Navigating This “In the Middle” Feeling (Take 2)

I love Pride month! Really I do. I think it’s fun. I think it’s necessary. I think it is reaffirming. I think it’s challenging. I think often it’s not really a space for everyone. I think it’s deeply-seated in whiteness.  I think there’s nothing that says every person who identifies with the ‘LGBTQQIP2SAA’ community needs to be “gung-ho” pride. I have a lot of thoughts on pride.

That being said, I also really enjoyed the unbelievable opportunity to march in the Boston Pride Parade on June 10, 2017, with Keshet – a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. I didn’t plan to march in the parade, but I can truly say, this experience (was overwhelming) was wonderful. [Side note: Soon I’ll write more about being Jewish and being queer.] Connecting these two important, and individually significant, identities at Boston Pride was really unbelievable! At some points, I was uncomfortable with all the attention but I also experienced moments of true pride and comfort – I could tell because my head was held high and I felt calm. In “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” As I was marching in the Boston Pride Parade I felt courageous. It was a lot, but it was also kind of the best!

IMG_20170610_102830 (1)
Happy Pride!

Pride was very timely for me this year. It was really amazing and also exactly when I didn’t need it to be – hence, this “in the middle” feeling!

Here’s why: I often don’t tell people I’m queer when I first meet them.

I don’t tell people because more often than not it shouldn’t matter. Unless we’re dating, my sexual preferences and what is attractive to me isn’t really important.  It’s just that often my queerness doesn’t mesh with my new relationships. In fact, I keep my queerness a significant, safe distance from most of the important people in my life. I can’t figure out how to make room for my queerness. Instead, I straddle my “real life” and my “queer life” very intentionally deciding when to allow aspects of either to seep into the other side – again this “in the middle” feeling.

I feel like I’m best at “doing queerness” with other queer people. Often on the outside, my romantic relationships look as “typical” as can be.  Lately, I have been grappling with the authenticity of my queer identities because of this tension. I often feel I’m not “queer enough” and also like I’m stumbling hardcore at navigating the nuances of dating mostly straight, cisgender, males. Most days, I agree to throw the social script out the window and just figure out what works for us, but sometimes it’s hard to shut out all the social pressure and expectations.

Then, I see tweets like this:

Tweet

For some reason, when I read this tweet, I felt as if there was a misalignment with my actions, beliefs, and identities. I started judging and shaming myself. I was disappointed that I was spending (any) energy questioning my queerness when I absolutely know better. I was also disappointed that I was spending energy suppressing my queerness to fit into a more traditional role (i.e., separating my queer identities and my involvement in the queer community from my relationships). I just felt really torn.

Externally, in my personal life, my queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity and from the outside looking in, most other queer people wouldn’t immediately or easily catch me with their “gaydar”.  However, as a writer, this niche has awarded me a space on various platforms to publically discuss my identities, the challenges I’m encountering, and educate people about asexuality. For that, I am so very thankful.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on queerness lately. I’ve even asked if this statement, ‘If I have to use labels, I identify as asexual and panromantic, but I can’t stop talking about my “Future Jewish Husband” and children”, makes me a “bad queer“. I’ve spent the majority of the last two years writing about asexuality and why it’s important for people who are asexual to come out (if they feel safe). And, I believe this wholeheartedly.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like as a queer person at best I’m an outsider and at worst I’m an impostor.

I know, I know, I know that “queerness” isn’t exclusively about actions. I have even written about how behavior does not have to dictate orientation, as asexuality is about how someone feels not what someone does.  I’ve said that, “The bottom line for me is this: asexuality is real, and rather than questioning and quizzing someone about their sexual identity or recollecting all their past actions to try and make sense of their life, from your perspective, when they come out, the best thing you can do is believe them and support them. ” I still believe this!

It’s just that it’s getting harder and harder for me to feel like I belong anywhere.

A friend asked us to reflect today on the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. She said, “Are we making space to listen to LGBTQIA+ folks? Really listen? Like, not just go to the parade and party with us, but listen to our fears, hopes, vulnerabilities, struggles, pain, joy, and all the other things that make us truly human? Are we only supporting white LGBTQIA+ folks, or are we actively including queer folks of color? Religious and non-religious? Able-bodied and those living with disabilities? Genderqueer/fluid/non-binary? Folks who don’t give a damn about marriage? It’s essential that we recognize the FULL spectrum of our fabulous community and get real about who we are. Join me in reflection, and then join me in action. ❤️💛💚💙💜” This really resonated with me.

The first time I wrote this post, a year ago,  I was grappling with my identities as both a fervent ally and a member of the queer community. I felt like I was stuck in the middle; I wanted to be a part of the queer community and in so many ways I felt like I was, yet my identities were not immediately reflected in the queer spaces I was frequenting so allyship felt safer.

I’m still in the middle. I’m in the middle of wanting my identities to be recognized yet not sharing them, figuring out how to “fit in” in the queer community yet keeping the community separate from my other important relationships and identities, and deciding when it’s safe and matters to be out. I’m in the middle of feeling both “too queer” and “not queer enough” all the while fully acknowledging I would never judge someone else’s belonging the same way I’m scrutinizing over mine.

The middle is a hard place to be. The beauty is that within the hardship is where you get to make the important choice to lean into discomfort, pain, and difficulty and embrace vulnerability or give in to disconnection and disengagement and abandon your authentic self. Which is scary! So, I’ll waiver in the middle grappling and overthinking until a gust of wind sways me or something…

6 Thoughts About Girls Night Out – The Morning After Edition

1. Thin privilege exists

If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist read this and this. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist try losing 50 pounds, putting on a tight skirt, and becoming an automatic magnet for guys in the club to grind up on you – unless there are skinnier girls around you. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist, look around.  Also, the bar tender called me tiny. That NEVER happened before.

2. How did we get in without paying a cover?

The trick is to stand in the doorway and be incredibly indecisive until the bouncer loses their patience and lets you in for free. Also, A) Thin privilege B) We’re girls – my feminism is cringing at this right now.

3. If you go out and you didn’t get someone to buy you a shot, you didn’t try hard enough

Again, my feminism is cringing, but also such #LifeGoals. Also, why did we drink Fireball?!?!

Next up: how to tell if a guy is worth it by the type of drink he buys you.

4. Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM is the only proven way to avoid a hangover 

10/10 would do it again. But actually the results of my personal, non-biased, scientific study suggest that Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM after a night of drinking significantly reduces the risk and severity of a hangover by at least 95%.

5. Does dancing burn calories? 

Everything hurts. Literally everything. The tips of my toes hurt! I feel like I worked out for HOURS! Everything hurt while I was dancing – until I was drunk. When I was drunk, it didn’t hurt anymore. And so, I danced more. Now, everything hurts. Was it worth it? Probably.

6. I need to go to more queer bars

Getting drunk, dancing, and making out with guys is basically the standard fare for a night out at a straight club. Which is a totally fun set of activities, but also it gets old fast. Queer clubbing is WAY more fun – there’s so much more to anticipate! There’s more diversity. There are less guys just trying to get a quick hookup. There’s more color! Also, the music is better.

Also, I learned a lesson last night: The key to life is patience. Don’t guzzle, just sip.

And, here’s one more thought: Is it “girls night” or “girls’ night”? – It’s girls because we were a group of girls going out; we (the girls) don’t own the night. Except we did, and we always do. The verdict is undecided.

 

How Do You Measure a Year?

Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm


I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.


2016 was a remarkable year – literally.

As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.

So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?

Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?

I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.

The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.

Control

In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.

Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm.  Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.

Running

I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.

In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life.  When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.

capture

Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever  Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.

I once described my feelings about running like this,

 “pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination.  Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”

I’ve also described running like this,

“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.

I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]

So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I  ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.

20161113_103431_11165
At the finish line of the Cambridge Half Marathon  – 11/13/2016

I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.

I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.

Education

In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.

I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!

Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by  my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex traumaimpostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective. Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.

Writing

In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about.  These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!

I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!

Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps

I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.

I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!

The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.

I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.

I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.

2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!


If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you struggle with self-harm, the you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Reflecting on What’s Unsettled, Uncomfortable, Unfocused, and Uncertain – Thoughts for the Jewish New Year

During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!

This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.

And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.

And so,  I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.


Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this).  Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.

  1. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?

I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.

  1. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!

  1. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]

  1. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.

  1. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.

  1. How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?

I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.

  1. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?

Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!

  1. What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?

I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”,  do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.

  1. When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?

I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.

Those are my answers! What are yours?


גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.

Navigating This “In the Middle” Feeling

“Does your experience of sexuality come with a particular identity or label?”, my friend asks. Delicately pulsing toward “personal stuff”, and gently reminding me “you obviously don’t have to answer.”

And then later she asks more directly, “what are you?”

I immediately respond, “I don’t like labels… am I allowed to just be a person?”

Side note: When I recollect this story to a friend, he says, “resist the urge to conform to labels” to which I respond with a hearty “YASSSS!”

Anyway… she replies, “Yes of course, but are you one of us? Are you part of the family?”

My first thought is to say “yep” with a confident nod, and then recognize the warmth spreading throughout me as I am validated and welcomed. Instead, more timidly, I reply, “I’m still figuring it out.”-purposely distancing myself.

In my mind, I simultaneously acknowledge an “in the middle feeling” that I can’t shake.Queer, kinda? Belonging, mostly?

Here’s the deal, if you need labels, I am Jewish, a young professional, an asexual person, a woman, an athlete, a person living with chronic pain and OCD.  The list could go on and on! The fact is, I hold so many marginalized identities, and I hate labels. My worth cannot be equated to the sum of my minority statuses, and, idealistically, I wish for a world where belonging isn’t contingent on our labels or identities.

I’ve been mulling over this for a while; I’ve been thinking (and writing)  a lot about belonginglabels, and identity.  So, this conversation with my friend only propelled my thinking – more aptly, my ruminating. I didn’t have an answer that I was comfortable vocalizing, but I did have an answer to my friend’s question. I did.

And then two days later Orlando happened.

For my entire life, stories about the Holocaust, about my community, have been the most visceral examples of the repercussions of hate and war.

When the Boston Marathon bombing happened, that was my community.

When Sandy Hood happened, that was my community.

When Orlando happened, that was my community.

I woke up on Sunday June 12th, and without any hesitation I thought, “Yes – I’m part of the “family”.” Because it felt personal.

Among other things, one of my first thoughts was “I didn’t speak up soon enough.” I didn’t feel compelled to offer the empty “thoughts and prayers” kind of sympathy. Instead my thoughts raced to just a few weekends prior dancing downtown at a gay night club in Providence. I had the time of my life that night, and felt inexplicably confident!

I realized quickly, if they weren’t safe, I’m not either. That was daunting. I felt like I wanted to scream, yet I also felt like I wanted to be silent.

Initially, I didn’t know how to process Orlando, and my feelings; so I ignored it all. Not identifying publicly, and simply using phrases like “our stories” or “our communities” (plural) rather than being explicit, I followed the Twitter trending hashtags, and checked on my loved ones. And then, I didn’t talk about it again.

Yet, nearly a week later, I found myself eagerly taking shots of tequila to “being queer as fuck”, and wanting so badly to find solace in the celebration of Pride. I wrote, “I went to a poetry slam dedicated to elevating the voices of queer people of color. I don’t know what “out” means, but I felt safe and proud!” Later, I danced the night away at another gay club, and it didn’t dawn on me until much later the next morning that my feeling of safety, exploration, and undeniable fun  was such a gift.

Orlando scared me into accessing my queer community. It made me think twice about my hesitations. Orlando did touch my community.  It touched me – not directly of course, but I felt it. That’s for sure! Recognizing this is important!

And so now, I’m holding on steadfast to my feeling of pride, the rambunctious, unfiltered fun, and a firm sense of belonging.

It’s the most whole I’ve felt in a long time.