lot of it!).  As I mentioned earlier, I'm having some really bad meat fatigue, meaning I get really sick of eating meat really fast.  It's not that it makes me sick--it doesn't, as far as I know--but I ate so much of it at PSG that it's hard for me to eat it.

There are some exceptions.  I don't get fatigued of bacon, jerky, or other of those super addictive and hyperpalatable cured meats.  And I certainly eat meat.  Actually, today was a good example of the meat fatigue, because I made ribs in the slow cooker and only was able to eat about two thirds what I normally would.  Then I went and ate a bunch of fruit, because I desperately wanted it after.

So I have a little sprouting operation going on on the kitchen counter that's going pretty well.  The first thing I started was lentils, my favorite sprout because they're just so damn easy and delicious.  I also am sprouting some of the same beans I prepared dry the other day, some kamut variety wheat, brown mustard seeds, and wild rice.  The lentils I started two days ago and they're already well germinated, while the red beans are starting to grow roots.  The mustard has some roots growing (since I just got them from my spice jar I won't be too surprised if they fail).  The wild rice and kamut I'm not super optimistic about, but go big or go home.  I started those two today.  The kamut is very old, so it may very well just not work, and wild rice has a habit of breaking and therefore dying.

I may sprout some sunflower seeds if I can find them raw, and maybe some quinoa and chia (chia is difficult but, again, go big or go home).

I don't know how I'm going to eat them quite yet.  I love eating raw sprouted lentils and will probably mostly make little microgreen salads with them and mustard sprouts.  Note:  Due to some disease worries it's generally considered best practice to cook these, but in all transparency, I almost never do.

Some gardening stuff... I think I mentioned that I had a few tomatoes reseed from last year, so there are plants that I didn't even need to do shit with just growing there.  They have started growing fruits, and I'm fairly sure they're cherry tomatoes!  I did plant three varieties of tomatoes in that bed, though, so who the hell knows what's going to grow or if they cross-pollinated or what.

I have two raised garden beds with quite mixed results.  One has the world's tiniest watermelon plant (it started growing its secondary leaves early and I've pretty much lost hope it will be productive).  There's also a tiny tomato plant, some lettuce, some carrots, and some radishes that might not reach their full potential.  The other raised bed also is having some malfunctions, but I am pleased to say that it will at least grow something.  This is a three sisters bed, it has a couple varieties of corn that will be tied together, a couple varieties of beans, and zucchini surrounding it.  The zucchini is fruiting.  The corn is growing fairly well for backyard corn.  The beans are also growing.  Since I got some of this in the ground a little late, I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but at least I'll have zucchini.  There are some pots I planted garlic in that are doing well.

I picked some raspberries today.  The birds got all the cherries, but I actually got to eat some this year.  I have more mint than I can possibly eat, and more rhubarb than I would eat either.  The grape plants are growing great, although obviously it's too early to grow grapes.

The wildcrafting is going pretty good.  I got another big bunch of purslane today, although it was raining so I didn't go out near my workplace to find anything else.  So far I've found pineapple weed (wild chamomile), rocket, red clover, wild carrot, maple, ginkgo, bull thistle, chicory, burdock, mullein, curled dock, plantain, and a number of other things.  I haven't picked all of them, but I see them along the road.  I may go wildcrafting when I go fishing, which should be soon now that the local park with fishing piers finally has an opening to get into it; last year there was so much road construction it was impossible to get in.

Finally, tomorrow I'm going to pick up a bike from my parents' house.  I was looking to buy a bike new (with Amazon Prime I could get one for literally like $75 new) but it didn't sit right with me considering my PSG-driven spurt of motivation for reduction of consumer pleasures (we'll see how long that lasts).  So I looked at some thrift stores and then it dawned on me my parents probably have some of our old bikes in their basement.  I texted my mom and she said that my uncle's old bike is there and that it looks pretty good.  So I'm going to go check that out tomorrow, see if it looks like it's in good shape or needs some repairs, take it home, and that's that.  I'd like to fix it up with storage so I can go shopping with it (my friend Ben has a bike with huge buckets on it, I may just ask him about it).  The thing is, where I live it's just shy of too far to walk to most places, but on a bike it would be a not-very-difficult task to go pretty much anywhere I need to go other than work.  The numerous trips I take with my car to the grocery store, the movie theater, and a number of restaurants are pretty frivolous, and it would be great exercise.

Also, I am admittedly doing it because I saw some ridiculous meme being posted that argued that bikes are an inefficient form of transportation, one of the many results of a trend where people take discussion of access to green or otherwise socially aware acts and rather than just have a nuanced discussion about that access they warp it into some bullshit about bikes being eco-unfriendly or some shit.  And it'll help me hatch eggs in Pokemon Go, so...

Alright, that's about enough for now.  Happy trails!
-- Jackson

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pine Pollen Day #1 and Tick Bite Update (with Bonus Hilarious Trans-at-Doctor Stories)

Content note:  This essay talks about sex in a marginally explicit way.

Today is day #1 on pine pollen.  I am taking a powdered supplement I purchased on Amazon; I'll be using the storebought stuff until I can get a good personal supply wildcrafting next spring (unless, of course, I don't like the results, but I may wildcraft it anyway because, well, wildcrafting).  Pine pollen is the trendy thing right now.  I never claimed not to be drawn in easily by herbal trends.  I'm starting with a quarter teaspoon a day (this is a low dose) in my morning medicinal protein shake and will increase that if I see fit in the future.

If it works the way it's supposed to, I think it'll be of benefit to me as a post-hormonal trans guy.  In cis women it is reputed to  help with the same things I struggle with after stopping testosterone, although admittedly all of these are low-key struggles.  The main issue is sex drive, of which I have strikingly little nowadays.  My libido tanked after I gave up testosterone to the point where I basically do not have a sex drive at all unless my partner is actively available or I am on my period, and a lot of things that I was really turned on by on testosterone don't turn me on anymore.  This was somewhat alarming, as my sex drive before testosterone was quite high.

Mind you, this is all mostly a good thing.  The stuff that turned me on while taking testosterone was really awful, and I became viscerally disturbed by the places my mind would go and the erotica I was starting to seek out.  So it's not a bad thing that my libido tanked, but I would like more sexual motivation, as my lack of sex drive is starting to make me for lack of a better word lazy.  This has led to some innovations in the area of the sex toys I design as a hobby, as I am creating things that allow me to have sex without much physical effort.  So believe me, I make it work, I'm a goddamn inventor, after all.  And I love these toys, but it would be nice of this herbal helps me expand my tastes a bit so stuff I used to enjoy is enjoyable again.

Pine pollen is a general testosterone booster.  I believe that the hype around testosterone is ridiculous and fully embrace that I am estrogen-dominant (I'm quite proud of it, in fact, hence the blog) but am curious to see how this experiment goes.

Had to edit this because I realized as I was re-reading for proofreading purposes that, ha, I forgot to write about the "being trans at the doctor" story.

So at Pagan Spirit Gathering I got bitten by a couple ticks.  One was a Lone Star tick I'm praying does not give me a meat allergy (I may not know for months if it has).  The other was a tick of unknown origin, as I only saw the later bite.  It doesn't look like a traditional Lyme rash, but the medical personnel at PSG told me to come back if it got bigger or started itching or being painful.  It didn't at PSG, but it did start itching and stinging when I was at work on Thursday, prompting me to have a minor panic and leave work early to go to urgent care.

I have good reason to be anxious about tick bites.  I worked at a summer camp one year with a man who was only like 20 years old who had an obvious Lyme-ridden tick bite, was told by our nurses it couldn't be Lyme because there wasn't a tick (I would not claim these nurses are incompetent, but this was incompetent advice).  Eventually he acquired them all over his body, and I noted to him they looked like Lyme rashes.  He stated the nurses didn't know what they were.  A day or two later he's acting really agitated.  I ask him what's wrong, and he snaps back at me, reminding me of first aid videos showing how people act during heart attacks.  "He's acting like he is having a heart attack," I thought to myself, puzzeledly.  Later that day he collapsed in the mess hall, having had a form of heart attack that happens to people with untreated Lyme disease.  He survived, but it's rattled me ever since.

So I worry about tick bites.

Anyway, I get to urgent care, and am told it's probably fine (the problem is that not all Lyme disease bites have a classic Lyme rash, but I'm monitoring myself as best I can and have no real evidence it was even a deer tick to begin with).  But that's not the good part.

I am talking with the nurse before the doctor gets in, and she's taking my blood pressure and going over medical history as nurses often do, and suddenly she exclaims, alarmed, "OB... why is there a box for OB/GYN history here?!  How come that's there?!"  She says there must be a problem with Epic (the application they use in medical systems to keep records) and that she will get it fixed as soon as possible.

I explain, calmly, "I am transgender, so that's there for a reason."

"Oh?  Oh!"  She looks slightly embarrassed.  She gives it a couple seconds of thought before saying, "But you don't get, say, a  period or anything like that?"

"Actually," I continue, "I do, because I went off of hormones and didn't get any surgeries."

Slight pause, "OH! Then... when was your last one?"

"Right now!"

"Alright, I'll update that for you then."

I am a very lucky person as far as trans people go, because I have very few negative stories of going to the doctor.  I have awkward stories and funny stories, but whenever a doctor or nurse has fucked up (or thought they'd fucked up) they have attempted to correct it very quickly.

The worst experience I had was transitioning at work at the same camp with the Lyme sufferer I described above.  I worked there one year as a woman and when I came back as a man I expected their on-site physical would similarly be a private deal.  It turns out that in many contexts men get considerably less privacy than women, and the doctor has me lift my shirt with all these guys there.  He apologized later, but it was a serious issue while it was happening, and I have no idea if he even understood what had happened.

Second worst was going to a doctor for uterine cramps a couple years on hormones.  It started with a nurse who, when I explained the issue, got a super awkward frozen smile on her face and started replying with nothing but "uh HUH? uh HUH?"  She probably wasn't trying to look as uncomfortable with the situation as she looked.  Anyway, the doctor came in, and rather than being uncomfortable he was uncomfortably ecstatic to meet me, as apparently he had trans patients and had no clue who to refer them to (he was unaware that the hospital system he is a part of provides hormone therapy; I actively go to a secular system because the Catholic systems here will often treat trans people pretty respectful with the exception that they don't give us the transition-related care we need).  In retrospect I think he also thought I was trying to cheat the system to get rid of my uterus on insurance.

One of the best, though, was going to a work physical (a private one this time).  I seriously thought that the doctors and nurses knew about me, because I was pretty clear about my medications, but right near the end of the physical the doctor says "Just one more thing... we need to check you for a hernia."

"That won't work."

"What do you mean it won't work?"

"I know what test you're talking about.  I am transgender and do not have testicles, so that won't work."

"Oh," she pauses, mulling it over.  "Well, then we're done, have a good day.

Bright side:  Whenever I feel like I don't pass well enough (something I understand is absurd, even though due to my long hair people do misgender me from behind fairly often nowadays), I just need to remember the doctor who tried grabbing my balls and the nurse who was confused at my OB/GYN history.