I’d Rather Be a Unicorn Than Exist On Your Terms

While I’ve heard some cheering about how bisexuality is no longer being erased, I’m not celebrating the recent study that articles are brazenly proclaiming proves that “women are never straight.” This is not a halt to bi-erasure; it’s just another form of it. We’ve gone from declaring that bisexuality is not an identity to making it ubiquitous.

Moreover, it carries forward the biggest problem with sexuality research in academia. This study is not interviewing women to find out how they identify. Nor is it seeking to understand their subjective experiences around attraction and arousal.

Just like the previous studies that “proved” bisexuality “doesn’t exist,” this one relies on the manipulation of people’s states of arousal…which is then interpreted by a stranger to determine their identity. The audacity of power and privilege that assumes that a person’s individual experience of themselves in relation to others isn’t as important as whether or not you, as a researcher, can get them off is quite impressive.

Unfortunately the flaws in logic that jump from “they are/are not getting aroused” to “they must be/must not be straight/bi/gay” should be obvious. There are lots of reasons why hooking someone’s genitals up to some sort of equipment would give less than accurate readings on their sexual orientation.

If achieving arousal with pornographic material can determine sexual orientation, then what does that say about lesbians who enjoy gay male porn? Are we going to declare that they’re really gay men now? What about if a gay man watches lesbian porn?

People find all kinds of porn enjoyable without actually wanting to go out and do those things themselves. Sometimes, yes, people get ideas of things to try. But sometimes they just want to explore something that feels different and out of character. That doesn’t determine their identity, certainly not better than their lived experience of who they find attractive and with whom they would build a relationship.

Not only is determining someone’s orientation from their arousal to porn a ridiculous way of studying bisexuality, studying someone’s arousal in the lab is problematic as well. It’s an artificial environment, presumably where people know they are being studied, even if they don’t know their arousal is being studied…but who couldn’t figure that out with the measurement methods? Seriously. It’s pretty safe to assume that there would be some differences in how they respond to stimuli on their own.

The biggest flaw, though, is the failure to take into account the importance of mirror neurons and empathy. Someone who becomes aroused at certain stimuli may be aroused because they find the material hot and would want to participate. Or perhaps they just recognize that the person in the picture or video is receiving pleasure and have a sympathetic response to that. Or maybe they’re thinking about how nice it would be for their partner to do that to them.

There’s also the binary flaw of failing to take into account anyone outside of cis people. Once again, bisexuality is being reduced to a binary attraction, despite the repeatedly vocal ways that bisexual people have said that it’s not binary. Moreover, the study is trying to categorize types of arousal or behavior as “masculine” or “feminine,” with lesbians, of course, being described as more “masculine” in their arousal. Apparently sexism goes hand in hand with heterosexism and cissexism. But I didn’t need a research study to tell me that.

I don’t doubt that bisexuality is far more common than we assume, but saying “all women are” or “no men are” in direct contradiction to their stated experience simply because of a badly designed study is something that science really needs to stop doing. It’s an abuse of power and bad research. If someone really wants to study bisexuality, start with a phenomenological study, interviewing individuals about their identity and their experience with their identity. Build from there. Don’t further steal their voices and contribute to prejudice. Use science to highlight and empower who they are. Better yet, have bisexual people conduct their own research on bisexuality. Then you won’t get people who mistakenly think that genital engorgement is the end all be all of sexual orientation.

Rumpelstiltskin: A Fairy Tale Analysis

Ever since reading Women Who Run with the Wolves, I’ve been fascinated by the depth of meaning I often find in fairy tales. Recently, Rumpelstiltskin has really come alive for me as a metaphor.

On some levels, it’s a coming of age story. The main character doesn’t have an identity of her own at first. She is the miller’s daughter. She is known by her relationship to her father. Her tasks are assigned to her by the miller’s boasting and the king’s greed, which both land her with an impossible task—spinning straw into gold.

We all start out being the “daughter” or “son” of someone else, struggling to forge our own identities. And whether it be in a relationship, job, or school, we eventually face something over which it feels impossible to succeed.

We don’t live in a society that prepares us to say “no” to unreasonable demands. We don’t live in a society that respects those who do. Like the miller’s daughter, we often feel trapped in trying to meet other’s expectations…but not just other’s expectations. We internalize those same expectations until they become our own.

And the consequences aren’t negligible. In the story, the miller’s daughter is threatened with death if she fails. In life, when an employer exhibits the same greedy attitude as the king, a job can be at stake. Or maybe it’s a grade for school…or a relationship. And with those on the line, it can often feel like being threatened with death. If we fail, we might lose our ability to provide for ourselves or our career options or our love—in short, the future.

At some point, Rumpelstiltskin shows up. He can spin straw into gold. He can save the miller’s daughter…for a price. The miller’s daughter doesn’t think twice before giving up her necklace. Sure it’s valuable. It might even be an heirloom. But it’s seems like a small sacrifice in the moment.

How many of us get sucked into a similar deal? It might be sleep, time with friends, a principle, a boundary, but it’s something that seems small at the time. Sacrificing it gets us through. Makes us successful. Puts off that dreaded something that we would lose.

But it’s a setup.

In the morning, when the king comes and sees the impossible accomplished, he wants more.  The miller’s daughter is given more straw to spin into gold and locked up for another night. Again, Rumpelstiltskin shows up offering to help, and the miller’s daughter is quick to hand over her ring now too.

In the story, the miller’s daughter does this twice before Rumpelstiltskin ups the ante. But in life, this could go on any number of times. Some of us have more little valuables to bargain with than others. However, the specific number of times isn’t as important as the fact that it becomes habitual—so habitual that the sacrifice no longer even crosses our mind as such. It’s just what we do.

The third time, the miller’s daughter is promised not just the oh-so-appealing promise of keeping her life but also of becoming the queen. She’s promised an identity—and power! Even if that power might be in service to the king that had been making the unreasonable demands in the first place.

But the sacrifice this time is different. It’s not the one time sacrifice of giving up a trinket (symbolically, giving up a night of sleep or ignoring the violation of a boundary). No, this time, it’s big. Rumpelstiltskin has taken all of the little sacrifices already, now he feels the right to demand the future, to demand her first-born child. Habituated to the sacrifices and her own dependence on Rumpelstiltskin, she agrees.

After the third night, the miller’s daughter becomes her own person. She is referred to as the queen now. Does she love the king? Can she love the person who threatened to kill her if she failed to fill his coffers? Presumably, he doesn’t ask her to spin more straw because she doesn’t have any contact with Rumpelstiltskin until she gives birth to her child.

Children are symbolic of our hard work and our creativity. Her child is a product of her union with the king just as our creative enterprises will draw from our previous experiences, but it is genuine to her. Rumpelstiltskin helped her “fake it ‘til she made it.” But her child—that’s her own genuine creation. Her genius, so to speak.

It’s the one thing that Rumpelstiltskin can’t create. He’s good at parlor tricks, doing what others want, scheming his way through life. But he cannot germinate and gestate something of his own within him. He can’t give birth to life. He can’t create; he can only manipulate.

But Rumpelstiltskin comes back to demand the sacrifice of before. This time, though, instead of helping to succeed, he threatens to destroy what has come naturally from the queen. That habit of sacrificing boundaries, well-being, or principles comes back to haunt.

The three days that the queen has to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name are significant. A perfect mirror of how long it took her to enslave her future to this creature. But the naming part is also significant. Within a psychodynamic perspective, bringing the unconscious to light is the majority of the “cure” of talk therapy.

It’s not that once we understand what is driving us to behave a certain way that we automatically change. We do have to work at it. But it’s far easier to change when we know what we’re up against.

Naming is powerful magic.

It’s only when the queen is able to name Rumpelstiltskin for what he is that she truly comes into her own power, the power to protect her creation and hold her own boundaries.

Getting to Know your Anima/Animus: An Intuitive Exercise

In Jungian psychology, everyone supposedly has an anima or animus, the aspect of the self that is the opposite of the self. Men tend to have a female anima who holds the more feminine characteristics of their personality while women tend to have a male animus who holds the masculine part of their personality.

The anima or animus serves as a way of alienating and othering the parts of ourselves with which we feel less in tune, making the anima or animus a shadow part of the self initially. As a shadow, it holds the possibility of wreaking havoc in one’s life if left suppressed and unintegrated. However, the anima/animus is also an incredibly important part of the self, thus each of us feels an attraction to it and to the things we encounter in the world that represent or symbolize it.

So long as the anima/animus is unknown, we run the risk of seeking integration with it in its destructive form; however, when brought out of the shadow and into consciousness, it can become an aid to the self rather than a destroyer/controller of the self.

I’ve been exploring my animus over the last year and have developed some fun exercises that I wanted to share with anyone who may be interested in getting to know their “other half” as well.

Getting to Know your Anima/Animus

Start by identifying the broad type of personality of your anima/animus. This is most easily done by taking note of the characters in books and movies to whom you feel magnetized. You’ll probably notice a trend emerge if you start to list them.

This isn’t your basic “I like this character” feeling. It’s stronger and deeper than that. It’s the characters that you fantasize about—the ones that you don’t entirely understand why you’re so drawn to them, but the ones that are irresistible nonetheless.

I suspect that part of the fascination that Twilight has held despite how bad it is (both in writing and in content) relates to it tapping into the unconscious animus of many women. (Picture of Edward and Bella from Breaking Dawn p. 2, 2012)

I suspect that part of the fascination that Twilight has held despite how bad it is (both in writing and in content) relates to it tapping into the unconscious animus of many women. (Picture of Edward and Bella from Breaking Dawn p. 2, 2012)

In making the list, avoid judging whether these are good characters or bad. You probably will have a mix, but getting into analyzing whether it’s a healthy attraction to a good character or not will merely interfere with tapping the unconscious. For the time being, suspend your judgment and treat them as if they were all neutral.

Once you have a list, step back and take a global assessment. You might have a ridiculous range of characters, some heroes in their stories, some villains. Some people you might want to know in real life; others you might never want to meet in actuality.

What do they share in common though? There will be something, perhaps many things. Are they all inventive? Perhaps they all tend to be very loyal. It’s those similarities that are key and that create the core of the anima/animus personality.

If you prefer a less analytical way of discovering core characteristics, you could also do a form of “divination” using story cards, tarot cards, or story cube. Roll (with the cubes) or draw (with cards) 6 to 10. Identify the characteristics they bring to mind in relation to your list.

Once you get the core shared personality characteristics, then you bring the analysis in. Given what all of your characters share in common, what makes them different? What makes one a good character and another a bad one?

The “bad” character, or the one you feel sort of uncomfortable with having on your list, holds valuable information about how your anima/animus could potentially be unhealthy. It may be what you fear you will become if you merge with the anima/animus or it may be the way that the anima/animus tends to reveal itself when you are not integrated.

However, even the negative anima/animus symbols hold the possibility for being healthy and good. They can guide you in where you might need some character development. They can inform you in where to take care as you get to know yourself, perhaps where you need to put in boundaries for yourself or evaluate your motives.

For example, quite a few of the characters on the list I made were either people who used power to protect the less fortunate or power to revenge the privileged. Thus, I know that my animus can help me in my activism and fight for social justice…or he could use oppression as an excuse to become an abuser himself. I have that choice, and knowing my animus allows me to consciously and actively do something about that choice.

Identifying the personality as well as the potential expressions of the personality for your anima/animus is the most important step, but you don’t have to stop there. If you wish to go further and get to know your anima/animus individually rather than just as a group of symbols, you can do some active imagination with your anima/animus.

It’s a little like meditation, but instead of sitting there without much purpose other than breathing and noticing, you invite your anima/animus to visit with you. Balancing between allowing your mind to go where it wants and directing it towards your purpose, you can interact with your anima/animus in a sort of lucid-dream-like meditative journey.

Don’t feel too distressed if your anima/animus doesn’t show up right away. It takes time to be active in your journey without your conscious mind interfering too much. If you haven’t done much work with intuition before, it might be easier to start by exercising your intuition with a less specific goal may be helpful.

This has been one of my favorite and most rewarding journeys. I hope that if you take this journey in bringing your anima/animus to consciousness that you will find it as rewarding as I have.

Quick note regarding queer individuals. Much of the language for the anima/animus theory is pretty hetero/cisnormative. I have tried to avoid language that “boxes in”and leave it more open. I have a fairly strong dominant feminine side, and my animus presents as masculine even though I’m not solely attracted to men. However, I wouldn’t presume to be versed enough in the theory or in queer experience of the theory to propose how other LGBT+ individuals may find this expressed for themselves. I am open to feedback and welcome hearing the stories of queer individuals who may have done work with their shadow side/non-dominant side.   

Best Horror Movies to Watch this Halloween

I adore horror movies, which most of my readers are probably well aware of by now. The tingle of fear is such a delight, and despite the tendency for formula, horrors can have incredibly nuanced symbolism and personifications of life. I’m always on the lookout for great movies to watch in October, but there are a handful of flicks that I keep coming back to over and over because they hold such powerful messages. If you’re looking for something that has a deeper psychological message to analyze, here are some that I heartily recommend.

The Sixth Sense (1999, IMDB link)

A boy who sees ghosts. A psychologist who wants to help troubled children. This is one of the most powerful illustrations of facing the shadow parts of ourselves  and helping them heal. I often use this movie as an example of how to approach and transform the things that we fear within ourselves. So often, what seems to be scary and horrific is really just a wounded part of us that is desperately looking for healing.

The Babadook (2014, IMDB link)

A little boy finds a story book with a very real and very nightmarish character in it. Not a movie for the faint of heart. This movie takes a very real-life horror (grief, child abuse, and depression) and turns it into a mythology and monster story. There are some really emotionally intense scenes, so fair warning. However, I absolutely loved this movie and its message. Once again, the things that we fear within ourselves, the traumas that we can’t bring ourselves to face, are the monsters that become stronger and more terrible the longer they are suppressed. But their power is taken away when we face our shadows with compassion.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, IMDB link)

A group of friends head up for a weekend of fun, only to find their horrors brought to life. A really fun horror movie that makes fun of horror movies while also philosophizing about fear and human nature. It’s possibly the most explicit that a movie has ever come to demonstrating the way that horror symbolizes the things within us. Which of the items would you have chosen?

The Awakening (2011, IMDB link)

A skeptic sets out to disprove the existence of ghosts at a haunted boarding school. This is one of those really underrated movies, I think. Beautifully acted and a poignant illustration of childhood trauma and memory repression. It’s not an untypical person-sets-out-to-disprove-ghosts movies, but it’s one that I think gives hints that the creators seemed to realize there was a deeper meaning to what they were doing.

1408 (2007, IMDB link)

A man finds himself trapped in the hotel room from hell. Stephen King is generally a genius. I almost want to put down The Shining for its brilliant depiction of the horrors of family dynamics and living with an abusive father. However, I choose this one because I actually rewatch it more often than The Shining. This is another beautiful and creepy metaphor for the way that suppressed grief haunts us.

Haunter (2013, IMDB link)

A girl stuck in a time loop, haunted and haunting, as she struggles to unravel the truth. Trauma is probably the realest horror we encounter, so it makes sense that it creates some powerful symbolism both for the way that it affects us and the way that families can inundate themselves in denial.

So there you have it, a mixture of old and newer movies, of well-known and more obscure titles to bring your October evenings to a delightfully horrific mentality. What are your favorite scares to watch over and over?

Radical Self-Care is Totally Zen

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb

In my quest for radical self-care, this has become my proverb, though admittedly I’m not following it literally.

The proverb was confusing to me before this semester. I was focused on the time aspect and the ordering tone. Both made me curl my lip.

But I think now I’m starting to understand the wisdom underneath the less than perfect language. If I could rephrase it to the way that I live it out, the proverb would say:

“Do something self-nurturing for yourself every day—unless you’re too busy; then do two things self-nurturing for yourself every day.”

Once upon a time, I would have thought that self-care was the first thing that should go when I became swamped. I still feel the temptation to ditch it all the time right now. Sometimes I add up the hours that I’m supposed to be putting into school, work, internship, and homework (never mind anything else), and I don’t know how those hours are supposed to fit into my hamster-wheel week.

But I have taken that proverb to heart. When I start to feel that pull to neglect myself in order to fit “all the things” into my life, I look for ways to increase my self-care instead. It’s a sign to me that I’ve become overwhelmed enough to forget my priorities.

The proverb used to feel a little shaming and blaming to me, like the speaker was assuming that busy people obviously aren’t “efficient” enough or must be “lazy.”

That was my cult mind though. That was the memory of the way that the cult would drive you to the brink of exhaustion, then blame you for being tired.

I don’t doubt that some have used that concept in that way. Meditation has been hijacked by cults for abusive purposes. Self-care has been used as a means of oppression and victim-blaming.

What I was missing was the way that it could be used against the cult thinking. When I feel too busy for self-care, choosing to increase my self-care anyway isn’t meant to add to my workload or my sense of guilt. Rather, it’s to make me re-evaluate what I think needs to get done–to prioritize consciously.

If I’m too busy for self-care and I don’t take that conscious step, something is already being let go—my well-being.

But my proverb reminds me that the frazzled feeling is a sign to step back rather than do more. Essentially what the proverb is saying to me is: If forced to choose, let something else go.

This Little Planned Parenthood Went to Market

I’m pretty used to people either loving or hating Planned Parenthood. Every few months, I see people taking sides on whether to support or protest the organization.

While I have been an open supporter of what Planned Parenthood does and use them frequently for my own women’s health needs, I have to admit that I’ve largely stopped paying attention to the near constant chatter about them.

There’s one that just won’t go away though. It’s actually gotten to be quite a big issue leading up to a hearing and a more than usual likelihood of Planned Parenthood losing funding.

So I grumblingly decided to do my civic duty and looked up the infamous “expose” that has embroiled the non-profit in scandal.

It’s not surprising that everyone is taking sides.

“They’re good.”

“They’re bad.”

“They didn’t do it!”

“Yes, they did!”

Based on the vitriol, I expected the video to be disturbing and the issue at least a little more controversial than the typical mud-slinging.

But…I’m completely nonplussed.

It’s hard to tell what people are actually upset about: the fact that fetal tissue is valuable and useful to science or the fact that a non-profit has found a way to supplement their expenses. I’ll assume both.

While everyone is freaking out about whether Planned Parenthood was selling “dead baby parts” or not, I’m sitting here in my own little world thinking, “Who cares? Why is this such a big deal?”

I’d probably feel more horrified to find out that they weren’t doing anything with the fetal tissue, that it was just being thrown away. To me, that’s far more disrespectful and uncivilized than taking it and using it to study diseases and develop treatments.

Perhaps that comes from my own health history and the anger I still feel that my blood, though perfectly normal, had to be thrown away rather than donated because it was being removed as part of a treatment. In fact, I almost might go so far as to say that it should be required by law that medical uses be the default of anything that comes out of the human body, be it an organ, fetus, or tumor, if at all possible. It’s abhorrently wasteful to choose the dumpster over the lab.

From my vantage point, Planned Parenthood wanted to be able to do something valuable with the tissues they were extracting. I say, “Good for them.”

Regarding the money part…well, I wish we lived in a world in which non-profits were genuinely non-profits who didn’t have to compete on the market, but the reality is that non-profits have to compete for funding just as vigorously as any capitalistic enterprise. They have to vie for funds from the government as well as private donors, and sometimes that’s not enough. Every non-profit is always looking for ways of bringing in money without “making a profit.”

Add in the begrudging funding that Planned Parenthood receives anyway and the threats of defunding they’ve been facing in various states, and I’m sure it would be safe to say they are more aware of their funding needs than ever. For Planned Parenthood to continue to provide low-income women affordable services (like pap smears, cancer screenings, birth control, and even abortions), they are going to have to be creative about off-setting the medical costs they accrue.

From what I have seen so far, they weren’t trying to use fetal tissue that women hadn’t consented to have used. Nor were they trying to make an astronomical profit off of what they were doing with the fetal tissue.

They were merely trying to cover their costs and perhaps supplement some of the other services they provide to women who don’t have access to health care coverage or who have to pay out of pocket for various reasons.

How fucking dare they!

Do what? Survive in a vicious non-profit market and a political climate that shames and punishes women and women’s health care facilities for deigning to have the option of a perfectly legal abortion?

I would hope they dare.

I don’t give a rat’s ass, in the end, whether Planned Parenthood actually received compensation for tissue donations or not because, either way, it doesn’t fucking matter to me. I’m happy to re-evaluate my stance if more information comes to light to indicate malicious or abusive behavior on their part, but as it stands right now, I don’t think they did anything wrong, even if it’s true.

Does that make me a horrible human being? Well, if being a horrible human being means that I allow an organization to recoup its costs to some extent and encourage the use of fetal tissue for science and medicine, then so be it. I’ll be a horrible human being. And I’ll be proud of that.

I stand with Planned Parenthood.



Four Ways to Add Depth and Meaning to your Halloween Costume


Before we actually hit October, this is a great time to start thinking about putting thought and meaning into a fun costume. I wrote this piece last year about four ways to create fantastic and meaningful costumes. It’s still a passionate topic for me.

Originally posted on sometimesmagical:

It’s October, which for me means that the month-long celebration of one of my favorite holidays has officially begun. Time to pull out the scary movies, sinister decorations, and fake blood. Also time to start planning a costume…which can be a somewhat daunting task.

I’m already seeing articles popping up about racism, sexism, slut-shaming, cultural insensitivity or fat-shaming in costumes, and I find myself bracing just a little bit for the onslaught of negativity. They’re not necessarily wrong—ugly elements of society tend to find their way into our celebrations in a number of ways, especially when it involves costumes. It’s important to be able to recognize the unsavory elements and talk about what they reveal about society.

But when that’s all there is, after a while it just starts to make Halloween feel absolutely hopeless.

So, I want to take a positive approach to the Halloween costume conundrum. Rather than…

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