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Poetry Fishbowl Report for July 5, 2016 - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poetry Fishbowl Report for July 5, 2016
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ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: July 29th, 2016 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nonbinary person waves "hi"

One of Astin's "parents" here; a prompt of mine inspired the first Astin story, and ysabetwordsmith has woven many of my experiences into the thread.

<< Poems like this one help those of us who have no idea how someone like Austin experiences the world, begin to understand. <<

Thank you for being willing to improve your understanding. With so much exclusion and outright hatred directed at those whose sexuality or gender identity does not align with the mainstream, people who are willing to interact with us as people are rare and treasured.

>> Do people like Austin understand that normals sometimes feel lost wondering how to adapt themselves to people like Austin? <<

One of the biggest issues for many people with variant gender identity or sexuality is the lack of suitable words that signify we are different. For many people, a word will not be suitable if it denies their essential humanity.

A word you used in the above sentence, "normals", is one of those unsuitable words.

(*puts preachy hat on*)
It is within my memory, and maybe yours too, that the idea that homosexuality was a pathological mental state (in popular terms, "abnormality") was expunged from the reference manual for mental health professionals (the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual). Gender variance has only recently followed; prior to the latest revision, it only appeared in conjunction with "disorder". There are people walking the earth today who were subjected to electroshock "therapy" in an attempt to "cure" them of their "perversion". Some people still pursue this idea using counseling, with the inevitable unfortunate results. And this all is the legacy of a history of persecution, torture, and outright execution for one's behavior being considered "abnormal".

Never mind the fact that if one looks closely enough, one can find pretty much all the permutations and variations present in human sexuality and gender somewhere else in the animal kingdom.
(*removes preachy hat*)

So yeah, "normals" in this context is a loaded, and often hurtful, word to use when talking about people whose gender or sexuality does not conform to recognized cultural patterns. I wish there was a more suitable word I could offer you, but there doesn't seem to be one yet.

As for your question itself, many of us do understand that we are asking for something many people, even those who wish to acknowledge and affirm our existence, are going to struggle with. Telling us you're struggling, and asking for help, respects our humanity and experience, and will often end well.

How can I help you further your understanding and help with your adaptation?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 29th, 2016 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

Other words I have used, in various contexts, to replace "normal" include:

everyday
ordinary
usual
typical
customary
mainstream
cisgender
cissexual
average
functional
healthy

Norm, ord, mundane (or 'dane), muggle, etc. are pejoratives.

It can be really frustrating when a high-use word becomes or is perceived as negative, because there isn't always an adequate replacement. That means removing the word from use can impair communication, which is a problem.
ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: July 29th, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

I think of all those, I like "mainstream" in this context the best. The mainstream is where much of the water in the river flows, but the sidestreams have their own value and charm -- and so much of the interesting stuff is over in the eddies and pools. And anyone who's got any experience with whitewater navigation understands how important being able to get out of the mainstream can be.

I expect other people will have their own favorites. It will be interesting to see whether anyone else checks in.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 29th, 2016 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

Yes, I use "mainstream" a lot because it doesn't necessarily imply "better" just "popular."
From: rhodielady_47 Date: July 30th, 2016 11:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

Sorry--"normal" was a poor word choice. I really meant "we of the most commonly occurring variety" (Most vocal?) and that leads me to a what is a very nosy question: What percentage of the population is nonbinary?
And another:
Would you agree "nonbinary" actually covers a "spectrum"?
(Using "spectrum" for example the same way we do the autism spectrum--covering from low to high.) The reason why I ask is that I've been around "gay" people before but you--even in the few interactions we've had so far--come across as much different from them too. And THAT I haven't been around before. (I'd surely have noticed or at least I think I would have.)

Thank you for being willing to put up with my questions (more will be coming).
:^)




ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: July 30th, 2016 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> Sorry--"normal" was a poor word choice. <<

Let's go with "unfortunate" instead. There's no particular reason for you to have been aware of its history of being used as a weapon against sexually and gender variant people. Plus, you're clearly approaching with an open mind and willing to learn. So I appreciate your apology, and welcome your continued interest in learning.

>> I really meant "we of the most commonly occurring variety" (Most vocal?) <<

Most common, yes. And there's a reason for that. Most people actually do line up reasonably well with the characteristics that are socially expected of their birth-assigned gender; cultures that do not provide some sort of place for the great majority of their people tend not to last.

As far as choice of words goes, the best way to pick a good one is to think of the word that comes to your mind as representing the "everyone else". If that word is exclusionary or hurtful, odds are it's not a good choice. For example, take the last two words in ysabetwordsmith's list above, "functional" and "healthy". The "everyone else" words I associate with them are "dysfunctional" and "unhealthy" -- neither of which is something I'd be comfortable being called. So, if anyone were to try either of those, they'd get a response from me.

But not most vocal -- many of us outside the mainstream have far too often manned the barricades in the face of opposition determined to suppress our presence -- and sometimes our very existence. The recent movie about the event whitewashed -- and pinkwashed -- the fact that two of the people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall riot were transgender women of color. And one of the most prominent, and compelling, slogans generated by the AIDS pandemic was "Silence = Death".

>> and that leads me to a what is a very nosy question: What percentage of the population is nonbinary? <<

I don't think of that as nosy at all. Again, your mileage may vary -- other nonbinary people might have a different view. Besides, it's a really good question, as even researchers into the field disagree. And the issue is further complicated by deciding whether you count only those folks who explicitly claim their nonbinary identity, or include those folks (like myself, until recently) who actually are nonbinary but deny or conceal their identity. Best guesses for those who admit being nonbinary in public are one or two hundred per million, with estimates for the total population ranging from there on up to about a tenth of one percent. Compare with the generally accepted number of around 10% for total non-heterosexual population.

More coming. I feel myself bumping against the comment size limit.

Edited at 2016-07-30 04:30 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 31st, 2016 06:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> For example, take the last two words in ysabetwordsmith's list above, "functional" and "healthy". The "everyone else" words I associate with them are "dysfunctional" and "unhealthy" -- neither of which is something I'd be comfortable being called. So, if anyone were to try either of those, they'd get a response from me. <<

I use those to distinguish between things that are working and things which are not (or at least are risky). But I'm basing that on someone's internal comfort level, ability to manage tasks of everyday living, and not harming themselves or anyone else. If so, I care fuckall what society things. A family is functional to the extent it makes sticking together easier than being alone. Doesn't matter whether that's a het couple, gay couple, with or without kids, a zucchini patch, or whatever. I draw a lot of lines in different places than most people do.

I imagine this is why people so often tell me I have been more helpful than their therapist.

>>The recent movie about the event whitewashed -- and pinkwashed -- the fact that two of the people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall riot were transgender women of color. And one of the most prominent, and compelling, slogans generated by the AIDS pandemic was "Silence = Death".<<

Yeah, I was potentially interested right up until I found out about the erasure. #notbuyingit

>> Besides, it's a really good question, as even researchers into the field disagree. And the issue is further complicated by deciding whether you count only those folks who explicitly claim their nonbinary identity, or include those folks (like myself, until recently) who actually are nonbinary but deny or conceal their identity. <<

And whether you count the many people who are far enough from the extremes that the usual terms don't ... quite ... fit. Tomboys, for instance. I think that was the earliest genderqueer term I latched onto this life.

>>Best guesses for those who admit being nonbinary in public are one or two hundred per million, with estimates for the total population ranging from there on up to about a tenth of one percent. Compare with the generally accepted number of around 10% for total non-heterosexual population.<<

It's closer to 1% if you count all the types of largely nonbinary folks. It's probably around 10% if you throw in everyone who's far enough from the ends of the binary spectrum to start having the kinds of problems that nonbinary people have, i.e. "Girls/boys don't do that."

I have to admit, when I realized that thinking aloud, "I'm doing it, therefore either girls do it or I am not a girl ... oh wait, nevermind, you could be right." When what they meant was they didn't want me doing it. *shrug*

Reality tunnels are so fragile. I keep wagging my tail and breaking the damn things.
ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: August 1st, 2016 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> I use ["functional" and "healthy"] to distinguish between things that are working and things which are not (or at least are risky). But I'm basing that on someone's internal comfort level, ability to manage tasks of everyday living, and not harming themselves or anyone else. If so, I care fuckall what society thinks. <<

A little more reflection provided some useful insight. "Unhealthy" is actually applicable to my relationship with my gender identity, but not the way gender bigots would use it. What's unhealthy is not that I have a gender identity that does not align with my birth or present morphology, but that I am constantly balancing the internal cost of suppressing it against the external cost of expressing it.

>> And whether you count the many people who are far enough from the extremes that the usual terms don't ... quite ... fit. Tomboys, for instance. I think that was the earliest genderqueer term I latched onto this life. <<

And another sad example of gender asymmetry. "Tomboy" is an acceptable epithet for girls, and there is no non-pejorative equivalent for boys who exhibit non-masculine forms of expression. And it gets worse from there.

>> It's closer to 1% if you count all the types of largely nonbinary folks. It's probably around 10% if you throw in everyone who's far enough from the ends of the binary spectrum to start having the kinds of problems that nonbinary people have, i.e. "Girls/boys don't do that." <<

That last one was the one I got hit with first. It wound up being the cornerstone for the facade I've mentioned in other places in this thread.

As for percentages, I'm inclined to only count people who assert a nonbinary gender identity. A lot of the range between your 1% and 10% cohorts belongs to people who say, "I'm a (man/woman) who ..." when asked about their non-normative behavior. Whether those people would assert a nonbinary gender identity were it less hazardous is an interesting and relevant question, but I'm not inclined to count them now.

>> I have to admit, when I realized that thinking aloud, "I'm doing it, therefore either girls do it or I am not a girl ... oh wait, nevermind, you could be right." When what they meant was they didn't want me doing it. *shrug* <<

That was also my experience with my birth gender, although it wasn't them wanting me to not do it as much as it was wanting me to be able to do other things the targeted behaviour would rule out. Some of those things I viewed as worthwhile, so I helped them build a box into which I could put the "don't do that" things, and kept them hidden there because I thought I might need them later -- and found out I did.

>> Reality tunnels are so fragile. I keep wagging my tail and breaking the damn things. <<

Keep on wagging! Even though some of them, like the "masculinity" one, are awfully fragile despite the constant cultural reinforcement.
ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: July 30th, 2016 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> And another: Would you agree "nonbinary" actually covers a "spectrum"? (Using "spectrum" for example the same way we do the autism spectrum--covering from low to high.) <<

That's another thing you'll get a lot of different viewpoints on. My personal view is that "spectrum" is a misleading oversimplification of an incredibly complex issue -- much like the difference between looking at a picture of a landscape and actually being on the land, relishing the variations in color, feeling the ground under your feet and the wind in your hair, noticing the varied scents. And maybe you've got a photograph, and maybe it's a painting -- but by Rembrandt, van Gogh, Picasso, or Jackson Pollock? And you don't really know, and won't unless someone who's been there tells you.

So, spectrum? It's like that for some nonbinary people, who can say something like, "Today I feel like 30% man and 70% woman. Yesterday, it was 80/20 the other way. Tomorrow it might be 10% man, 30% woman, and the other 60% something else our culture doesn't have a name for." Others think of a different kind of spectrum, and will ask something like "If it's a spectrum, I'm yellow. How much pink and how much blue do you have to mix to get yellow?" For me, I'm seeing what you're calling a spectrum as a railroad track between the cities of "man" and "woman" -- and I'm over in another part of the landscape it's difficult to get to because it's way off the track and far enough outside the regions of influence the cities assert to not be overrun. If some of my expression is categorized as "masculine" or "feminine", I just chuckle at the coincidence, shrug it off, and go about my business.

>> The reason why I ask is that I've been around "gay" people before but you--even in the few interactions we've had so far--come across as much different from them too. And THAT I haven't been around before. <<

People like me are very different. Most notably because gender identity and sexuality are different aspects of a person, and not well correlated. Some sexualities incorporate a gender model in their definition, so are inextricably linked with that model. But my sexuality is defined by emotional rapport and mutual interest, neither of which assume anything about a gender model. So I don't need one, and don't see how any model applies to me. Nevertheless, far too much of our world seems determined to force me into existing within their model, and "punish" me for refusing to do so. This is constant, wearing work to contend against. And that shapes who I am and how I choose to express it.

And you actually may have been around nonbinary people without realizing it. You don't experience the differences because they're very careful about when and how they express them, due to this relentless pressure, so you don't see it. This is something that I'm working toward taking a stand on, by finding ways to participate in the dominant culture while walking around expressing a gender identity that does not fit the dominant gender map.

>> Thank you for being willing to put up with my questions (more will be coming).
:^) <<

First off, let's drop "put up". That suggests that you regard your questions as an imposition on me, which they are not. Instead, they are your way of engaging with me, and shows that you are sincerely interested in exploring and celebrating the differences between yourself and others. Thank you for continuing to engage. (To me, that's a positive and affirming way of acknowledging my effort.)

I'd like to hold as much of this discussion out in the open as possible. If you ask me something I view as sensitive, I may answer privately. Please feel free to do likewise if there's anything you'd like to ask or say that you don't want out in public.

Edited at 2016-07-30 05:29 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 30th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> That's another thing you'll get a lot of different viewpoints on. My personal view is that "spectrum" is a misleading oversimplification of an incredibly complex issue -- much like the difference between looking at a picture of a landscape and actually being on the land, relishing the variations in color, feeling the ground under your feet and the wind in your hair, noticing the varied scents. And maybe you've got a photograph, and maybe it's a painting -- but by Rembrandt, van Gogh, Picasso, or Jackson Pollock? And you don't really know, and won't unless someone who's been there tells you. <<

I like spectrum, and range, because they break down the binary illusion. (Male/female is biologically as well as socially incomplete.) It goes from two points to a line. Add another spectrum and you have the XY grid, for instance, gender and sexual orientation. Add a third and you have a cube such as sex, gender, and sexual orientation. But there are plenty more things, and this is why I say my sexuality is a tesseract. Some of us are things that can't be plotted into conventional dimensions. To go back to one line, masculine to feminine, someone who has a completely different gender (such as neutrois) is in a different place "above" the line compared to someone androgynous who is toward the middle. A line is much more expressive than a pair of pigeonholes, but still not sufficient. I do often use "spectrum" or "range" to mean "wide variety" instead of specifically "line" because saying "chart" or "tesseract" confuses people if I don't have time for a long explanation.

>> So, spectrum? It's like that for some nonbinary people, who can say something like, "Today I feel like 30% man and 70% woman. Yesterday, it was 80/20 the other way. Tomorrow it might be 10% man, 30% woman, and the other 60% something else our culture doesn't have a name for." <<

Some genderfluid people shift back and forth between masculine and feminine; some have one or more additional points. Some people's gender is mixed but stable. And some really treat it like two points where they are either masculine or feminine. It's interesting to compare the versions.

If I look at my characters, Salvo is genderfluid and uses the crossdressing to support his feminine side. He's shy about it because he's been picked on, so I don't think he does it as much as he naturally would. He's not trans, and doesn't even present as a woman like most crossdressers try; he just feels like being pretty sometimes. Cal is trans but uses the gendershifting in binary mode: either Calvin or Calliope, not a mix of both. I think keeping the Calvin identity as a cover is creative but hazardous, because pretending to be a man can wreck women, but it's her life so none of my business. I just make an authorial note that as a gender scholar, I know that's risky based on observations of Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome in trans lives. She probably has one of the best-protected secret identities in cape politics, though.
ng_moonmoth From: ng_moonmoth Date: July 31st, 2016 05:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

Tried (and crashed up against the comment size limit) to weave my responses back into a single thread. So, three individual comments.

>> I like spectrum, and range, because they break down the binary illusion. (Male/female is biologically as well as socially incomplete.) It goes from two points to a line. Add another spectrum and you have the XY grid, for instance, gender and sexual orientation. Add a third and you have a cube such as sex, gender, and sexual orientation. But there are plenty more things, and this is why I say my sexuality is a tesseract. Some of us are things that can't be plotted into conventional dimensions. <<

Indeed. It's the "map vs. territory" distinction again. We each are using maps that suit us while we cringe at the crumpled, outdated maps that have been handed out to people trying to navigate the territory defining these things and wondering why there's not even a line around the different identities where the map shows a wall. To anyone who's following this thread, we're sharing our maps with you, inviting you to draw your own, and providing some information you can put on it to help you navigate the unfamiliar parts of the territory.

My map, so to speak and as much as possible, is the most recent online version of "A Field Guide to Gender Identities." I find it valuable because the content is generated by the folks who assert the various identities, and compiled by folks who realize why that's important, and care about it.

>> To go back to one line, masculine to feminine, someone who has a completely different gender (such as neutrois) is in a different place "above" the line <<

I like "off" the line a little better, because there's less of an implicit value judgement in that term.

>> compared to someone androgynous who is toward the middle. A line is much more expressive than a pair of pigeonholes, but still not sufficient. I do often use "spectrum" or "range" to mean "wide variety" instead of specifically "line" because saying "chart" or "tesseract" confuses people if I don't have time for a long explanation. <<

Fair enough. I relate to "range" a little differently in my field guide metaphor, as representing how far from their core identity folks asserting various gender identities might venture.

>> Some genderfluid people shift back and forth between masculine and feminine; some have one or more additional points. Some people's gender is mixed but stable. And some really treat it like two points where they are either masculine or feminine. It's interesting to compare the versions. <<

Indeed. These are also representative patterns. There are lots more, too, but I was aiming to not swamp the message with a necessarily incomplete catalog in a response that was already getting substantial.

>> I think keeping the Calvin identity as a cover is creative but hazardous, because pretending to be a man can wreck women, but it's her life so none of my business. I just make an authorial note that as a gender scholar, I know that's risky based on observations of Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome in trans lives. She probably has one of the best-protected secret identities in cape politics, though. <<

"Pretending to be" something is Doing; actually *being* someone is Being. Having to Do instead of being able to Be can wreck anyone. It's the times I get to Be that get me through the times when all I'm able to do is Do. The times of Being are vital self-care for me.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 30th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> Others think of a different kind of spectrum, and will ask something like "If it's a spectrum, I'm yellow. How much pink and how much blue do you have to mix to get yellow?" <<

I love this cartoon about same-sex marriage:
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/b8/f6/a3/b8f6a3f02bf3be311b044de70e3988cd.jpg

But if you think about it, that's really depicting a genderqueer couple. It's Rei and Haru all the way. :D Because if it were gay or lesbian, it would be two forks or two knives.

>> For me, I'm seeing what you're calling a spectrum as a railroad track between the cities of "man" and "woman" -- and I'm over in another part of the landscape it's difficult to get to because it's way off the track and far enough outside the regions of influence the cities assert to not be overrun. If some of my expression is categorized as "masculine" or "feminine", I just chuckle at the coincidence, shrug it off, and go about my business. <<

Liking to cook doesn't make me feminine any more than having boobs makes me a woman. It's not outside the range of what I can do, but neither is it my core identity. But metasexual is ... I might as well try to explain quantum mechanics, most people can't think that far out. People can think what they want, and be wrong, but then they get mad when the data doesn't match their predictions. *shrug* They can't figure out the traits of some deities either, and it's because some are better at emulating masculine or feminine expectations while others just go, "Dear humans, I am a Trickster. Leave your assumptions at the door or you're just going to hurt yourself dropping them on your foot later."

>> People like me are very different. Most notably because gender identity and sexuality are different aspects of a person, and not well correlated. Some sexualities incorporate a gender model in their definition, so are inextricably linked with that model. <<

Sooth. I think it's a range in that some nonbinary people don't seem all that different from the expected options, while others are so conspicuous that passing is impossible. Much the same is true of gay, trans, and other QUILTBAG folks. Especially, if most of your traits are common and only one is rare and/or if a trait is present but does not dominate your identity, you may feel "I'm just like everyone else except for this one quirk." But a person who has many differences and/or one that is paramount to their personality, is more likely to feel and express as far out of the ordinary.

>> But my sexuality is defined by emotional rapport and mutual interest, neither of which assume anything about a gender model. So I don't need one, and don't see how any model applies to me. Nevertheless, far too much of our world seems determined to force me into existing within their model, and "punish" me for refusing to do so. This is constant, wearing work to contend against. And that shapes who I am and how I choose to express it. <<

*hugs offered* Society is an ass. It is a lot of work.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 30th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>>And you actually may have been around nonbinary people without realizing it. You don't experience the differences because they're very careful about when and how they express them, due to this relentless pressure, so you don't see it.<<

It's that hidden aspect which impedes progress because people don't realize that there are nonbinary people. Some cultures are more open; the closed ones have problems like we see here.

The only time I've seen this addressed directly in mainstream entertainment was an episode of FarScape. "An androgyn? I've never seen one before." "That you know of." They were hiding because the culture tended to kill or mutilate them. And of course, that character was promptly killed. *bang head on keyboard* No no no, when you see a culture doing something evil and stupid you do not point out that it is evil and stupid and then do the same damn thing.

>> This is something that I'm working toward taking a stand on, by finding ways to participate in the dominant culture while walking around expressing a gender identity that does not fit the dominant gender map.<<

It helps to have some people who find ways to express their true nature, so that others realize it is possible.

>>First off, let's drop "put up". That suggests that you regard your questions as an imposition on me, which they are not. Instead, they are your way of engaging with me, and shows that you are sincerely interested in exploring and celebrating the differences between yourself and others. Thank you for continuing to engage. (To me, that's a positive and affirming way of acknowledging my effort.) <<

I'm glad that you find this discussion supporting and engaging. I think it helps to raise awareness and improve interactions.

However, some people in any minority get very tired of having to explain things, or even being asked the same questions a million times. Some of them put up with it, and others take a stance of "I'm not your teacher, do your own work." Those are valid experiences; people do get tired. But it's not possible to bootstrap some types of understanding from the outside. In order for different types of people to relate, somebody has to do the interface work. That makes the people doing this work very important.

>> I'd like to hold as much of this discussion out in the open as possible. If you ask me something I view as sensitive, I may answer privately. Please feel free to do likewise if there's anything you'd like to ask or say that you don't want out in public. <<

Yay! Thanks for taking the time to do this.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 30th, 2016 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

>> Sorry--"normal" was a poor word choice. I really meant "we of the most commonly occurring variety" (Most vocal?) <<

I use "prevailing" a lot. In math, there are many kinds of "average," and "mode" is the value that appears most frequently on a list. This is also sometimes called a "data cluster." If you mapped human sexuality on the XY plane you'd see two huge clusters of "men" and "women" defining the ends of a densely populated spectrum, and smaller clusters of other things such as "agender" and outliers such as "cactus." (Yes, someone really said "My gender is cactus.")
From: rhodielady_47 Date: July 31st, 2016 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nonbinary person waves "hi"

"....and outliers such as "cactus." (Yes, someone really said "My gender is cactus.")"
8^o
Makes me wonder what that person's story is.
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