Discussing Gender in Sociology Class

Trigger warning- cissexism

Hoo boy. We just started covering gender in my sociology class. The reading for the chapter on gender was assigned several weeks ago (in the syllabus), so I had been expecting it for a while, but it had been so long that I assumed they must have covered it on the day I missed class. After reading the chapter in the book, it’s one lecture I would have really liked to know was coming, because I anticipated that it would be somewhat triggery.
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Good News and Awesome News

So, I found out a few weeks ago that there is a way to unofficially change my name at my school, so that I can get my name changed to my preferred name in most parts of the system without a legal name change. I was really excited about this, because it would mean not having to deal with things like my teachers calling the wrong name when taking role on the first day of class, or talking to all of my teachers individually about going by a name completely different than my legal name, or having the wrong name be attached to every single email I send using my school email address. I waited a few weeks on filling out the form, though, because I wanted to be sure that I was happy with the name I put on it. Also, I was hoping to maybe get my parents involved in the discussion of what my name should be, although that’s less important for an unofficial name change than for a legal one. Well, my parents did come around sufficiently fast to already be having a conversation about names. For my middle and first names, I ended up deciding to use the name I was already going by and one of the names that my parents would have given me if I had been assigned male at birth. This works both to give my parents a little say in what I should be named and to not confuse people who are already calling me something else.

Anyway. I took the form in today. The office had a bit of trouble figuring out how to do it since they haven’t had to do an unofficial name change in a while (not surprising), but they were courteous and respectful. I’m hoping they’ll figure out how to get it to work with the computer system in a day or two. Mostly, I’m just incredibly excited. No more having to see that awful wrong-gendered name in reference to me when dealing with official school channels that have to use my name as it is in the system.

I’m also excited because I might be able to go on hormones pretty soon here. I finally figured out the right people to talk to and decided that I’m sure I want to do this and that I want to do it soon. I’m having last minute doubts, of course. It’s a big decision and a big change, and it would mean that I really am committing to this whole transition thing (not that I wasn’t before, but even more so now). I’m 99% sure that I want to do this, but actually saying I want to do it now is really bringing all those little nagging doubts to the fore. What if I decide it’s the wrong decision later? What if my gender is really just a very unfeminine non-binary gender and I decide I hate facial hair? What if I’m wrong about stuff? I guess it’s pretty natural to have a few small doubts about a major decision. I’m really glad that one of those doubts is not “What if I’m actually female?” I am most definitely not female, and I do not want to be seen as such, and if I were going to be happy even being androgynous, I should have noticed that by now, because I’m already pretty androgynous. Being sort of in between genders as far as how people perceive me is mostly just really uncomfortable for me. When I can actually start passing consistently and people just automatically gender me correctly most of the time, it will just be such a huge load off my mind. Then maybe I can just be me and stop worrying so much about, say, dressing in the way that will be most likely to be perceived as male.

And then I feel bad because passing is a fairly large part of this decision, and I hate feeling like I give a damn about what other people think. It’s not so much what other people think of me, though, as not having people see me as something that I am not (which is a constant stress for me). And it’s not just about passing. It will help a lot with certain physical things that I really hate, and maybe being on the right hormones will just feel right. All in all, I feel like the potential benefits range from great to spectacular, and the potential downsides are small risks that I’m quite willing to take. And there’s risks for not doing it, too. Dysphoria is no joke, and neither is being harassed for not looking male/female enough (although I’ve been lucky not to have to deal with too much of that, so far). And it’s hardly like I’m making any sort of decision on a whim. I’ve probably been at least vaguely considering hormones for the better part of a year and assuming that I’ll go on them if/when I can for several months. I’ve been considering it as something to do very soon for maybe a couple of weeks, and it’s going to take even more time just to start the process. And if I decide I want to slow down, well, that’s easy, all I have to do is nothing.

Maybe I’ll take it a little slower just to keep from freaking my parents out. I can get things going on my terms, now, since I know who to talk to, and I have a therapist who is willing write me a letter if I need one. And being able to say I can get this started when I choose to makes me feel much less anxious/frustrated/impatient/desperate, which is how I start feeling when it seems like I’m not making any progress or when I can’t make any progress. Plus I do need to keep in mind how this is all working with my depression. I am mostly back to normal, I think, and being able to make progress with my transition and finding out my family is supportive seems to be doing wonders for me, so continuing to make progress, but trying not to rush, is probably a very good plan.

Update on Coming Out

So…

An awesome thing happened.

My parents decided that the best thing to do on finding out that I was trans was to read some books on the subject, as well as talk to me and listen to me describe my own experience.

And somehow being trans makes it into the category of things that don’t conflict with Christianity. Although homosexuality not so much (they seem to be in the “it’s ok to be gay as long as you don’t have sex” camp). They still don’t really understand asexuality, although they want to.

They’re worried about a bunch of stuff due to being parents. They worry about my long term chances to be happy and healthy. They keep warning me not to go too fast into anything irreversible. It’s an effort to explain that I have thought things through very thoroughly (it’s new to them but not to me), and that not doing stuff has consequences too (gender dysphoria is neither fun nor healthy).

They are even starting to come around about name and pronoun stuff, and it’s looking like they’ll be supportive of my transition. It seems like they’re quickly turning into transgender allies *grin*

I almost feel guilty that I got so lucky as to have parents react to my being trans in such a great way. A friend of mine was more or less disowned by her parents for being trans.

I’m still terrified of telling my parents I’m an atheist. There is absolutely no way to square that one with their religious beliefs. I’m afraid of putting too many details on my blog. What if my parents (or someone else who knows me) find it and figure out it’s me? That actually happened to a blogger I used to read, and it ended very badly (someone who knew her in meatspace figured out it was her blog and showed some of her posts about mental health stuff to her school…). I hate feeling constrained in what I can write about. And I hate hiding bits and pieces of who I am that other people won’t approve of. But sometimes you have to hide things to keep yourself safe. It’s stupid that the world works like that, but it does.

I’d love to be totally open about being an atheist, but the timing just does not seem right. There’s enough going on right now, already, and I don’t want them to think my being trans has anything to do with my being an atheist (because it doesn’t). But will the time ever be right to basically tell my parents “I’m going to hell”? That’s how they’ll see it. I just can’t tell them without feeling incredibly guilty. And I can’t not tell them without feeling guilty, too. Argh.

This post started out all happy, now I feel grumpy again. I’m going to go play video games, now.

Sleep Paralysis as an Explanation for Alien Abduction

Sleep paralysis is commonly offered as an explanation for alien abduction in skeptical circles. I’ve experienced sleep paralysis numerous times before, and I’ve written about it several times on my blog. I find sleep paralysis fascinating, and I am always wishing I could find more (solid) information about it (books, scholarly articles, etc.). I’ve never had any particular interest in or knowledge of alien abduction, but I can totally imagine someone mistaking sleep paralysis for alien abduction, especially if it’s the first time they’ve experienced it (or they have had multiple experiences that are consistent with each other), and they don’t know what it is. I mean, my first sleep paralysis experience was freaky enough when it was obvious (after I was fully awake, anyway) that it couldn’t have been real.

So, I decided to do some research on alien abduction to see if sleep paralysis really does stand up as a good explanation for alien abduction stories. I figured it would likely explain some, but not all, alien abduction stories. There were a few specific things I was looking for when trying to decide if sleep paralysis was a likely explanation for a particular story. Most obviously, was the person paralyzed during their abduction experience? Paralysis is, not surprisingly, kind of vital to being able to describe an experience as sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis happens while one is waking up or falling asleep, so another thing to look for was whether the person was lying down or falling asleep or waking up before or after or during their experience. There are a lot of other factors which can variously be present during sleep paralysis. People not uncommonly describe feeling a ‘presence’, often an evil one, in the room during an episode of sleep paralysis, and some people describe hearing a buzzing or rushing sound during the experience. People may hallucinate to varying degrees during sleep paralysis, and they usually have a much higher level of awareness than during a dream, perhaps almost as high as when awake. Usually, a sleep paralysis episode occurs on a time frame of a few minutes, although it can be shorter or longer, up to an hour or more.

So, I started googling to find some abduction stories and see how well they matched up with the sleep paralysis explanation. It became obvious fairly quickly that I should expand my repertoire of possible explanations to include confabulation and false memories (one story I found involved memories “recovered” under hypnosis, which completely undermined any credibility the story might otherwise have had, in my opinion) as well as other sleep phenomena like hypnagogic hallucinations, vivid dreams, and perhaps lucid dreams. Hypnagogic hallucinations occur in the drowsy state between waking and sleeping (this can occur either while falling asleep or waking up, although the latter are technically referred to as hypnopompic hallucinations). I have experienced both hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, although they are only rarely particularly noteworthy, as in the time I hallucinated a spider at least two feet across while sitting up in bed after waking abruptly from a sleep paralysis episode. Usually it is minor stuff, like thinking I see a bug or a spider crawling across the wall in the half dark, when I can’t quite tell if there is anything there or not until I turn on a light. As for hypnagogic hallucinations, when I’ve reached a point where I can’t quite tell if I am hearing a voice or if it is just in my head, that is an excellent sign that I’m right on the edge of sleep.

So, anyway, the stories that came up most easily on google tended to be the famous cases, and I doubt those are particularly representative alien abduction stories. Plus, it was hard to find the level of detail I wanted to test my hypothesis on some of these famous stories. News stories talking about specifics of what the aliens looked like were pretty useless for my purposes, considering that much of the detail I was looking for was specifically about context, such as whether the person was abducted when they had just lain down to take a nap, or whether the story ends with them waking up in bed. Eventually I found a site called phenomena log, which lets people submit stories of weird or unexplained phenomena and categorizes them by type, time, location, etc. In a slightly more scientific than cherry picking stories on google analysis, I decided to look at the five most recent stories filed under alien abduction and see how many of them could best be explained by sleep paralysis or other related sleep phenomena. In my opinion, 3 of the 5 seemed very consistent with sleep phenomena (specifically sleep paralysis, hypnopompic hallucination and vivid/lucid dreaming). I wasn’t quite sure what to think about the other two stories. There should be multiple witnesses for both stories if the events were not dreamed or hallucinated, but I only had the account of one witness to work with in each case. A lot of the details could be consistent with sleep phenomena, but there could be better explanations (including plain old vanilla hallucinations, hoaxes, or *shrug* actual aliens), and without more detail or any corroborating evidence (such as accounts from the other people present), I don’t feel comfortable coming to a specific conclusion.

If this small sample is representative of alien abduction stories (a big if), then it’s likely that the majority of alien abduction stories are a result of various sleep phenomena. This is pretty consistent with my initial hypothesis (that sleep paralysis is a good explanation for some, but not all, alien abduction stories), although other sleep phenomena such as hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations and vivid/lucid dreaming should be included with sleep paralysis as possible explanations for alien abduction stories.

Happy Blasphemy Day!

Of course, I wouldn’t figure out it’s Blasphemy Day until it’s almost too late to post something without looking silly. If I’d realized sooner that Blasphemy Day was coming up, I could’ve done something dramatic, like casually throwing the Gideon New Testament someone forced on me into the trash can and posting a picture of it. But, erm, I kind of did that last month already (minus the picture taking), and the only ‘holy’ books I have on hand at the moment are on loan from the library, and if I throw those in the trash, the library will eventually want me to give them money. Of course, I’m lucky enough to live in a place which does not have blasphemy laws which would make it illegal to throw certain specific works of fiction casually into the trash. I mean, I love books, and throwing books away is horrible, but making it illegal is really going overboard. Seriously. They’re just books. Someone tearing up a copy of Moby-Dick is not something to hurt or kill for, even if Moby-Dick is your favorite book ever. What’s so different about a copy of the Bible or the Qur’an? They’re all just bits of paper with ink on them bound together.