Chosen Name

I am so excited right now. (So excited, in fact, that I’m not going to bother worrying that I haven’t done a 101-ish post about trans-ish stuff on a multitopic blog in which readers might reasonably be expected to not be familiar with this topic and the associated jargon. Feel free to consult google.)

For months, almost since I first started considering that I might possibly be kind of sort of trans, I’ve been thinking about changing my name. My given name is very feminine. There is no way I could possibly introduce myself with my given name and not be taken for female, even if I were wearing drag or something. But, I’m not a very feminine person. At all. And it really bothers me to have such a thoroughly feminine name.

I think I might be agendered, or possibly neutrois. That seems to make sense. I don’t feel like I’m “a man trapped in a womans body” as the stereotypical description of what it feels like to be trans goes. But, I don’t know, maybe I am a transman. I can’t figure it out. Gender is just really confusing to me. I don’t get it. I don’t understand gender, in general, nevermind figuring out my own. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about gender lately, trying to figure it out.

Ever since I started thinking about this stuff, ever since I first considered that I might not be cisgendered, I’ve been really bothered by anything that forces me to identify myself as male or female, whether it is mens/womens restrooms or a drop down menu (with only male and female as options) on an email registration page. Or having to introduce myself, using my given name, which screams “I AM FEMALE”. I mean, when it’s some internet thing where I have to pick male or female from the option before going on the next page, I’ve taken to flipping a coin to decide which one to go with.

For several months, I’ve been thinking about changing my name to something gender-neutral, but I kept hesitating. What if I didn’t like the name I picked? What if I found one I liked better? What if I later figure out that I am actually a transman, and I feel like I’m stuck with a gender-neutral name when I really ought to have a masculine one? But of course, all of these things are just excuses. It is really not that big a deal to just ask a few friends to call you by your chosen name for a while, until you get used to it enough to see whether you like it. It’s not like I was going to try to legally change my name without testing it out first. It’s not something permanent. And besides, I really haven’t changed my mind about the particular name I picked out pretty soon after I started thinking about it. If there’s a name I would like better, well, I haven’t been able to come up with it in a span of a few months.

The most worrying thing, is wondering how my family will take it. It feels like I am insulting my parents by rejecting their choice of name, and if I really do want to legally change my name at some point, it will be necessary to have a talk with my parents about it at some point. I’m not looking forward to that. I’m most definitely not ready to explain all this stuff about gender to them, and I’m not sure how I could talk about changing my name without a good chance that would come up.

This weekend, I wanted to tell my brother and his wife that I’d decided to change my name, but I felt like it was too soon to bring up after the whole coming out as an atheist thing. I feel like I am always coming out as one thing or another. I let the moment pass.

But today, I was hanging out with my roommates, and I thought it would be a perfect time to bring it up, to ask them to call me by my chosen name. It was not easy to just say it. I hesitated for some time. Our conversation, however, afforded a perfect opportunity, when the subject turned to how difficult it can be to get used to calling a trans person by a new set of pronouns when they start to transition (it is really amazing how strongly it is ingrained is us, to automatically sort a person into a box based on what gender they seem to be and, once sorted, how very hard it is to change that). So I mentioned I was thinking of changing my name, and I asked them to call me by my chosen name. The one roommate went into a long heart to heart talk, telling me that she loves me for who I am, and that we are like family, and stuff like that. We’ve really become more than just roommates, since we moved in together. We are very supportive of each other. She often says how she doesn’t think she could have made it through the year without us (she’s been really unlucky with health issues). And it really means so much to me that she was so supportive with this, and is already making an effort to remember to use the new name.

And from now on when I introduce myself to someone new, I can tell them my chosen name and not be shouting “I AM FEMALE”. I feel giddy. I can’t believe how excited and happy this makes me feel. I wouldn’t have thought I could feel this way in the middle of this funk that I am in, that people call depression (and which I still question if that’s what it is).


Coming Out Story

I came out as an atheist to my brother and his wife the day before yesterday. I was really quite nervous about this, even though I previously came out to them as being queer (which went wonderfully- they basically said that they love me and support me no matter what, and if there’s anything they can do to help, to just let them know). I grew up in a family where religion was considered to be one of, if not the, most important thing in life. I know my parents are against things like gay marriage, and yet I am much more terrified to tell them that I am an atheist than that I am queer (I think I’ll wait, on both counts, until I at least have a steady job). If I told them I’m queer, I could perhaps get them to see that being queer is not choice and that there is a difference between having certain feelings and acting on them, although it would make things more complicated if I had a partner of the same sex or if I decided that I want to transition in some way (both of which are still definite possibilities, although the latter more so than the former).

Being an atheist, though, unlike being queer, is not something that can be described as ‘having certain feelings’ or as something that just is, and can’t be changed. Even if you argue that beliefs are, to some extent, not a choice, they certainly aren’t something that can’t be changed. Being an atheist would mean (in their worldview) that I will definitely go to hell when I die, whereas being queer would just mean that, I don’t know, that I have more temptation or something? I’m not entirely sure what it is that makes me more afraid to come out to my family as an atheist than as queer.

It already makes my mom uncomfortable that I like to buy cargo pants and t-shirts from the guys section of the store (let’s face it, there just aren’t any good cargo pants in the womens section, and the good t-shirt designs are more readily available on ‘unisex’ (that is, mens) t-shirts), so perhaps it would not be so surprising that I am queer? I don’t know. I did tell my parents that I am asexual, and I have a nagging suspicion that they may have thought that meant I am gay but in denial (I am, in fact, not gay). I’m jealous of all the people on AVEN who have parents that tell them it’s ok to be gay but don’t believe them when they come out as asexual (“it’s probably just a phase”, “have you had your hormones checked?”, “you must just be in denial about being gay”, etc.). Trying to convince people that you are what you say you are and that they shouldn’t erase your identity because it doesn’t fit in with their personal view of the world (which would be totally frustrating and a pain in the ass) sounds a lot more fun than trying to convince yourself that worrying that your parents will disown you for coming out is silly. I do worry that my parents will reject me, in one way or another, if I tell them that I am an atheist and/or queer. I especially worry that my mom will have a hard time coming to terms with me being atheist. She reacted very badly when her non-Christian friend died, when I was a child, feeling so bad that her friend was going to hell, feeling guilty that she didn’t do something more. I just, I can’t tell her. But I really want to tell my parents. I hate hiding things. Whenever we talk on the phone, and it feels like we’re closer because of keeping in touch, I really want to be open about these things because they’re important to me. But feel like I can’t possibly tell them, and I feel torn when I talk to them. I end up wanting to pick up the phone less often. Either I need to be less close to them, or I need to be able to tell them the things that I feel it is important to not hide.

I hate that I am so conflicted and worried about this. I hate that I can’t help but talk about how afraid and conflicted I am about the idea of coming out to my parents every time I talk about coming out. This was supposed to be a post about coming out to my brother as an atheist this weekend, and about how he just said that that’s my choice, and he’s ok with that. This was supposed to be a post about how awesome my brother and his wife are, and how I can talk to them about politics or religion or whatever, and even when we disagree we all still accept and respect and support each other as people, and as family. Even my brother didn’t seem to think that telling my mom I am an atheist would be a good idea (though he did say he’d support me if I did).

I’m not sure I could have told them if I didn’t suspect it might be possible that they have their own doubts. Neither of them have gone to church in some time, due to some bad experiences they had with ‘church politics’ sort of stuff, but, as I found out this weekend, they are still Christians. They just aren’t so big on the whole organized church thing anymore, which I can understand. And I’m ok with that.

Pseudo Sleep Paralysis?

I had a dream this morning that made me wonder if there is really all that much difference between sleep paralysis and a lucid (or at least vivid or memorable) dream in which you cannot move, especially in cases where the one turns into the other. I have had more than one wake-initiated lucid dream which started with sleep paralysis and then became a lucid dream in which I could not move or had great difficulty moving. I usually have a very hard time telling where the sleep paralysis ends and the dream begins. I often wonder if some of my earliest sleep paralysis experiences were really wake-initiated dreams which began with sleep paralysis. I wouldn’t be surprised if it just isn’t always possible to tell the difference between the two based only on subjective experience (I wonder if there are any good objective measurements to specifically indicate a sleep paralysis state?). I can definitely imagine someone who has experienced sleep paralysis having a dream (lucid or not) about being in sleep paralysis.

I’ve decided to post the relevant bits of this dream verbatim from my dream journal, even though it includes bad grammar, abbreviations, and jargon, and things are written out of order (it was sufficiently confusing and repetitive that I don’t know what order most of the things happened in, anyway). FA stands for false awakening. That’s when you dream that you’ve woken up. RC stands for reality check. I made extensive use of the nose plug reality check during this dream (if you plug your nose and you can still breathe normally, then you’re dreaming). Extra notes I’ve added for this post are in [square brackets].

Lucid. False awakening. Very convinced I’m awake. In own bed, seeing own ceiling. Check anyway. Nose plug fails [as in, I can still breathe, so I must be dreaming]. Paralyzed, struggle to move. FA. Repeat about a dozen times… Sometimes during, felt like floating- then back in bed. Heard music, but thought nothing of it for a while. Then realized it’s a good sign of being asleep. Try to ‘stabilize’ dream. See ‘stabilize’ write itself in red on the ceiling, one of the times I actually made it out of bed- then back to being stuck. Floated through walls/through floor at least once each, followed by FA. Strong pressure felt on shoulders most of the time. Constantly reality checking with nose plug because it’s so easy to think I’ve just woken, or just opened my ‘real’ eyes. Still wonder how I moved my hand enough to do that, while feeling paralyzed so much. First time, was trying to figure out how to test if I’d just woken up without moving, but did nose plug RC anyway. As time went on, felt more and more like I had a stuffy nose. I wanted to wake up or at least dream something where I could move.

So hard to remember what came before, while I was first lucid [I couldn’t remember at all what came before the false awakenings and paralysis when I first woke, even though I knew I was lucid before the first FA]. Don’t know where I became lucid. Taco Bell. Go to use the restroom. Leave my backpack with whoever I’m with (a lady and her daughter, I think?). I realize that was dumb, because I have no idea what she looks like. When I reach the restroom, I find my backpack hanging on the back of the door. I figure the lady stopped being in the dream, and so the backpack defaulted to another location.

Back at Taco Bell. I had a taco and a burrito earlier, so I order two tacos and a soda (I still have the one taco left over in my backpack) to complete the meal.

At one of the booths. Two people are having an interesting conversation in the next booth. The one I am back to back with is very [big?] and has a mask or something creepy like that. No, a ballcap, and she is a scarily large woman with long blond hair (I am not using large as a euphemism for fat). My point of view doesn’t quite match up with my ‘body’. It’s the point of view I would have if I were sitting next to myself and looking up and back to see the woman.

My shadow! [remembering more about the FA/paralysis stuff now] My shadow was keeping me in place, but I couldn’t even move my head to see it! If only… At times I saw random weird stuff, like a drawing bouncing around on the ceiling. At least it wasn’t spiders this time… My p.o.v. [I got tired of writing out point of view] didn’t match my body that one time. I was trying to edge myself back, lean my body against the headrest, edge myself up even if moving was so hard. It worked, except my p.o.v. remained firmly directed at the ceiling, which was kind of disoriented. It occurred to me at some point to concentrate more on senses other than sight (it was dark part of the time, or my ‘eyes were closed’). So I concentrated on hearing. I don’t think I heard anything interesting, so maybe this was before the music. I don’t remember which songs played, although it seemed obvious at the time. I thought it was coming from my computer until I realized I would have had to get up and turn it on for that, and I hadn’t.

This dream has a great deal in common with my experiences that are more obviously able to be called sleep paralysis. I was in my own bed, looking at the ceiling I look at every morning when I wake up. I could not move (the few times I did seem to be able to move, it was very limited and with great difficulty). I had just “woken up” from a lucid dream before it started, and if I had not managed to reality check constantly throughout, I would have no idea it was a dream (as opposed to being awake or in ‘actual’ sleep paralysis). I felt a strong pressure on my shoulders, as if someone were holding me down. At one point, I felt as if some frightening, malevolent ‘other’ was holding me there (my own shadow). I hallucinated odd things (such as the drawing bouncing around on the ceiling- which I just now realize I didn’t actually write down in the dream journal entry). I may even have been in the same position when I woke up as when I was dreaming (on my back), although I can’t remember for sure. It also occurred on a day when I had overslept (I fell back asleep after waking because I did not get up for a while).

There are only a few things I can think of to distinguish this from most of my sleep paralysis episodes. The most obvious of these was that I was aware throughout that it was a lucid dream, due to constant reality checks, but this is also the first time I have even thought to reality check during something that seemed like sleep paralysis. It also had a suspiciously long duration for sleep paralysis. I’m a little uncertain of how long sleep paralysis is supposed to last, though, and this website suggests that while a sleep paralysis episode usually lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes, a person’s sense of time can be distorted during an episode. Possibly the most telling difference, which I did not even realize until I was mostly done writing this post, was the lack of a certain ‘rushing’ sound or a certain pressure in the back of my neck. While I find this sound/feeling very difficult to describe in words, it is a very distinctive sound/feeling that seems to always happen during sleep paralysis (and only during sleep paralysis) for me.

From a practical standpoint, as someone who is into lucid dreaming as a hobby, it would be really nice to learn how to not get stuck in this pseudo sleep paralysis state. I often having trouble moving and/or being able to see in lucid dreams that start with an episode of sleep paralysis (usually wake-initiated lucid dreams). It’s really disappointing when I’m trying to have fun and explore and experiment in a lucid dream, but instead I spend the whole dream trying to figure out how to move my legs and/or make everything not be so dark. Sometimes I am able to transition from sleep paralysis into a lucid dream that isn’t hobbled, though. I wish I could figure out what is different, between the times that I can, and the times that I can’t. Well, at least I have gotten past the point of being scared by sleep paralysis (knowing that it’s not real and that it will end soon makes a world of difference). Even that one recent time where I saw a spider inches from my face while in sleep paralysis, I didn’t freak out. Though, even when it’s not ‘real’ sleep paralysis, it can get pretty unpleasant when I can’t move, and I can’t wake up, and it seems to last for something like ten minutes or half an hour. I’m still wondering if it was a real episode of sleep paralysis after all. It’s not like I have a polysomnogram (and my google-fu isn’t strong enough to figure out how much that would be able to tell me, anyway, which is kind of frustrating).

Morality in Dreams

It’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been really depressed or something lately (apparently I have recurrent major depressive episodes, but even though I’ve been diagnosed multiple times with depression, I still wonder if that’s actually what it is), so I’ve mostly just been concentrating on trying not to fail (all of) my classes and maybe, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, returning overdue books to the library or paying the bills 5 minutes before they’re due. So, yea, blogging hasn’t really been that high on my todo list, but I just felt like writing today. Oh, and if you don’t know the difference between “being a bit down” and having major depressive episode (a lot of well meaning people seem to conflate the two without realizing it), please go read this blog post. In fact, go read it even if you do know the difference between those two things. It is humorous and illustrated while at the same time being a really good description of one person’s experience of being depressed.

I’ve been thinking about morality and ethics a fair amount, lately, and the dream I had this morning really gave me something to think about. Now, I’m always disappointed when I’m reading someone’s blog and they talk about a dream they had and all they have to write is, like, two whole sentences. That might just be me, but hey, this is a blog that’s partly about lucid dreaming, so I’m going to put the whole dream here. I usually write dreams in present tense in my dream journal because I read somewhere once that that helps with dream recall. No idea if it actually does, but it seems at least plausible, and it’s become a habit by this point. So, right, dream.

I’m in a group, and we’re walking along sidewalks and along/across train tracks (and taking the trains part of the way). My friend Lauren (name changed to protect anonymity- she’s not acting like she does in real life, anyway) gets really mad at a young black girl. I’m really uncomfortable with this situation. Lauren is really pissed off. I’m afraid she’ll hurt her. The kid’s down in a wide shallow pit with railing at the top, at the edge of which the crowd is watching. Lauren is up there, too, frustrated that her prey is not easily reachable. I jump down into the pit. The girl is on the ground. I ask her if she is ok, and she says yes. Then I focus on making sure Lauren won’t get to her, staying between them.

The ‘fight’ is over now. Both Lauren and I had ditched our backpacks during the whole mess. Lauren yells “Hey! They’re stealing our backpacks!” at two guys as they run away. They did steal two backpacks, but I’m not sure they’re ours. There’s no time to think, though. I join Lauren in the chase. I hate races like this. I’m not that good at running. I worry about losing my laptop and graphing calculator, which I normally keep in my backpack. They won’t be cheap to replace, and if I lose data that will impossible to replace.

We’re chasing the two guys through a mall. They split up. I chase one, Lauren the other. Lauren is harsh when she catches up to her target, forcibly pushing him down and taking the backpack. When I catch up to my target… he’s a guy in a motorized wheelchair and he hasn’t got my backpack. He has a backpack, probably his own. I apologize for chasing him, explaining that we thought they took our backpacks (we had good reason to be suspicious). Then he winks at me and pulls a smaller backpack out of his own and gives it to me. So he did steal one. I take it and put it on, being uncomfortably aware of wearing the wrong one, afraid I’ll get called on it.

I rejoin Lauren and we walk back to where we left our backpacks. I’m busy worrying about losing my laptop and about whether the pack I’m wearing (and haven’t had time to look in) might contain something dangerous and/or illegal. We arrive at a spot that is different than the one we left. A blond woman (possibly a teacher) had been watching our bags for us. I’m relieved, taking mine back and checking the contents. It’s all there- lots of books, my notebook, my computer. The woman takes us to a place to turn the other bags in (a customer service section of the store they were bought from). I’m glad Lauren has to return hers. She probably knew they weren’t ours to begin with. I look inside mine while we’re in the line. Nothing but a Rolling Stones magazine and a few pieces of candy (the backpack itself is one of those small ones that you pull shut at the top with the ties, like a dice bag). I turn it in to these people. I’m thinking it’s probably not even going to get back to its owner. I’m thinking I should have kept it. I tell this to my dad as we’re walking. We go down in an odd elevator with no walls. He disagrees.

Immediately upon waking, I continued thinking about whether I should have kept the bag or not. I felt slightly guilty, and I probably rationalized a bit. Is it wrong to keep something you’ve come across if you don’t know how to return it to its owner? It wasn’t like I just picked it up off the ground. I was chasing that guy to get back something that belonged to me, and I ended up with someone else’s stuff instead. Turning it in to a place where it would probably not find its way back to its owner felt like it made the whole effort a waste. It felt like a special reward when I got it from the guy in the wheelchair by not being an asshole (in contrast to Lauren).

And why should I feel even slightly guilty about this? Firstly, I didn’t even keep the bag, I just decided that I should have, after the fact. Did I just feel guilty because I told my dad I wished I’d kept it, and he said that would be wrong? Statements about morality do seem to carry extra weight (at least emotionally) when they come from a parent or other respected authority figure. Secondly, it was a dream. Why should I feel guilty about something I did in a dream, even if I did something really bad, like murdering people?

People seem to have different ideas about the morality of acts done in a dream (this is my vague impression from hanging around lucid dreaming forums). Some would say that, since a dream is no more real than a video game, you can do anything you want in a dream (especially if you know it’s a dream), and it won’t be wrong. Others, especially those who believe that dreams are more than just random hallucinations you have while sleeping, would argue that there are certain things that it is wrong to do, even in a dream. Another view is that if you do something wrong, even if you find out later that it didn’t hurt anyone (e.g. it was a dream, or you were a participant in the Milgram Obedience Experiment), that will still affect you in much the same way as if you actually did do something wrong and someone was hurt.

My particular view on this actually tends to the side which tends to believe that dreams are more than just random hallucinations, and here is why. A while ago, while pondering various questions, such as “Does god exist?” and “How do I tell what is really real?”, I basically decided that I had no way of knowing for certain if what I am currently experiencing through my subjective senses reflects on some objective reality. It’s like that film, The Matrix. How do you really know if what you are experiencing isn’t some high tech virtual reality machine? On a more personal level, how do I tell that I am experiencing an objective reality as opposed to, say, dreaming? I have had so many dreams that seemed completely real while I was having then. I mean, I do have some great reality checks that I use to check if I am dreaming, in the hope of randomly finding out that I am and then having a lucid dream (the best of these, for me, is the nose plug check- if I plug my nose and I can still breathe, it’s a dream), but reality checks can fail. Honestly, the most compelling reason to decide that waking life is real and dreaming is not, is that waking life is more consistent, more coherent, more stable, and easier to remember. After a while of this line of thinking, wondering how to tell what, if anything, is ‘real’, I basically decided that, if something seems real, I should treat as if it is real because hey, maybe it is, and if it isn’t, well, I don’t really have anything else to go on. So, I think, if you hurt someone you think is real at the time, even if it turns out to be a dream later, that that is still wrong (because you didn’t know they weren’t real at the time, and because even if they aren’t real, your actions still affect you, and because you can’t KNOW absolutely for certain that they’re not real, even if it seems that way later). Dreams might be more than random hallucinations (it’s also possible that waking life is more than slightly-less-random-than-when-dreaming hallucinations, after all). I don’t really think there’s any way to tell for certain (but I could be wrong). On a slightly related note, I am an agnostic atheist (using the definitions where agnosticism (without knowledge) refers only to lack of knowledge about the existence or non-existence of a deity, and atheism refers only to lack of belief in a deity), but I usually leave off the agnostic bit when describing myself, because it is redundant. I am agnostic about literally everything.

Another thing to consider is whether the actions you take in a dream reflect on the way you would actually act in a similar situation in real life. Not all of the things I do in dreams seem to reflect on me in this way, in my experience. Sometimes, for example, I have done things in dreams that I was afraid that I might do in real life (the sort of things I would never do in real life, but occasionally had random, disturbing thoughts about anyway). In other cases, the dream settingĀ  is sufficiently different from reality that I don’t see how my actions really reflect on any way I might act in real life (e.g. exploring a dungeon and killing evil dragons with a sword). Other things are also incongruent between my actions in dreams and real life. Sometimes I dream I am someone else and act more like that person than myself. Or, for instance, I have an easier time talking to people in dreams than in real life. In real life, I often find it annoying or awkward when I have to talk to other people that I don’t know, but when I am dreaming it seems natural and easy and I lack the reluctance I often have in real life. But some things I do in dreams do seem particularly characteristic of me. But how to tell the difference? This particular dream was more realistic than most I have, and I was definitely myself in the dream, and I definitely thought it was real while it was happening (even to the point of worrying that I would lose my laptop, which I really do often carry in backpack, and worrying about whether or not I was doing the right thing). My actions in the dream probably do reflect either on me, or on how I would like to be. I can deal with that. After all, I did protect that girl, even though it meant standing up to my friend, and I did return the bag, even though I was tempted not to.