Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 60- The Well of Loneliness

In this episode, join hosts Tori and Amanda in a look at what is said to be “the first” lesbian novel for the end of Pride Month: The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, talk about heteronormative behavior, gender as a construct and drink vodka.

Embracing My Gender Fluidity with Animal Crossing

I realized that I wasn’t exactly my gender when I was in high school, around 16 or so. Then and even now, I was fine with my biological sex as female but the presentation of said biological sex and the presentation of the associating gender as woman was something I waffled on. I was mostly fine with presenting as female, using female pronouns and living my life as a female; but during those formative high school years there was a quiet storm starting to rumble, one that was not decidedly female or feminine. For the longest time, I thought I was transgender but I didn’t experience any dsyphoria. I didn’t feel wrong in my body; just not entirely a female. There was a male part of me that the longer I tried to deny, the more stark and apparent he became. 

I found out what I was about a year or so into my journey: genderfluid. Gender fluidity is under the umbrella of being non-binary, rejecting a strict binary of gender slotting people rigidly into male or female. There is a distinct difference in every part of me while presenting as female and presenting as male and both sides are different but united under one roof being my human meat shell. But I still present as female almost every day of my life. I don’t have an issue with being seen as and perceived as a woman and those close to me know about the male side of me that I don’t hide when in more intimate spaces. 

Recently I started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons; yes, I know I’m late to the party, I’ve been playing Pokemon Sword for hours in a fugue depressive state. When I finally started the island slice-of-life game, I immediately tried to win over my villagers through gifts (as you do); mostly trying very hard to fit gifts to their personalities. But I quickly started simply regifting gifts I had received or items that I didn’t want to keep but also didn’t feel like selling back to the capitalistic tanukis. I would give male characters dresses, tank tops, skirts and female characters all sorts of sports memorabilia and it was all okay. Rocco accepted lacy tanks, Sheldon was fine with dresses, Clay was okay with getting cute pink items and is perfect in every way. 

I spent a great amount of time trying to get my house looking just right and for a while I was greatly troubled with how girly my home on my fictional island looked. Lots of floral wallpapers and pink and a galaxy floor for some reason. I worried that it wasn’t gender neutral enough or masculine enough but then I remembered something about my own gender: it’s fluid. I am both at the time, I am one or the other, a mix of the two, perfectly unbalanced and wonderful for it. 

I am a lot of things that are in contradiction: a goth, a pastel girly girl; a charming prince and a doting princess. That binary, that duality has always been part of me and I’ve always found it beautiful. I’m no less a goth because I like pink and no less a masculine because of it in the same way Rocco is no less male-coded if he’s in a frilly dress. That’s the funny thing about gender; it’s all a social construct. Pink was a masculine color until society just one day decided it wasn’t. Dresses were for men until society just one day decided it wasn’t. Clothes aren’t inherently gendered; nothing really is. Humans decided what is gendered and the arbitrariness of it has impacted the lives of trans and non-binary people for far too long. Capitalism made gendered products and thus created this artificial concept that products can be for some or for others.

Animal Crossing has been a game that lets me be unabashedly girly while not feeling like I’m sacrificing any of my masculinity and reminding me that, in fact, such a notion is a fool’s errand. Liking pink and flowers and nice clothes and rooms to coordinate with a sense of flow and purpose is not inherently gendered. Liking men’s clothing and dresses at the same time shouldn’t be so revolutionary. And the fact that Animal Crossing is so gender queer is just wonderful, even down to the character design. Looking at my little avatar running around depending on the haircut; very few gendered clues are provided as all character models are flat-chested and without difference in hip shape. It means that building what we know as male and female is entirely down to filigree; decoration that is added to a human body but with a simple swap can mean radical difference. 

For a while, I had attempted to strive for something that would look like gender neutrality: favoring lots of black and white, signing off letters and emails with a simple non-gendered “A” and thinking that despite the ample bust and wide hips that if I just tried hard enough I could pass for male and thus provide my gender fluidity. But even then all I was doing was trying to perform at gender. I was trying so hard to make people see something that truthfully, I didn’t need them to see. What matters is and forever will be, how I feel. Gender is a tricky thing; all at once very real and also very tenuous and fleeting and even though I am lucky enough not to feel much dysphoria ( I do sometimes when being labeled as female is used inherently as a means of condescension or with certain hormonal imbalances caused by the curse of being a biological woman); I have to give some thanks to a video game about capitalism, colonialism and terraforming for helping teach me a valuable lesson about my gender identity. 

Happy Pride, everyone. Be open, be kind, be empathetic and most importantly; when applicable, be yourself. And never forget that gender is entirely a social construct. 

The Strange Calm of Car Crash Compilation Videos

I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.

There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.

But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it. 

Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well. 

I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain. 

Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling. 

I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.  

That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly. 

I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 59 – Orlando

This week, hosts Tori and Amanda cover Virginia Woolfe’s gender-bending novel: Orlando in honor of LGBT+ Pride Month while discussing gender as a social construct and shamelessly shill for LookHuman’s bisexual pride merch.