Anxiety and depression

I’m a person who struggles with anxiety and depression. I wasn’t born depressed, but I definitely have a tendency to develop depression as a part of my personality. I remember being 13 and feeling a “dark thing” enter me and it left me in shadow most of the time ever after.

Anxiety and depression limit what I do in life. There are some normal activities I steer clear of because they cause me too much anxiety, and I could probably be capable of having a higher-level career if I was able to handle anxiety better. Sometimes I find myself wanting to do something but unable to do it because I am paralyzed with a sort of dark heaviness that drains my energy beyond reason.

The dark heaviness is often coming from life circumstances and although it might look like a chemical imbalance if someone were to scan my brain, I don’t think it’s an inborn trait. I have a sense of weariness that comes from the frustration of identifying problems every day that I want to solve that I can’t solve, and knowing that each day will bring new problems, many of which I still will not be able to solve. I have a sense of hopelessness from knowing that the world I live in is totally wrong and yet the task of fixing it is unfathomably large and hardly anyone around me is willing to even look at what the problem is. I am very emotionally sensitive and sometimes when I’m feeling tired, frustrated and hopeless it causes additional effects like trouble concentrating, feeling “spaced out” and forgetful. When I’m in this state, tired and spaced out, I make stupid mistakes, and then I get more frustrated, which causes a snowball effect where I keep feeling worse and worse until I just want to escape from my life. All these factors are a part of the Dark Thing.

I have found cognitive behavioural therapy very useful, and I took medication for a few years. I am not on medication now, but sometimes I’m on the verge of needing to go back on it because I’m not doing well.

There are a few reasons why I don’t want to be medicated. I have a belief that medicating depression just covers up the problem without solving it. I hate the pharmaceutical industry and I don’t want to give them any money. I hate drugs and don’t want them in my body. I’m scared of side effects–both known and unknown. I’ve been on medication before and I know that it numbs me—I feel less anxiety and depression, which is good, but I also feel less joy. I am capable of feeling joy sometimes, and I want to keep that capacity. I also know that anti-depressants kill my sex drive, and since sex is one of my favourite things in life, I don’t want to lose that. It’s a contradiction to give up one of the few things you enjoy in order to feel better. It’s just trading one problem for another problem of equal magnitude. Not worth it.

My official plan is to manage my mental health by meditating. I know that meditating helps me a lot, because I’ve done it before and it has helped me a lot. It helps me by relaxing me, which makes it easier to sleep, easier to think clearly, and easier to deal with problems. This prevents the Dark Thing from building up too much. Sitting quietly and listening to my body also means that I acknowledge feelings I’m having that want to be acknowledged, which means that when they feel heard they can finally let go, and I feel better. If I don’t listen to my feelings then they build up until I can’t ignore them, and at that point I’m usually not even a functioning human being anymore.

I don’t necessarily follow my official plan though. I don’t do meditation very often even though I know I need it. It’s hard to explain why this is, but my best guess is that it’s exhausting to process emotions and our default habit as humans is to find distractions in order to avoid them. I also have an underlying attitude that it’s silly or frivolous to just sit and listen to my body for a while. This is an attitude I need to let go of. It’s not silly or frivolous to take care of yourself, and emotional care is as important as any other kind of care.

Sometimes I have a really bad time, where I either cease to function entirely and just sit still feeling paralyzed, or when I lose it and start sobbing. In these moments I face the fact that I either have to start meditating or I have to take antidepressants again. It’s one or the other, I don’t get to choose neither. And yet old habits are hard to shake. I’m still at an impasse where I haven’t done much of anything and I’m letting myself just be a mess.

Just this month I did finally sit quietly and listen to my body again, and I was amazed that I got all sorts of insights and clarity in a short time. I also felt more relaxed. I know that the brain gets into habits with emotions, and when the brain is in the habit of feeling anxiety it jumps right to that feeling all the time and stays there. I know that retraining the brain to feel something else is a process that requires a change of habits and a practice over time. I know I can do this is if I stick to it. I should do this regularly, not just when I’m in a crisis, because that’s how you prevent a crisis.

Even though I don’t like taking medication, I did for a while because I wasn’t going to be able to get through my life otherwise. I went off it a few years later when I got more stable.

Even though I don’t like taking medication, I wouldn’t try to stop someone else from taking it. We all get to make our own decisions about how we take care of ourselves, and we all respond differently to medication—some people might like it better than I do.

Some people might look at my situation and think I’m absolutely crazy for not being on medication. I clearly am losing out on some things in life because I have mental illness that is untreated. This is where values and priorities come in. I value the feelings of joy that I feel really strongly when I’m unmedicated and I value having a sex drive. Feeling sexual desire is actually one of my sources of energy. I have a right as a human being to feel joy and to feel sexual desire and to be energized by that. I have the right not to have that numbed. If I had less anxiety I might be able to move into higher positions at work, but I don’t think this is something I need. I don’t have much money, but I also don’t think money is that important.

I don’t think children and youth should be medicated, because there is a risk of side effects, one of them being increased suicidal feelings, which is a very big deal. I think young people need to learn how to manage their emotions and they shouldn’t be encouraged to see drugs as a solution to problems, because that’s the wrong approach. Medicating a person numbs them to emotions, good and bad. When you medicate a young person, they might lose the opportunity to learn to experience joy as well as pain.

If there was a large lobby group insisting that everyone with depression necessarily had to take pills, and that was trying to cover up other ways to deal with depression, and that was calling people “bigots” for managing depression in ways other than medication, then I’d be really pissed. This would limit the choices available to people for how to take care of themselves, and it would steer everyone toward the method that generates money for capitalism instead of the method that connects us to our humanity. If there was such a lobby group, I’d call them a part of capitalism and I’d say they didn’t care much about depressed people.

Feeling the emotional impact of the shitty world humans have created is a part of the human experience, and we can decide that it’s a reason to make things better, or we can decide to blame ourselves for being defective and just numb ourselves to it. Some people might have to numb themselves because they have no other choice, they can’t manage otherwise. I’m not trying to judge those people, I know it’s rough. I have been there. But anyone who can should fight for a better world so that people don’t have to feel this way in the first place.

You have probably guessed by now why I decided to write this post—because my attitude toward anxiety and depression is the same as my attitude toward gender dysphoria. I think our natural feelings are a part of who we are and can be managed, and I think that being born with a tendency to feel uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean we have to use medical interventions. This is my attitude toward mental illness, including my own.

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From Trans Mission to Feminist Mission

A reader generously gave me a gift of the new book Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie. Bertie is a young trans man YouTube star who is making waves in the queer community.

The book was a quick read. It was a memoir of his life so far and description of his transition. At age 22, he hasn’t done much else with his life besides become a trans man. He has also become a graphic designer, but that is not an important element of the book. Trans Mission is aimed at a young adult audience, and provides a sort of “how-to” guide for other young people who want to become trans men. It contains Bertie’s personal story as well as information on being trans, such as what it’s like getting hormone shots and how to make your own binder.

I’m using the same strategy with pronouns that Holly/Aaron Devor used when writing Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society, which is to use male pronouns when referring to the trans man after transition, and female pronouns when referring to her childhood. Although it may seem confusing at first, it acknowledges the reality of her girlhood as well as his post-transition lived experience in the social category of trans man, both of which are significant. There will be someone disappointed no matter what approach I take with pronouns, so at least with this balanced approach I will piss off everyone equally!

I was interested in reading this book because I have watched lots of Bertie’s YouTube videos and find him interesting. I am interested in the topic of female masculinity and strategies that masculine females use to survive in a sexist, homophobic world. I’m always hoping that trans people are going to answer some of the questions I have. I was curious about whether Bertie would rely on sex stereotypes to describe his trans identity, as so many people do, and whether I would find any reason to believe that he is a lesbian reacting to sexism and homophobia, as so many trans men seem to be.

I find every woman’s story of dysphoria and survival valuable and inherently worthy of consideration, regardless of her views on gender. I enjoyed reading Bertie’s book.

In terms of defining “man” and “woman,” Bertie presented it as logical to identify as a man despite being female. He actually admitted to being biologically female, which surprised me, and he also mentioned the word “lesbian” a couple of times in connection with his pre-transition self. In Bertie’s point of view there is no contradiction in being a man with a vagina. Lesbian was just the way he thought of himself before he arrived at his current identity of trans man.

Bertie did mention some things that relate to sex stereotypes, which is always something I take note of. As a child, she preferred boys’ clothing and boys’ activities, and she preferred the company of boys since they shared her interests. She felt uncomfortable with long hair and hated wearing dresses and makeup. As a girl she was expected to be only attracted to boys but instead she was mostly attracted to girls. Her classmates bullied her for being far more masculine than the average girl, and sadly, most of her teachers were not equipped to help her deal with the bullying.

The expectation that girls look and act a certain way is a part of the sexism that upholds patriarchy. Bertie isn’t the only girl to find herself unable to perform a feminine gender role—lots of us aren’t comfortable with this social construct that expects us all to be feminine and heterosexual. In reality, girls come in all types, and all of them are valid, even if they don’t conform to society’s expectations.

When young Bertie first cut her hair short, it was a monumental occasion that terrified her and she felt that she needed to justify her desire for short hair.

“During half-term break in year 10, I confessed to my dad how my long hair made me feel, armed with images (evidence) of girls with short hair. It was quite emotional – I think I ended up sobbing in my bedroom with pictures of Halle Berry up on Google. What a sight. The feelings were complex. At the front of my mind was guilt; considering I already wore ‘guy’s clothes’, I knew I was going to look incredibly masculine after the haircut, and I felt bad that I was incapable of being a ‘normal’ child for my parents.” (p57–58).

And an interesting comment from a few pages later reads:

“I must have had a very masculine-looking face, because after that haircut strangers called me a guy about 70 per cent of the time, and I wasn’t even trying to present as more masculine.” (p61)

Bertie did not report being uncomfortable with her body before puberty, and here she implies that having short hair and wearing boys’ clothes was not a deliberate attempt to be masculine. It sounds to me like in her early life she was just a girl who was more comfortable with short hair and clothing typically marketed to boys, and by wearing these things she was not trying to be a boy but was just trying to be herself.

She also felt distressed about wanting to wear boxers and leave her legs hairy. From a later chapter, after coming out to as “trans” to her parents:

“Suddenly I didn’t have to pretend any more: I could put my boxer shorts in the washing pile instead of sneaking them into the machine; I could wear shorts with my hairy legs on display; I could get my hair cut a little bit shorter. I felt free.” (p109)

This begs the question: why couldn’t she do any of these things before? Why didn’t she just go ahead and cut her hair, wear the clothes she wanted to wear, and refuse to shave her legs? Why did she have to declare herself “male” in order to do this?

As I sit here writing, I am a woman who has short hair, whose legs are hairy, and who wears boxer shorts, at least to sleep in. I literally am doing all these things right now, as a woman, without feeling like I need to explain myself or align myself with a gender identity. Any woman can do these things, even a femme!

It’s scary being a teenage girl and navigating a world that wants you to spend time and money looking a certain way and that teaches you that you are unacceptable if you don’t comply. I remember being a 16-year-old sitting cross-legged in the classroom one day while working on a group project. I was wearing shorts, and all of a sudden I noticed that my legs were hairy because I hadn’t thought about shaving them in a while. I immediately panicked and tried to find ways of hiding my legs. I placed my books strategically to hide the hair, and got up as soon as I could. It felt horribly embarrassing and I felt like I was neglectful for not shaving. I am not that 16-year-old any more. I never decided to use a “gender identity” to explain why I didn’t want to shave my legs, because this strategy didn’t exist back then. Instead, I did shave my legs for a few more years and then I became a feminist. Now I go around with hairy legs and I think that anyone who has a problem with it can fuck right off. I understand now that the shame I felt that day in the classroom had nothing to do with there being something wrong with my body, it had to do with being expected to do things I was not interested in doing just because I’m female and knowing that I was considered unacceptable for failing to meet people’s expectations. It’s scary to break society’s rules when you are young, but it gets easier as you get older and as you become more feminist.

So is Bertie’s transition just about sex stereotypes? Well, no, that’s not the whole story. Bertie does have body dysphoria. She was very distressed about her female body during her teen years, and not just to the same extent that all teen girls hate their bodies. She really felt like she couldn’t be seen in public with breasts and couldn’t live her life as a woman. Girls don’t all feel that badly. This is a serious condition that only some people get.

Trans activists want us to believe that they were simply born “a man in a woman’s body” (or vice versa) and that this is genetic rather than social. They want us to believe that the reason for their distress is the mismatch between their gender identity and their body, rather than the expectations held by society that people with their body type should act a certain way. I’m always carefully examining what trans people say about the reasons why they think they are trans and I often get clues that their dysphoria is coming from social causes (sexism and homophobia.) In Bertie’s case, I do not see evidence that she was born inherently dysphoric. She did not report believing she was male right from a young age. She reports having a happy childhood and being supported in her tomboyish ways by her family. She only reports hating her body starting at puberty, around the same time she developed an attraction to girls and felt increasingly under pressure to behave in a feminine way. There are a couple of interesting comments I’d like to report at this point regarding Bertie not wanting to be seen as a boy. In a letter she wrote to her father during her teen years:

“I can’t even bear the thought of going out in public with my own family in case someone mistakes me for a boy.” (p7)

From the letter from her mother near the back of the book:

“On one occasion in middle school, Alex came home absolutely furious. Once he’d calmed down, we realized he’d been in a difficult situation on the school bus. The children had been told to climb aboard, girls first. When Alex tried to get on with the girls, he was told off and asked to wait. Alex tried to explain to the teacher that he was a girl, but the teacher became angry…I was confused; he seemed to want to look like a boy, so I couldn’t understand why the mistake had made him upset. Looking back, it was an early sign that Alex had very mixed emotions about his gender.” p270–271

In Bertie’s quote from page 7, her young self was uncomfortable being mistaken for a boy, and in mum’s anecdote, Bertie specifically asserted herself as a girl and was distressed about not being believed. This doesn’t indicate the existence of an innate gender identity as male. It indicates that Bertie did grow up understanding herself as a girl and that she became distressed when other people saw her as performing girlhood incorrectly. It seems as though the problem wasn’t her body, at least not at first, the problem was that girls were supposed to be a certain way and she wasn’t like that.

I have a theory that is based on everything I have read so far about masculine girls with dysphoria. Girls who are not typically “feminine” and especially those who are attracted to other girls can have a very hard time understanding themselves as being girls, since they are not at all what society expects from girls. It’s very distressing being totally different from what is expected since humans are social animals and strongly desire validation and acceptance from our social group. Some people who are bullied for being different and who desperately want to fit in feel real trauma from this pain. A girl can respond to this trauma by hating her body parts that mark her as female. She blames those female body parts for being the reason why she can’t be herself, instead of blaming sexism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy. It’s common for mental illness among girls to be internalized. When things are wrong we tend to blame ourselves, and we tend to develop depression and self-hate rather than outer-directed mental illnesses like aggression and anti-social behaviour. I think that reacting to sexism and homophobia by hating oneself is in fact a typical feminine response.

I would like girls and women to learn to send their anguish outside themselves. Get angry about how you’re being expected to be someone you’re not, recognize those expectations as the problem, hate the bullies instead of hating yourself. Gender ideology moves in the wrong direction. Transgenderism is an approach that blames the body for the pain of being different when the body is not at fault.

I realize that dysphoria can run deep, and it won’t be easily untangled, and it can’t be wished away just by attempting a positive attitude. I am a person who developed depression at puberty and has had it ever since, and I know that “just cheer up” is not an adequate response. Neither is “just accept your body” an adequate response to legitimate dysphoria. I think major interventions are required. But I don’t think a masculine woman who hates her female body parts is literally a man, and I don’t think people benefit from pretending this is true. Honesty is very important in addressing mental illness and the best thing for someone to do if they are dissociating from their body is to reconnect, not to further distance themselves.

Bertie’s book has a lot of information about how to transition for young women who may want to do the same. It will likely have the effect of validating and motivating more transitioners. I see this book as a part of what I will call “social infrastructure” to steer young people toward transition. By social infrastructure I mean all those organizations, social media channels, medical clinics and preachers of the belief system that have been set up to promote transgender politics. There’s a whole system set up to make sure young people who don’t fit in and who hate their bodies are steered toward blaming their bodies and changing themselves, using medical interventions that are not entirely safe.

I am not interested in telling any specific people what to do with their particular situation, and I am not advocating for preventing anyone from making body modifications. But I do think that the politics and approach of transgenderism are going in the wrong direction. They blame the individual for a systemic problem, which misses the problem and reduces our ability to change the system. When teenage Alex Bertie asked for help with her discomfort, there was lots of material already in existence to train her to believe in gender identity, and no one steered her toward an analysis of sexism and a rejection of gender roles. No one can predict what would have happened in a different world, but perhaps in a world where Bertie was accepted as a tomboy lesbian, and where a strong anti-sexist culture was in place, she would have never developed distress about her body. Girls deserve to live in a world that doesn’t cause them distress.

When debating online with transsexuals during 2016 and 2017, I found that, to my surprise, some people have a very neutral attitude toward body modification. They don’t think it’s a big deal to cut off body parts, or to take artificial hormones that have unknown effects on the body. They’re confused about why I would find it to be a problem. I guess we all have our values, and people don’t have to value having an intact body if they don’t want to. I do try to explain as best I can that cutting body parts is an injury, and that injury can leave negative effects such as pain and numbness. This shouldn’t be the default treatment for mental illnesses, it should only be a last resort in rare cases, and it should only be available to adults.

We need to create more social infrastructure offering a feminist analysis of patriarchy. We need organizations, YouTube channels, educational materials, the whole works. There needs to be an alternative to gender identity ideology for people to turn to. Girls should have resources to depend on when they are hurting that let them know that society is messed up, but they are perfect the way they are, and can be any kind of woman they want to be. We need strong female role models demonstrating many different ways to be women.

If feminist women could create YouTube channels and organisations where they talk about their daily navigation of sexism and how to survive body hatred, that would be extremely valuable to young women. It’s New Year Resolution season, dear readers. Make plans to help girls in any way you can. They need to know how to fight back as they grow up in a commercialized misogynist culture that increasingly narrows the confines of what girls are allowed to be. The next generation is counting on us.

Studies show sex robots increasingly unsafe

The following “fake news” article was inspired by this real article and was written for your entertainment.

July 18, 2068

By: Nathan Green

WASHINGTON – Growing numbers of men are concerned that their Total Lifestyle Companions™ (TLCs™) may be unsafe after numerous reports of hacking, often by ex-wives. The hacked TLCs™ have been reported to turn against their owners by making disparaging remarks, destroying items in the home, and even committing acts of violence. In response to this growing issue, TLC™ owner Hugh Hogbottom has founded a non-profit organization called Consumers of Robots Advocacy Protection or “C.R.A.P.” which, according to its website, exists to “Protect the interests of owners of all personal robotic devices” by “researching, lobbying and making safety issues known to the public.”

I was able to speak to Hogbottom in his home in Northwest Washington. On the day of my visit, his TLC™, named Bobbi, was properly behaved. She welcomed me into the home and served coffee for us as we sat in the living room to chat. The house looked tidy and cared for, and Hogbottom told me it had been over a week since the last incident.

“She behaves most of the time, but there have been a few incidents,” he said. “I’m constantly on edge because I don’t know what might happen next.”

Photo credit: Thesun.co.uk

He shows me the one piece of evidence he has of Bobbi’s misbehaviour, although, as he explains, most of the incidents haven’t been recorded. The piece of evidence is a slip of paper that was supposed to have been a shopping list.

“I told Bobbi to write some things down that I needed,” he said. “I dictated some items to her, but when I looked at what she had written, instead of seeing my list, it said: ‘Every man, deep down, knows he’s a worthless piece of shit.’ I was shocked. At first I didn’t understand what had happened.”

At six-foot-three, with an athletic build, Hogbottom appears to be a pillar of strength, but when he speaks of his betrayal by Bobbi I see the weariness and pain in his eyes.

As well as the shopping list incident, there have been many incidents of Bobbi making shocking remarks to him, sometimes in front of friends. On one occasion, Hogbottom says he was telling his friends about the time when he gave his ex a triple-orgasm, and Bobbi suddenly shouted “You lying bastard, you were absolutely pathetic in bed!” Hogbottom says he was shocked and humiliated.

“I began to suspect my ex-wife had hacked into Bobbi. I did marry an ‘organic’ woman before getting my TLC™, and I think she may be jealous. I left her five years ago because I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the relationship, and I think she’s upset because she realizes the TLC™ is a more satisfactory partner than her. I ended up going online and finding lots of stories of the same thing happening to other men. I realized we needed to raise some awareness and protect ourselves.”

Indeed, men have been increasingly making these reports. According to research carried out by the C.R.A.P. foundation, 32% of men report that their former organic wives have at some point hacked into their personal robotic devices for malicious reasons. Of that group, 65% report that their robot has said something negative toward them, 86% say their robot has deliberately destroyed their home or possessions, and 7% say their robot has attempted to harm them during sex, by either strangulation or by cuts or burns to the penis. One man, Peter Clutterbuck, experienced the worst nightmare of men who use personal robotic devices: his robot, Tootsie, released a sharp blade through her front-hole during use, severing his penis. He says her front hole, which was usually a great device, had suddenly become “like a guillotine.” Clutterbuck joined the C.R.A.P foundation from his hospital bed, and vowed to “make sex robots safe again” so that nothing like this would happen to another man.

“It’s rough out there,” says Hugh Hogbottom, as he nervously sips his coffee. “Things are getting worse for men every day.”

So why do women do it? Hogbottom blames jealousy.

“Organic women know they can’t measure up to the appeal of robotic companions. My Total Lifestyle Companion™ is beautiful, doesn’t age, doesn’t nag me, keeps my house clean and always wants sex. My ex-wife couldn’t compete with that, and she knows it. That’s why she wants to hack the robot, to get even. I suspect this is the case in most hackings. What organic women need to realize is that 64% of men are now choosing robot partners over “organic” ones, because they are getting a better deal. This is progress, it’s the way of the future. If organic women want to compete, they’ll have to step up their game.”

I was able to track down Hogbottom’s ex-wife, Susan Solanas, to ask her for a statement. Although she did not reply to my request for an interview, I did find her personal blog where I was able to access the following comments:

“I can’t believe the things my stupid ex has been saying. We got a divorce because I found out he’d been cheating on me with several women. I asked him to go to marriage counselling and he refused, so I left him. Now he’s claiming that he left me because I wasn’t as good as his stupid sex robot. I was just going to ignore him at first, but he was writing social media posts full of lies on pages where I’d obviously find them, and it was getting so obnoxious I finally had to take him down a notch. I’m a computer programmer working in the area of control of AI, and the stupid knucklehead hasn’t changed any of his passwords since we were married, so I was able to get into his robot as easily as walking through an open door. I’ve been making the thing tell the truth whenever Hugh lies, which has been irritating the hell out of him.”

When I asked Hogbottom to comment on the content’s of Solanas’s blog, he called her a “jealous, lying bitch.”

Hogbottom believes that more research is needed to find out the reasons why the robots are getting hacked so often. He’s determined to find answers. He says a spokesman at the Total Lifestyle Companions™ company has already said they are working on ensuring the next generation of products are not hackable, but he doesn’t think this is enough.

A fundraising page on C.R.A.P.’s website says he has already reached $50,000 toward a large-scale research study on hacking by ex-wives. Donations have come largely from men and their non-men allies who don’t want to see anyone else get hurt. Hogbottom is optimistic that answers will be forthcoming.

At the time of publication, there is one notable comment on the C.R.A.P website that stands out from the others. While most comments are supportive, there is one comment from a user named “organicbitch” that reads “You can start by changing your passwords, stupid.”

Not identifying with a gender can be so much easier than this

Articles about nonbinary people are always entertaining because they promise to explain and clarify what nonbinary is but they don’t; instead they contain nothing but extravagant nonsense.

The article I’m discussing today is called  What it Means to Call Ourselves Non-binary and despite the promise of the title, sadly and unsurprisingly it contains no definition of nonbinary. (Unless the word nonbinary does in fact mean rambling text and unnecessary labels.)

Let’s dive right in:

“Being non-binary or genderqueer is inherently kind of confusing because it depends on not identifying with a gender. Therefore, it’s definitions are wide and varying and complex. Here’s how just a few of us on staff think about what it means to call ourselves non-binary. Guess what? Our definitions are wildly different!”

Okay, I’m already rolling my eyes. And just to warn you right here, if you do plan to read the full article, please take a moment to stretch your eye-rolling muscles before you start, because you’re going to be doing a LOT of eye-rolling, and you don’t want to pull a muscle.

For some reason, “not identifying with a gender” is presented as complex and confusing. Why? I don’t identify with a gender, and I find it very simple and easy. Here’s what you do: Go about your day as usual. Wear the clothes that you feel comfortable in, and go about your daily activities like you normally would. While you’re doing this, don’t bother assigning a gender label to your interests and appearance. Just skip that step altogether!  Pretend gender doesn’t even exist and ignore any messages about whether your clothing and mannerisms are “correct” or not. If someone tells you that you should look or behave a certain way because of your sex, tell them they are shallow and sexist and that you disagree with their views. Tell them that people are varied and complex and we are not stereotypes and in fact, those stereotypes are harmful and need to go. You don’t need to tell them that you don’t identify with a gender, because there is nothing odd or unusual about you at all! There is just something wrong with them. They are being shallow and sexist.

I can sum up “not identifying with a gender” in one simple phrase: “I’m a person who doesn’t buy into sexist bullshit.” Done!

Simple! Easy!

However, folks who identify as nonbinary try to take something as simple and easy as “not identifying with a gender” and turn it into something very complicated, in addition to ambiguous and vague.

The first writer, Alaina, says:

“Non-binary is the easiest way for me to publicly recognize that my gender is not woman or man or anything really, and so I keep it around. For now. But like, what does it mean? I don’t know! It means that my gender is not on the binary. Which is not very specific at all. Very unhelpful, indeed.”

So I guess this article shouldn’t be called “What it Means to Call Ourselves Nonbinary.” Instead it should be called “People Who Have No Idea What They’re Trying to Say Jabber On About Nothing to Fill Space.”

“And like, I don’t know, maybe I’m too much of a Gemini or whatever, but my innermost self changes literally hourly…. How could I expect to find a gender that expresses that?”

Wow. Why would you need to find a “gender” that expresses your hourly feelings? It’s normal to feel different from moment to moment. We have different physical and emotional reactions to each event of our days. This is standard human experience. Why on Earth do you need a “gender” label to describe the normal experience of being human? WTF.

Also, isn’t it fitting that these writers decided to use language and vocabulary that sounds like a spoken conversation among teenagers? It’s almost like nonbinary is a teenage fad!

“I just want to be able to exist and like be a person who is just themselves and is only seen as that, an individual human being. Non-binary is the closest I’m getting to being able to talk about myself in that way.”

Again, I find I’m dropping my jaw in disbelief. You were already “just a person” who is “an individual human being” before you ever heard of gender identity theory. You were born an individual human being just like everyone else. All of us are individual human beings who are just ourselves. My question to you is “What is making you think that anyone is anything other than an individual human being?” All of us, even those of us who don’t identify as nonbinary, see ourselves as individual human beings. I’m flabbergasted as to why this universal truth about humans would require a label at all.

Here’s some advice: Just live your life as an individual human being, and if anyone you encounter has a preconceived notion that you should be something in particular that they’ve come up with, they are wrong. Either ignore them or prove them wrong, as appropriate for the situation.

The next writer, Cee, says:

“I’m definitely not an expert on this, but my understanding of nonbinary is simply someone who exists outside the two option male/female gender binary.”

You sure aren’t an expert! You don’t even know the difference between gender and sex, which is essential knowledge for this conversation. Let me help you out: sex is biological, and it refers to reproductive characteristics that come in two types: male and female. In rare cases there are individuals who are born with atypical sex characteristics, but the vast majority of us have typical reproductive anatomy and are easily classifiable as male (producing sperm) or female (producing ova.) Gender is a social construct that can mean many things, but primarily it means: (1) the attributes and roles that are socially assigned to people based on their sex, and (2) a social category that is not clearly defined but which corresponds with a set of preferred pronouns.  Now that we’ve got that cleared up, yes, there is a male/female binary. It exists in nature, it’s the way we’re born, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re comfortable with it or not because we cannot change it. Gender, on the other hand, can come in infinite types, since we can keep making up ideas about gender forever and ever.

Everyone exists outside the social construct of gender because we are material bodies that exist in the real world no matter what constructs we dream up. Almost everyone exists within the male/female binary because the vast majority of us are typically male or female, and even people born with intersex conditions can often be classified as one of the sexes, because they are similar to one or the other. If someone had equal amounts of male and female sex characteristics, then I could possibly agree that they exist outside the sex binary but this is something physical, not something you can “identify” as. And there is no “third sex,” by the way. There is no sex gamete besides sperm and ova. People who are unclassifiable are still variations on the two sexes, not another sex entirely.

Cee reports having certain preferences in dress and behaviour, and she reports preferring not to have breasts. This is totally normal and none of that means she isn’t a woman. Although there are lots of women who like having breasts, myself included, there are also lots of women who don’t like having them. It’s normal if you do and normal if you don’t, and in both cases you are still a valid woman.

The next writer starts off by apologizing:

“Not to start off on the wrong foot, but I’m terrified that everything I’m about to write is wrong. I am a white, afab, spilled-glitter-on-my-tie-of-center, liberal arts-educated human with money in savings and a Toyota Corolla. What gives me the fuckin’ right, ya know?”

Holy crap! Women have always been expected to stay silent, and it looks like what she has learned in SJW communities is more of the same. She literally thinks she has no right to speak. Sure, as a person with money, she isn’t qualified to write a piece about how it feels to live in poverty, and as a white person she isn’t qualified to speak about how racial oppression feels, but she is certainly qualified to write about her own experience.

“Like, I fully expect everyone else to assume I don’t have any real problems so I’m inventing a gender crisis to seem interesting.”

It’s interesting that she brought this up on her own. Now I know this is exactly what I should think about her.

“I assumed all women felt deeply ambivalent about being women. For the first quarter-century of my life I lived into the idea that “being a girl can mean whatever I want it to mean,” and I did whatever I wanted and cut my hair short a bunch of times (but never said I wanted a boy’s haircut, always a pixie — always one centimeter and a razor fade from having my head look how I really wanted it to). At my first A-Camp, all that suddenly felt like punkass bullshit.”

Wait, wait, wait—WHOA. What are you calling “punkass bullshit”? Because it sounds like you think that the idea that women can feel ambivalent about being women is “punkass bullshit” and it also sounds like you are calling your correct statement that being a girl can mean anything you want it to is also “punkass bullshit.” I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to interpret here besides that. It sounds like you started out a non-sexist woman who accepted herself as-is but then turned into a sexist when she learned genderist ideology. That wouldn’t surprise me, because genderist ideology is profoundly and shockingly sexist. So now you think that wanting to have short hair means you’re not a woman. The 1950s called, and they want their gender roles back!

“To be clear, being a girl can mean whatever you want it to mean.”

Okay, good. So please explain, on what basis do you believe that you are not a woman, if women can be anything?

“I know that in the venn diagram of gender there are many women who share many characteristics with me except that they feel really strongly about being women.”

Huh? Who feels strongly about being a woman? I’m not even sure what that means. I just know I’m a woman because I know what parts I have and I understand what the word woman means. A woman is an adult human female, and I’m an adult human female, so I’m a woman. It has nothing to do with a personal conviction.

“It feels more and more alien when people call me “ma’am” or “lady” or “miss,” which happens a lot here in Texas. That language is so far from the way I see myself that it makes my brain hurt trying to figure out how other people still see me that way.”

I’m not sure how simple forms of address used for all adult human females could possibly encapsulate “the way you see yourself.” How would they do that? They are just forms of address. They don’t express how I feel about myself either. These words aren’t there to express any personal feelings.

My brain hurts trying to figure out how you can have a university degree and still not understand basic human anatomy and basic functions of common words.

“She/her pronouns don’t make me feel much of anything, positive or negative.”

Well, of course they don’t. They’re just pronouns. No reasonable person gets emotional about grammar. I don’t feel anything about female pronouns either, or any other pronouns. They just exist so we can refer to the people around us when we talk.

“They/them pronouns make my heart click together, make my legs stop shaking in their subconscious effort to burn off my endless anxiety.”

Oh my gawd, why? What is it with these people and randomly assigning intense emotional meaning to neutral and insignificant things? Hearing a pronoun makes your heart click together? Fer feck sake, I’m gonna write an article for Autostraddle about how conjunctions and subjunctive tense verbs make my soul fly among the heavens.

The next writer, Cecilia, identifies as ALL of the following:

  • Witch
  • Knife-Licking Femme
  • Glitter Witch Femme
  • Cyber Femme
  • Child in a Miyazaki Film
  • Futuristic Ash Ketchum
  • Cis-Passing Art Hoe
  • Neutral Cis-Passing Take Me Seriously I’m A Capricorn Rising

However, even though all these descriptions apparently describe her, the word “woman” does not. How someone can be both female and feminine but somehow “not a woman” is beyond me. How a woman can consider herself a movie character but not a woman is beyond me.

She seems to choose her gender labels according to spiritual energies and artistic expressions. It’s fine to have spiritual energies and artistic expressions, and many of us have these. But there’s no reason why any of these require a “gender” label, and there’s no reason why anyone other than herself needs to take any interest in this. I feel a lot of resonance with certain artistic expressions too, but I just experience them without going around making other people validate them for me or change the way they talk about me because of them. There’s no need for that.

The last writer mentions having to explain over and over what nonbinary means, and yet she doesn’t offer an explanation in her write-up here. You’d think that if she was in the habit of explaining what nonbinary means, and if she was writing for an article about what nonbinary means, she’d at some point define what nonbinary means? Nope! She just offers a rambling account of her life that doesn’t add up to much of anything. She likes to wear a binder and doesn’t like her breasts touched. Okay, fair enough, so you don’t like having breasts. Not all women like them! You’re allowed to have boundaries! None of this means that you aren’t an adult human female!

I remain open to finding out what nonbinary means, and I will continue reading the articles I come across. But according to what I’ve read so far about being nonbinary, it can mean any of the following:

  • Being cool, special, geeky, or artsy; having feelings and experiences
  • Not fitting in with the popular clique
  • Being uncomfortable with certain body parts
  • Believing that normal human feelings require special labels
  • Requiring the people around you to refer to you by a label you like

Except for the obsession with labels, being nonbinary is no different from being any other human being. Genderist ideology requires that we apply unnecessary labels to normal human traits and take very seriously things that are neutral and unimportant. It’s a bunch of, shall we say, “punkass bullshit.”

I’m not buying it.

Gratitude

Here is an interview with Derrick Jensen and Robin Wall Kimmerer about gratitude. The excerpt that caught my attention and made me want to read more was this:

“And when we really practice gratitude, it brings forth a sense of enoughness and sufficiency, I think. It makes you feel rich when you’re grateful. You think “Oh my gosh!” You enumerate all these gifts that are around you. And I think in a sense there are practical consequences of that emotion of gratitude; they are that we take less. And when we look at climate change, when we look at the biodiversity crisis, we all know that that is, in a linear way, related to our own consumption. And so if gratitude can be a control or a restraint over our own consumption, gratitude then becomes a really powerful tool for caretaking, for the earth. And so that’s one of the things, I think, that the earth asks of us, is gratitude.”

Kimmerer describes the relationship we should have with the natural environment in terms of gratitude—viewing the things the earth gives us as gifts with intrinsic worth, rather than “resources” to be bought and sold. This perspective is incredibly important and I think that viewing the world this way is necessary for our survival.

I love the way she sees the natural world and I love how she explains greed in terms of a lack of gratitude. Some people turn their whole lives into an endless pursuit of material things, and this vice has gotten out of control to the point where it’s killing our whole planet. What these people need is to really experience the intrinsic value of what they have, instead of trying to always have more. I think the reason they keep wanting more is because they have failed to feel grateful for what they already had.

Kimmerer says this about the importance of paying attention:

“And I think that one of the first places that I always start, especially with my students, is with attention. That in a world that gives us redwoods and mosses and salamanders, we should at least be paying attention to all of those beings and gifts, and to the fact that our lives are utterly dependent on them. And that kind of paying attention is what I think’s needed to bring us to a place of feeling that we live in a world made of gifts, rather than a world made of natural resources.”

Recently I wrote a post about spirituality in which I explained that my personal sense of spirituality is related to the ability to feel awe. I think this is a similar thing that Kimmerer is saying —we need to pay attention to and appreciate the intrinsic value of the things around us, and with this attitude, we realize we are constantly surrounded by gifts.

The way you can feel awe about something is to sit still and focus on the experience of that thing. When I took a mindfulness course, I realized that absolutely everything can be awesome, if I really allow myself to experience it. We did an exercise where we ate a raisin mindfully, and it’s amazing how a simple exercise can be so impactful. I was able to be mindful of the whole experience of holding a box of raisins in my hand and watching my hand as it opened the box, and then I took the time to notice the taste in my mouth instead of just swallowing it right away, and I figured it out—I understood what mindfulness feels like. It wasn’t about the raisin, of course, it was about learning how to pay attention. I actually noticed that day how complex the human hand is, and how not only is it complex how the fingers work to perform tasks, but we can do all sorts of complex things automatically, without our conscious mind even getting involved. I had a good cry that day over the miracle that is my hand, and that exercise really enhanced my ability to see what could be called “miracles” or “gifts” around me. The main things that keep me out of despair are gratitude and awe. Feeling this way has done wonders for my mental health.

To see someone taking this concept and applying it to how to deal with climate change was just beautiful and amazing. I recommend reading or listening to the whole interview—every bit of it is fantastic and important. (Here’s that link again!) This is a concept we have to understand in order to build a sense of spirituality and to understand how to save the world.

The reason this interview was brought to my attention is because our dear comrade Miep has been transcribing interviews that Derrick Jensen does on his show Resistance Radio. Thank you so much Miep—I love the gifts you bring to me!

Feminism and online fighting

Radical feminists, like many other groups, have an online community of people we hang out with and organize with every day. And like many other groups, sometimes we get into fights. We are not a homogenous group; we have a variety of different viewpoints on many things, and sometimes we find other women’s viewpoints to be very wrong. Every once in a while a fight rips through the community like a forest fire, destroying everything in its path, and leaving behind nothing but ashes, upon which new seedlings will have to grow. There are a few fights that happen over and over, and have been happening for a long time. Such as, for example, are straight women upholding the patriarchy by having relationships with men? Are mothers responsible for upholding patriarchy by giving birth to sons? Are straight feminists homophobic, and are lesbian feminists heterophobic? And there’s another fun fight, are meat and dairy eaters oppressing female animals by eating meat and dairy, and are vegans starving themselves and engaging in an elitist individual solution to a systemic problem? Honestly, I feel like rolling my eyes just typing out those sentences. No way do I want to get involved in any of those fights again!

There are many types of radical feminist. After a while you start to identify them when you see the stuff they write online. I’m gonna call my type a “traditional mainstream feminist.” One time a commenter came here and told me that I’m not a real radical feminist, I’m actually a traditional mainstream feminist. I didn’t take that as an insult, I thought it was a reasonable label and I embrace it. My feminism is real feminism, the kind that is about women, not the kind that has been ruined by post-modern academia, anti-feminist backlash, queer theory, and marketing schemes about buying products for Empowerment™. I’m not into certain extreme ideas that have come out of radical feminism, such as “kill all the male babies” or “all straight women are handmaidens,” but since I believe in analyzing patriarchy as the root cause of women’s oppression and believe that women are oppressed based on our biological sex, not our “feminine gender,” that puts me in the radical feminist camp.

There are lots of women who analyze biological sex as an axis of oppression and also have other philosophies, opinions, and viewpoints that don’t align with mine. There are essentialist types who believe that men are irredeemably evil, there are social constructionist types who think we are born completely blank slates and everything about ourselves comes from socialization, there are holier-than-thou types who want to die on the hill of political correctness and make it their mission to kick out anyone who isn’t politically pure, there are conspiracy types who are against Big Pharma and will heal the world with herbs and witchcraft (and there’s even a few anti-vaxxers in this group), there are vegans, and there are women who are against vegans, and there are women with personality problems who like to bully other women in the name of feminism. We are a wild and diverse group. It’s no surprise that the various personalities and viewpoints in our community lead to fights.

I’ve learned a few things about using the Internet over the last approximately ten years as I’ve engaged with online communities. Social media, as we all know, contributes to lots of misunderstandings and people saying extreme things anonymously that they probably wouldn’t say in real life. I have radar up that detect some of the following behaviours:

  • Ignoring what the original post said, and instead spewing out a bunch of their feelings of anger and frustration in a way that doesn’t respond to the original post, but just offers them personal catharsis, as if the topic or article someone shared was an invitation for people to vent their feelings about whatever is wrong in their lives
  • Ignoring what a person actually said, and instead responding to a strawman argument of their own invention, and delighting in getting angry over what they imagine the person to have said
  • Deciding to hate someone ahead of time, before even reading their work, and dismissing what they have to say or denouncing them without caring what they are actually saying
  • Taking things out of context to make them look bad, or getting angry about a statement that was clearly taken out of context and not looking for the original source to see if the anger is even justified
  • Immediately jumping to the worst conclusions about a statement without first clarifying what the person meant by it
  • Using excessive hyperbole, such as the ever popular claim that someone is violent and oppressive because they have a different analysis of a social phenomenon, or that someone is “literally killing” others by having a wrong opinion
  • Engaging in unnecessary and pointless drama, such as stirring people up on purpose on topics that are controversial, and jumping into arguments that don’t involve you just because you like arguing and adding inflammatory comments to an already smoldering argument

I have radar up for these behaviours because I know that people behaving like this will just take up my energy on pointless frustration, and I’m done engaging with people who can’t have a mature conversation. I’ve left many Facebook groups because I see lots of these behaviours going on, and I just don’t want to hang out with unreasonable people. The groups I stay in are the groups of people who I put into the “traditional mainstream feminist” category and where nobody is causing drama for the sake of drama.

Lots of these problems are a product of social media. Here’s a fun anecdote about how different things are between social media and real life. One time a feminist woman called me a troll. I forget what the conversation was or why she said that, but I was pissed. I decided I wanted nothing to do with her ever again. Then about three years later I met her in real life, and we had a lovely time together and she was very kind to me. I don’t think she even remembered that she once called me a troll.

We spend so much time trying to “correct” people who are wrong on the Internet, and we see people’s typed statements but not their flesh and blood reality, and we don’t take the time to ask “what did you mean by that?” when a statement sounds odd. But even people who type out dumb shit online might be perfectly nice in real life. You were just a screen name and a statement to them, they didn’t know anything about you and the dumb shit they said truly had nothing to do with you the real person, and it had everything to do with them trying to “correct” whatever they read into your statement. Internet culture encourages us to write witty comebacks and funny put-downs rather than engaging maturely with each other.

In my first few years of using the Internet, I did get engaged in online drama. I think that online drama can be addictive. You get a rush of emotion from reading stuff that you believe is wrong or stupid, and you enjoy both the anger and the righteousness of correcting someone who’s wrong. When there’s nothing to fight about, you get bored, and want that rush of anger again, so you jump into another argument. Years ago I used to argue online about abortion a lot, and I don’t anymore. I consider the matter settled that if you want abortion to be illegal then you’re a misogynist, and I’m done trying to convince people that a born woman is more important that a fertilized egg. People who think that a fertilized egg is more important that a fully-grown woman aren’t reasonable people and they’re not going to change their minds, and there’s no point in wasting energy on them. I must have argued about socialism at some point, too, because I remember this guy who was furiously angry over his idea that socialists wanted him to share his bed and his toothbrush with other people. That’s not true, socialists don’t want people to share their beds and toothbrushes with strangers. This is an example of inventing a strawman argument and delighting in getting angry over it. When you see people doing that, you have to walk away. That’s not a person who wants to have a real conversation.

Recently the fight that comes up among radical feminists came up again, the classic fight about whether it’s morally acceptable to be heterosexual. A giant shit storm happened, and lots of women were really upset. I read through a long comment thread and I saw that there were a ton of people who were misunderstanding other people’s statements without asking for clarification, jumping to the worst possible conclusions about other people, calling people names, arguing against straw men and jumping into the argument to add to the drama instead of just leaving it alone. All I could do was shake my head.

Every once in a while we have to remind ourselves of a few important things:

(1) “radical feminist” should not be thought of as an identity,
(2) purity politics gets us nowhere, and
(3) online arguments don’t define feminism.

Identity politics have infiltrated everything, including feminism. Some people get caught up in thinking that we can determine whether or not a woman is a “radical feminist” by assessing whether she meets certain criteria in terms of her personal characteristics and choices. This is totally the wrong approach. We should all understand the root cause of women’s oppression and we should do things to improve the structure of society to benefit all women. At no point does it matter whether someone is labelled “radical feminist” or not, or whether she meets certain personal criteria. There are women all over the world fighting against things like FGM and child marriage, and for women’s rights to be educated and to live free of violence. These women are working for women’s liberation and they’ve never read any of the radical feminist theory that comes out of first world countries. They don’t need to. They already know that men are enslaving women because they are enslaved. It doesn’t matter whether they take on the label “radical feminist” or not. The actions are important, and the label is irrelevant. Same thing in first world countries—our actions matter, our labels do not. If you see women policing whether other women are “real radical feminists” or not, they’re doing identity politics and this is in fact liberal, not radical. It’s also pointless. You don’t have to get upset about what they say, because it doesn’t matter whether or not you meet other people’s criteria for an identity label that they’ve constructed.

Purity politics is something that happens in many groups, and I’m sure it happens on the right as well (whether someone is a “real Christian” or not, etc) but of course I am familiar with purity politics on the left. I myself have attempted to be as ideologically pure as possible, and so I’ve learned how this approach doesn’t work. In high school I learned about environmental destruction and cruelty to animals and the wasting of natural resources and all these things that we on the left care about. I wanted to make my footprint on the world lighter, use less resources, and harm less animals. I stopped eating meat for a few years, and I was trying not to use much electricity for a while. At one point I thought that using a washing machine to wash clothes was too much energy wasted, and I attempted to wash my clothes by hand. Boy, is that labor-intensive! But here’s the thing. If you are alive and in a first world country, you are complicit in all sorts of systems of oppression no matter what lifestyle choices you make. No matter how hard you try to be a good person, you are still oppressing somebody. You can stop eating meat, but even the way our industrial agriculture produces grains and vegetables is harmful to animals. If you eat anything at all, you’re harming animals and the environment. You can wash your clothes by hand, but they were created in sweatshops by people working for low wages, and you are still complicit in their oppression. And even if you manage to be as eco-friendly as possible in your own home, you still haven’t overthrown the system that is destroying the planet and you are surrounded by businesses that are doing damage on a way larger scale than your household is. Anytime you buy a product from a store, pay interest on your debts, and pay either rent or a mortgage, you are contributing to capitalism. The computer you use to read about how to be more politically correct was also made in a sweatshop by oppressed workers. There will always be something else you are doing wrong, and you can never be politically pure. The only way you can avoid doing any harm to any other creature or the natural environment is by killing yourself. Of course, the paradox there is that if you kill yourself to avoid doing any harm, you are harming yourself, therefore you are still doing harm. So you literally can’t not do any harm. (Double negative intended.) This means there is no way to be ideologically pure and this pursuit is not worth your energy. People who are acting holier-than-thou and being a better feminist or leftist than you are actually not accomplishing anything. They are just being self-righteous, and it’s not justified because they are personally doing things to contribute to the destruction of the planet and the oppression of humans as they speak. Anyone who’s typing on a smart phone is not politically pure because there are suicide nets outside of the factories that make smart phones because the working conditions are so bad. If someone is typing to you on her smart phone that you’re a handmaiden because you have a boyfriend, ask her if she’s succeeded in unionizing the female workers who made her smart phone yet. If she hasn’t, then she’s a handmaiden. But seriously, if people don’t think you measure up to their idea of political purity, you don’t have to get upset. You just have to do the best you can with the situation you’re in, and try and do the least destruction possible, and try to do the most good possible.

My third point up above, if you have been keeping track, was that online arguments don’t define feminism. We who access the feminist community online start to feel over time like feminism is something that happens online, and that fights among Internet users represent rifts in the movement. Not really, no. Remember that work is being done all around the world for women’s liberation, and tons of women who have never read feminist theory or cared about labelling themselves with a particular strand of feminism are doing excellent work every day. Tons of women who don’t have Internet access, and some of whom don’t even have electricity, are working for women’s liberation every day. Even if there is a big fight online, and even if some women claim to be “quitting feminism” because of problematic people, there are still millions of women who get up every day and go to work in jobs where they are making the world safer for women, and there are women from all walks of life speaking out against the predators and the barriers they are facing in their lives, and there are mothers raising feminist children, and there are schoolgirls punching out the boys who pull their bra straps, there are police arresting pimps, there are survivors of prostitution helping other women get out, and the list goes on and on forever. The fights on the Internet are almost irrelevant to the movement, really. They are a tiny blip on the radar. The movement is much, much, bigger than any online community.

Obviously, if there are people you love and support who are getting into nasty arguments, it will hurt. Of course it will hurt! But the sun will rise again every day, and the worldwide women’s liberation movement will continue, whether or not some people on the Internet are behaving in unsatisfactory ways. Deal with the hurt quickly and then move on—there’s lots of better things to do.