expectations

Spotty

There are a lot of things I see framed as choice, when they’re really about maintaining the illusions of free will, of not giving a fuck, or of resisting the dominant paradigm. I want to see my actions as autonomous, as a source of strength. But I’m coming up against the constraints of one so-called choice, and it’s a huge and tiny internal war, one that also shows quite plainly on my face.

When I discovered femme identity, I found a gender and aesthetic that felt like home. There was strength and softness there, and the recognition of beauty rituals for self-care.

Queer femininity taught me to uproot hidden strains of misogyny that lurked and lingered in myself and others, craftily masking themselves as authenticity, self-acceptance, or concerns for health. I could be pretty and tough and feminine, and none of these elements contradicted each other.

I never felt like I had to wear makeup. I enjoyed it. I’d go out without it sometimes, but more often than not I felt better with it. It was my femme armour and I wore it with pride.

Then this weird thing started happening on my face. It was a kind of acne or infection or I don’t-know-what. It hurt and itched, and it was always red and spotty. I’d never had perfectly clear skin, but I’d never been as blighted as this before in my life.

I tried maintenance and treatment: A different face wash, aloe vera, tea tree oil, and then concealer and some powder.

I soon realized that the spotty thing got a bit better when I was home all day, makeup free. The decision seemed simple, and an obvious tradeoff: take a break from wearing makeup, and let the spotty thing clear up. But I pouted. I insisted that I wanted to wear the makeup, it was my choice, and by my politics, my right.

Eventually discomfort won over. I committed to taking a break, just until the spotty thing went down, then I’d re-introduce bits of the makeup routine.

But the spotty thing would not go down. Just when I thought the last spot was healing, poof, another one appeared and brought its friends. And every morning I woke up to the same awful conclusion: My self-acceptance was bullshit. I hate my face.

It didn’t matter if I was in a good mood, if life or relationships are going well, if I was otherwise healthy, or felt secure in my strengths and successes. Every day, when I saw my reflection in the mirror, it was the same Face Hate voice. This sucks. There is no way you or anyone else could see this as pretty.

If I stay on that train, it hits all of the obvious points of self-deprecation, true or not. No one will love me like this. Anyone who says I’m pretty or even beautiful are clearly lying (and maybe they’re not, but they still say what’s going on with your face? No one loves the spotty thing.) The Face Hate voice is highly unoriginal, repetitive, and cruel.

I tried to embrace the face. I’d take a selfie and stare at my own mug, willing myself to find something to appreciate. That used to work in other periods of self-deprecation, but it was more like a pat on the head than a shift in vision. I stared and stared and saw nothing.

I tried to reason with the hate I have for my face, but it won’t budge.

Dear Face Hate: Don’t you know that aesthetics aren’t the most important thing about this human being? Why don’t you back off and consider all her other good qualities. Nope, it says. You’re cool and all but your face still sucks.

Dear Face Hate: Didn’t the gods of the spotty thing get that no-makeup sacrifice I made? I thought we had a deal here. Nope, it says. Spotty thing is gonna stick around, and so am I.

Dear Face Hate: You’re boring. Why are we doing this everyday? I don’t NEED to be pretty. And it laughs and laughs and laughs. It doesn’t need to say anything, because it knows that if I truly believed that, it wouldn’t be here. I have a choice, right? I can always pick up the brush, and apply pretty if I want it that bad. Do I?

I know that I have the privilege of choosing to wear makeup or not – none of my jobs require me to (overtly or not), so I can stick with this stubborn, uncomfortable experiment. But as much as it sucks, I’m learning that despite my femme politics, I’m so much more affected by heteronormative patriarchal standards of beauty than I’d ever want to admit.

The voice of the face hate sounds like mine, but it’s not. I didn’t put it there, but I also thought myself immune to it, and never noticed its insidious entrance until now.

I’ve come to treat it kind of like running the gauntlet. Get up, shower, brush teeth, then there’s the mirror and the tired refrain. Yeah ok, what’s new? Still hate the face. What’s next? Then I move on to breakfast.

Breakfast used to get quickly passed over in the morning chaos. But an unexpected benefit of skipping makeup is extra time for a tasty meal, and a little bit more room for groceries too.

I wish I could close with redemption, with some positive message about self-compassion, about accepting yourself, even about breakfast. I could post a token photo, bare all and invite reassurances, stand face-naked in all of my vulnerability and hope for absolution. But I know it’s not that simple. There’s no quick fix.

If there’s anything I can accept, it’s that love – for self and others – is turbulent and not always kind, it’s the imperfect state of progress and the slow nature of change. Something will shift, eventually, but for now it’s still spotty.

 

 

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It takes two to Scissr

Originally published in the Technology section of the Uniter (Feb 4, 2015). One week, I tasked myself with exploring how this exciting new app could change the dating scene in Winnipeg. I didn’t get very far.

A new lesbian dating app features mostly tumbleweeds

Anyone who says dating is easy and stress-free is lying to you. If it was a walk in the park, most dating and hookup apps wouldn’t exist.

Many apps are designed for straight people, with same-sex options as an afterthought. A cisgender bias – assuming that sex and gender are the same thing – is pretty clear. Mix in a dash of monosexism, and you’ve got a scene that’s still pretty awkward to navigate for queer, trans, and bi folks.

I’ve spent some time on Tinder, and it wasn’t the worst thing ever. They have a slider you can set for only men, only women or both. Whenever I’d hang out in the women-only side, I got to know the There’s no one new around you screen really well after about 5 minutes.

I was pretty excited to hear that Scissr was available in Winnipeg. It’s billed as “The Bespoken Lesbian App”, so if you’re any other shade of queer, prepare for that oh-so-common mental leap. It’s an app for ladies to meet ladies, hopefully. Let’s leave it at that, and explore the Sapphic potential at our fingertips.

The main screen greets you calmly, in sepia tones. It features the back of a woman’s head, wearing a long braid that ends in a red bow. She has her hands on her hips and is gazing off across a mountain valley, confident that across those rocky peaks, she’ll find a lady lover.

I suppose the Winnipeg equivalent would be standing on top of Garbage Hill, squinting into the wind, then giving up and dashing back into your car. That’s about as long as it’ll take you to try your luck on Scissr here.

Like Tinder, the login is processed through Facebook, with a promise that they won’t post on your behalf and inadvertently broadcast your dating life. My login was rejected due to a lack of information, and I was told I could email tech support for an invitation. When my tour was cut short, I went looking for a guide.

Sally (not her real name) has used OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and Scissr. She found the interface confusing. “It’s definitely not as user friendly as the other apps, or as clear,” Sally says.

“It doesn’t tell you where people are – just how close they are to you. Which I think is the same way Grindr works – but, there’s only 3 or 4 other people in Winnipeg on it right now (and thanks to our small city, basically I just always know how far [my friend] is from me.)”

At press time, I was still unable to log into Scissr, but I’m not sure that I’m missing much. Sally put it best: “I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a city where you could go on there and see how many people are around you.”

An app can’t expand your local dating pool – all it can do is let you know who’s out there. And any app is only as good as the people using it. So if you want to Scissr, give it a try.

The Empty Tap

I often try not to take modern conveniences for granted. I look at house life as only one step removed from camping, just with a more permanent kind of tent. It keeps me light on my toes. And when the modern conveniences fail, as they often have and often do, it feels a little less catastrophic.

Water is, so far, the most popular thing to fall off, and it really messes up my life when I reach for the tap and find it empty. Even when I think I’ve adapted to whatever work-around I’ve set up, I still reach for the same tap, expecting liquid.

Earlier this fall, my brother and mom replaced my bathtub taps for me as an early birthday present. The hot water tap started with a slow leak, and then would not shut off with the water pressure. The new taps are shiny and pretty and do exactly as a tap does: They keep the water on, or off, or at a desired level somewhere between the two.

Looking back, today, I think oh – what a luxury, hot water that won’t stop! And it was really only a small inconvenience, to turn the taps on and off at the source before and after a bath. Even after the fix, it was a few weeks before I stopped reaching for that shut-off valve, before I trusted the new taps completely.

This weekend, my water heater started leaking all over the basement floor. Not a colossal flood – phew – but enough to be trouble. Enough to find another shut off valve, and to make boiling water for dishes a safer bet than counting on the big tank.

So I found little tanks and filled them, and laughed to myself whenever I reached for the empty tap. At the moment, I’m still optimistic. I can still flip the “make the best of it” switch, to make small adjustments, to not feel so hard done by.

IMG_4859

The little hot water tanks.

I know that eventually, like all of these systems I count on day by day, this too will wear out. Living in a house as camping won’t be novel, it’ll be demoralizing.

Eventually, I’ll get tired of the makeshift shower or using the bath as a sink (or the sink as a bath) or whatever the best possible option is. Eventually, I will just want to take modern conveniences for granted, to move through my day a little more seamlessly.

For now, I just hope to find a way to fix the latest problem before the supplies get too low – before my optimism runs dry.

Maintenance

“But you can make it yourself” has almost reached cult status in my family. I can always count on hearing it from my mom if I mention wanting to stop to grab a coffee or a bite to eat – why, I could have just made that at home for (insert cost of said food/beverage). And it would be better, of course.

While I may have acquired the skills to make a lot of things myself, I haven’t quite perfected the routine of maintenance. This has been a sore spot, a failing, a source of shame for a while. Why can’t I just keep myself organized enough to do the most basic things?

To make coffee at home means I have coffee on hand, which means I’ve gone grocery shopping, and which also means I haven’t re-allocated my grocery budget to something more pressing. What could be more pressing than eating? Well, cats eating, for one, because they don’t really do logic and reason when I try to explain to them that kibble is coming even though their bowl is empty now. They will just howl. And my eating can be patched together with canned goods and leftovers, I can stretch it a little longer.

It also requires that home space be kept in workable order, building a foundation of items and order so that cooking and cleaning are tasks, not expeditions. But when did I last do the dishes? Well over a month ago, not counting a small refresher load of mugs and bowls after every single one was dirtied. Dinner tonight was pizza, frozen, because in a glorious burst of forward planning I bought 6 when they were on sale. Later on when I look back, and realize I was thinking ahead, I’m grateful that my past self was planning for my future self in some way, looking for an easier path through the day.

But for the regular things to be done easily, there needs to be more than sporadic effort. The infrastructure requires maintenance.

Evidence of last week's tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don't ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

Evidence of last week’s tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don’t ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

I’m sitting here tonight with dye in my hair, a half-hearted refresher to a well-faded purple last updated I can’t remember how long ago. I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow for the first time in six months. This used to be the one thing I maintained, either by shelling out cash or wielding my own colour brush and scissors. But I’ve let it slide, I’ve almost entirely quit the maintenance of my hair, and of personal aesthetics in general.

In a space without maintenance, routines dissolve. Sometimes, in the case of a kitchen, it can be chaotic. In other areas, like caring less about my appearance, it can be freeing. This thing that I thought I had to maintain, or that I thought I wanted to maintain, wasn’t a priority for a while. Eventually I had to reconsider how much of a priority it really was. At what point was I keeping it up for myself, or because it was important, and to what extent did this just become a habit?

Maintenance becomes routine becomes habit, habit becomes unquestioned mechanical repetition. Yes, in some areas I’d like to have a bit more consistency and take out the guesswork. But sometimes that guesswork is necessary, to try out new ways of thinking, of being, of opening up pockets of time and new possibilities.

Perhaps I could do anything myself if I really tried, including perfecting the routine of maintenance. But I’m starting to appreciate its rough spots, the little gaps that keep the days from falling into drone-like repetition. Perhaps it’s not necessary, or obligatory, or the price to pay for keeping up a facade of functional adulthood.

Maintenance, like everything else, is subjective, and taking a moment to observe the places it thrives and the places it’s never even visited – the piles that seem to be growing and toppling, constructing their own geography of abandoned domestic wilderness – might even be more important than trying to impose it everywhere without a second thought. It’s less of an answer and more of a question. What, here, is worth maintaining?

Rehearsing tough

There is a line that I draw, and redraw, and redraw, between what is tolerable and what is not. It shifts with my expectations, my confidence, my priorities. It shifts with my mood. It shifts with the seasons.

In Winnipeg, we always talk about the weather. Are we special? No, every place has its own set of atmospheric vagaries that shape our movement, fashions, habits, routines.

What’s exceptional about our weather (as much as it pains me to write those 5 words, which, standing on their own, read as the most mundane declaration in the prairies, but stay with me, please!) is the yearly range, the distance between extremes. Well past 30 above in the summer, often beyond 30 below in the winter. But we don’t jump about too much, we adapt in little shifts.

As we descend, each 5 degree drop comes with a twinge and a resigned sigh. Last week, in the mid-teens, I replaced screens with storm windows and packed up all the open-toed shoes. Today I pulled my hood up to defend against tiny hail droplets, but took comfort in the fact that we hadn’t yet moved into full-on hat and mitts territory. The cold approaches and I retreat at first, scaling back further into my house and piling on blankets. Then I acclimatize, re-bundle, and wander out again, smiling at the sun on my face even as the wind blows more and more bitterly.

It’s not winter yet, but it will be. And I know that when -30 comes, I’ll look back at these flirting-with-zero days with a mix of envy and desperation. Winter’s approach feels certain; Spring can’t ever be trusted.

Here, we complain, joke, mythologize the weather. Our city’s rich music scene, often credited to the months spent in half-hibernation. The warmth of our personalities. Our resilience.

I worry that strength and resilience are misread into a much harsher reality: Expecting the cold, and facing it with a sad, cynical smirk. The blunt bravado behind what won’t kill me will make me stronger.

This strength comes at a price, as it always does. To steel my cheeks, unflinching in the face of 60 km/h hail-speckled wind, may lessen my suffering for the dark months, but it’s harder to just flip the switch back come July: The air is kinder, it’s time to feel now. It’s more than the weather that seeps deeper inside, reinforcing a kind of permafrost.

After spending the longest part of every year rehearsing tough, it takes more than a short spurt of relative warmth to truly thaw.