Thursday, November 3, 2016

Praise Serqet for One Mystery Solved

A while ago I talked about a skin condition I've had that just keeps getting worse.  I'd been treating it as athlete's foot because it started out looking like it... but it soon spread up the top of my feet.  Finally I went to the doctor to find that it's fucking scabies, so that was a nice contact-your-sexual-partners type of situation.  I also found out from my doctor that a skin condition on my arms and back that I thought was just acne was also from the scabies.  A couple days ago I gave myself the first dose of a topical medication to get rid of the bugs, then next week I may need to do it again to make sure any that hatch in the next week are also eradicated.

I'm really glad to have a diagnosis for this because it's been really miserable.  And it's really a testament to how important it is to realize that you can't natural health (or over-the-counter) your way out of everything.  Scabies has some natural remedies, but they're not particularly effective (sulphur seems to be the most common from what I've seen... and I've already used it).  After one treatment the extreme itch is already less of an issue because of the lack of new burrows.  The second treatment isn't supposed to be necessary, but I noticed a couple new bites today so I'll be doing it as a precaution.

I honestly have no idea where I could have gotten this, as I'm not a big touchy-feely kind of person (I'm well known to not be a hugger), so unless my girlfriend gave it to me and is asymptomatic this will remain a mystery to me.  I replaced my bedclothes (it's not actually necessary but it was on my things to do list anyway and I figured it was a good time) and will be using some natural scabies remedies as a preventative measure (including tea tree oil, neem oil, and sulphur).

Although it's probably not literally related, I'm going to take this as symbolic in a spiritual sense, because the stings/bites/burrows of insects are ruled and cured by the Goddess Serqet, who I also honor as a Goddess who fights against addiction.  She's who I work with regarding my food addiction, something which has come back full force in the past several weeks.

I've been slowly but surely cleaning my desk in order to make a new, bigger altar to work at.  I've decided it will be a primitive revival shrine focusing on animal, plant, and fungi symbols of natural life I work with often as well as of the Gods I worship (almost all of my Gods are either anthropomorphic or have very clear animal symbols).  Serqet's symbol is a scorpion, so that imagery will be there.  The other Deities I work with include Sekhmet (who will be represented by a lioness), Set (who will be represented by boars and Set-animals), Wepwawet (who will be represented by jackals and wolves), and a few others.  I need to finish creating a naos (cabinet for housing the images of Gods) that I purchased at a thrift store by painting it, I don't know if it will go on the altar or if it will be its own shrine.

The main difference between an altar and shrine is practical use.  In this case I'll be putting the shrine elements somewhere accessible but out of the way, with space to do magickal workings as well as practical herbal medicine, crafting, and naturalist study.  I've cleaned one of the drawers to put herbal medicine in already, I may procure a small bookshelf to put alongside the altar desk to put magickal and Pagan books as well as field guides.

I'll also magickally clear out the room, because it's been messy (in a cluttered sense, not a dirty sense) for so long it just feels gross to be in it, and the scabies also makes me feel kind of gross, even if it clearly didn't come from a messy room.

Alright, that's it for now.  Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Unexpected but Fantastic Early Effects of Hormone Cessation

Content note:  This essay talks about the sexual side effects of going off transgender male hormone therapy.

I've stopped testosterone altogether as of this week.  I'm actually not quite done with the bottle, but... I just needed to stop and get it over with.  As of right now it's been about two and a half weeks without any hormones.  My hot flashes have been very manageable.  I've been taking two doses of Black Cohosh daily, once in the morning and once at night (this variety that I got off Amazon).  Right now I overall feel pretty good, although it's very early.  I have heard from some people who went off hormones that they were absolutely miserable until their estrogen levels returned to their pre-testosterone levels, which might happen in the future, but hasn't yet.

Last night I noticed an effect that I really hope is permanent:  My sexual sensitivity level went up.

Hormones do weird things to the way your genitals feel during sex acts.  I had a high libido before hormones, so I thought I'd be able to handle it very easily, but it turns out that testosterone often makes your sex drive ridiculous.  Its not necessarily that you want sex more--I wanted actual sex less--but I wound up with just tremendous urges to orgasm that were incredibly frustrating.

At the same time, my sensitivity level especially in my genitals declined significantly.  So I experienced clit/penis growth and was able to get a harder erection, but it didn't feel as good and it took longer for me to reach orgasm.  What used to take ten minutes started taking twenty or thirty if not more, and by the end I was so raw that it made having somebody else try to bring me to orgasm was a chore more than anything else (definitely for me and probably for them, too).  They'd work on me until I went totally numb and frustrated and I'd have to finish myself, and quite frankly it was often painful at that point, like rubbing itchy skin until it blisters.  And even doing it alone, when I can do literally whatever I want to myself, there was no way to make it feel as good I remembered it being.

Last night I used a vibrator and found that it felt extremely familiar, like it felt like using a vibrator pre-testosterone, where it wasn't just trying to hit the right buttons to orgasm, but it actually felt good and appealing before that point.

Sexual sensitivity is something trans men don't really talk about too much, but there's a correlation as well to what trans women experience.  Hormones for both of us are a trade-off, and a trans woman who goes on estrogen may very well lose the ability to sustain an erection while also having more appealing sensitivity.

This might seem counterintuitive because of the cultural myths we have about sex in general.  We associate a harder dick with more arousal, but mechanical physical arousal is just not the same as how sex actually feels to a person.  And this feels much better, so I'm quite happy with it.

A change that hasn't seemed to come yet but hopefully will in the future?  Vaginal penetration actually hurts me.  It never did pre-hormones, but testosterone thins the vaginal wall and decreases the amount of lubrication.  Recently a partner accidentally poked in there... it wasn't even a huge insertion, but it still hurt so bad I basically shrieked.  The one time post-hormonally I tried letting someone in there I bled.  It's not a very good situation.

There was an issue last night with a weird cramp that reminded me of when I'd start a period.  I don't think it's early enough for that, but I've been carrying around a menstrual cup just in case.  The only problem is I don't know how long it'll be before I can handle a menstrual cup, so I still need to make some menstrual pads to deal with that.  I'm hopefully going to do that today, but it depends on how the rest of my chores go as I did wake up quite late today.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Happy trails,

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The First Big Hot Flash of Hormone Cessation and Adventures in Curing

Yesterday was some fascinating timing... as my testosterone dose has changed to .5cc every other week rather than .5cc every week, it was my new "shot day," but it also coincidentally happened to be the first really nasty hot flash.  This occurred right during a meeting, which I tell you was really fun.  When I got home and took my shot (I dreaded this, by the way), within about an hour I had what I called "wax face" at the beginning of my hormonal journey, in which my face was shiny and greasy looking but didn't actually feel wet or greasy.  This all went away fairly soon.

Based on suggestions from a forum I've been lurking about the subject of getting off hormones I'll be getting some Black Cohosh to see if it helps with the bizarre hormonal systems.  This decision had some bad timing because I just passed up on seriously discounted Black Cohosh at the supermarket a couple days ago that somebody got to before me (got packages of bolted Einkorn flour for dirt cheap, though!).

My thing right now has been curing meats, which so far has been hit or miss.  It's really hard to stuff small sausages (like hot sticks) with a manual meat grinder, so I'll probably find a different method using the attachments, sort of like a frosting bag or something like that.  My jerky press will work for some sizes, but not all of them.  The one hot stick I managed to fill was with meat that didn't have any pink curing salt (and yes, I use curing salt, get over it) in it, so it wound up being extremely unappealing.

I made a nice slab of bacon as well, using pork belly I bought at Costco.  I added some seasonings that seemed right, and kosher salt, and curing salt, but I was a little incompetent with the salting and wound up with something closer to salt pork than bacon.  It certainly doesn't taste bad, but it'll only be useful for things that already need more salt.  I could see crumbling it over a salad.

Tonight I'll be making another slab of bacon using a recipe closer to the amount of meat I have.  The base recipe for about a 2 pound slab will be two tablespoons salt, one teaspoon curing salt, a half cup of sugar, and then extra seasoning as I feel like it.  I'll vacuum seal it all together so the salt draws out water and makes a nice brine in the fridge.  I'll cure that for about seven days and then smoke it over whisky barrel chips, which I learned recently I love.

I'm also starting some corned beef brisket.  I've always wanted to try making this and I just started the brine yesterday.  I made my own corning spice based on a recipe that had one tablespoon each allspice berries, mustard seeds, coriander, red pepper flakes, cloves, and black peppercorn with two teaspoons powdered ginger, a half stick of cinnamon broken up, six bay leaves broken up, and nine cardamom pods.  The rest of the recipe is here.  I halved the recipe because my brisket is smaller.  That'll be sealed in a vacuum bag (without the vacuum, as it's a liquid) and kept in the refrigerator for about 10 days before I either cook or store it.

In addition I'm also making mead, banana vinegar, and an Egyptian style beer from the book Wild Fermentation.  Lots of projects going into the next season!

Happy Trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Re-Seasoning My Pagan Year

One of the fundamental things I've been trying to do with my spiritual practice is get out of the habit of oversymbolic ritual.  What I mean by this is that the way Paganism and Witchcraft are taught it's easy to learn bland facts about what we're supposed to do and believe without ever fully realizing that the symbols, tools, and observances we recognize are informed by mundane facts.  For instance, many Witches use small symbolic cauldrons on their altars, ignoring the fact that a cauldron is merely a cooking pot, and its magickal importance is directly attributable to the fact that it is a life-sustaining tool.  How many Pagans have ever used a cauldron for cooking?  We also associate West with Water, but rarely do we talk about why.  Well... associating West with Water makes sense when you live somewhere with the Atlantic ocean in that direction!  If I call Water from the West, I'm aiming in the direction furthest away from a substantial body of water... Lake Winnebago to the South, Lake Michigan to the East, Lake Superior to the North, nothing to the West!  (Full disclosure... I don't actually call elements from the directions, usually.)

For me it's rather a worthwhile goal to look into things like this in order to personalize your practice to one that is meaningful to you and your area in an intimate manner rather than just doing what a book tells you is traditional.  If we all worked like this, folks in the Southern Hemisphere would all be celebrating Yule in the middle of the summer!  So I've been trying to deeply personalize my observances, and while I was doing that I happened upon this video about why our seasons don't make any sense:

This video explains how our concept of "seasons" being situated between solstices and equinoxes is largely based on the climate of one particular area... these astronomical observances relate to how much light we get, but the changes in temperature may or may not be congruent with them at all.

When I went paleo and a lot of the grain-based stuff in Pagan Sabbats stopped applying to me, I started forming different views of those observances to compensate based on a simplified calendar of hunting and gathering (with colder months being the "hunting" and warmer months being the "gathering").  Although the solstices and equinoxes (being phenomena I definitely experience here as well as a good way to schedule time with other Pagans) factor into my practice, a more meaningful calendar happens to be based on when and what I hunt, gather, garden, fish, or collect.  These are not nicely divided seasons or singular dates, but overlapping observances of varying lengths based on things I actually do.

For instance, right now the leaves are just starting to turn, indicating that it is time to start collecting Shagbark Hickory nuts.  It is also approaching the middle of the two-month American Ginseng season.  Shortly after that is the nine day Whitetail Deer season.  This leads us to December and January, dedicated to foods that can be foraged all year like Crabapples, Rosehips, Pine and other Evergreens as well as the important art of stockpiling and preserving food.  Come spring, the melting of the snow will make way for beginning to harvest greens and roots like Dandelion and Burdock.  In March the licensing year for fishing starts.  In May, hunting for Morel mushrooms begins around Mother's Day.  June is the first month of direct-sow planting in my garden, with most of the summer having plentiful gathering as well as planting/harvesting.

I haven't quite worked out the exact dates and natural signals for this yet, but it is the general way I honor seasonal cycles within my practice nowadays.

Interspersed with these natural occurrences are observances related to astronomical events.  Full moons, new moons, eclipses, meteor showers, solstices, equinoxes, the rising of particular constellations and stars (such as Sirius and Orion), all factor in.

Of course, this is in addition to using and throwing out ideas and symbolism based on how personally meaningful it is.  I already mentioned the use of a cauldron in food magick rather than as just a symbolic vessel to burn paper in.  It also includes how I view and use ritual blades (throwing out that blasted "never cut with a ritual blade" nonsense was great), how I use brooms/besoms, and so forth.

This isn't exactly an instructional guide, but I hope that for anybody who feels particularly alienated from the way modern Paganism is put together this serves as inspiration that it really doesn't need to be that way.  Our spiritual practices were not handed to us whole cloth, they were developed over millennia based on actual mundane experiences.

Until next time, Happy Trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Testosterone Cessation: Planning for Change

Today is the day I start weaning myself off of the hormones.  Most of the trans men I have talked to have actually gone off of it cold turkey... but they also largely stopped because they ran out of money and not out of choice, hence why they'd end so abruptly.  Since I hate giving myself shots so damn much, rather than giving myself half-injections at a normal rate of once every seven days I will be giving myself full injections at once every 14 days until the bottle is complete.  It will probably still be a rough ride, but less rough than if I just flat out stopped.

Based on the fact that I have gone up to three weeks without hormones before, it will take a while before anything really weird happens to me.  After three weeks cold turkey my main problems were hot flash and mild/manageable dizziness which went away pretty quickly after starting hormones again.

Warning for anybody reading... the rest of this talks about periods, and rather graphically so.

One of the concerns I'll need to deal with is how to deal with menstruation once that starts again.  This is something I have been mentally planning for for months now, but I haven't actually done anything yet.

So here's the problem:  I am aware that back before testosterone my periods were somewhat irregular, but I generally saw them coming due to bodily factors I don't really understand.  I couldn't plan on it coming exactly once every 28 days, but I could sort of sense or feel a day or so before it came that it was on its way, so I was able to apply a pad in time or, later, keep my menstrual cup with me (something I usually did anyway).  Since I'm a stealth trans man who has a job with lengthy hours, I need to come up with a plan for how to deal with it, because there is just no telling when I'll bleed next.

First, since I don't know how much I'll bleed or if I'll remember how it feels (or even if it will feel the same) I'll rely on and be grateful for the fact that I habitually wear black pants at work.  I'll also keep a couple extra pairs of briefs in my bag along with a method of transporting out bloodied ones if that happens.

I'll be making a set of cloth pads that are made to fit in boxer briefs.  There are a few more options on the market for menstruating trans men and other people with periods who don't wear panties, but I don't like most of them, and regular pads aren't made to fit in this kind of underwear.  I have an idea to make snappable modified briefs with pads made for their size which I'll be attempting to make once I get the supplies.  They will be thinner, because they're just backup.

I used to use a DivaCup, but that was so long ago that it's probably hanging out at my mom's house somewhere and I don't want to be digging around there like "Hey, mom, I'm planning on getting my period again and need this thing I left at your house five years ago."  These are much less pricy than they used to be, and I'll be getting them, but I'm slightly worried that I won't be able to wear them right away though due to changes in the vagina as I can't handle a lot of penetration at all since hormones, one of the reasons I'm stopping them.  It may take a while for it to return to a state where it can handle a cup.  So I'll have it on hand, but will also be making the pads.

I know a lot of trans guys wind up getting abladed or some other surgery to stop their periods... I don't think that it'll be necessary unless I choose to get a hysterectomy (while keeping the ovaries) later.  For now I'll just stick to the natural menstrual health regimen I was doing before hormones.

More updates as they come!

Happy trails,

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Grilled "Butterfly" Chicken

With the last days of warmth dwindling down I've started to grill a lot more.  I love grilling and, in fact, any sort of open-fire cooking... it feels more primal than cooking on an electric or induction range, and it imparts flavors you just don't get easily in other methods.

One of my latest grilling adventures was a whole organic chicken I found for half off at Festival Foods.  Festival is one of the few places locally that has a really good selection of organic and grassfed meats, and when they've been there a while they wind up in the discount section.  I am a big fan of this section.

So I look up grilling whole chickens, and find that the best way to do it is to butterfly it so you don't wind up with chicken that's raw in the middle and overcooked on the outside.  I admittedly butchered the hell out of it, as I have no idea what I am doing and did not think to watch a video on the subject.  I basically butterflied it in the wrong direction.  I think.  But this managed to get the chicken flat enough to cook properly, so success in that department.

I used a chimney starter full of lump charcoal, which I set on one side of the grill only.  I actually hadn't heard of a chimney starter until very recently and I gotta say... best investment if you grill a lot you could make.  It's probably already paid for itself in lighter fluid.  I use lump charcoal so that I can compost the ashes afterward.  I also soaked some mesquite chips and put them on to create tasty smoke.

Anyway, I started by putting the chicken on the non-charcoal side.  I checked it around every 7-10 minutes until all the pink was gone, then transferred it to the charcoal side to get the skin crispier.  Meanwhile I also cooked corn and mushrooms.  In the end it was a very attractive dish, even if I did butterfly it backwards.

Some other things I have grilled in the past week or so include ample steak (a cowboy rib-eye that took three days to eat, a regular rib-eye, a thick New York strip steak, and a rack of pork ribs I cooked for four hours today over mesquite smoke).  Whether I drag the pictures of these off my phone or camera in the next couple of days I don't know, but I have been eating fairly well lately, so maybe.

Anyway, until next time, happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Friday, September 9, 2016

Testosterone Cessation: Introduction and Injection Anxiety

For several months now (finalizing in the end of July) I've been mulling over the thought of going off of testosterone replacement therapy, which I've been on for about four and a half years as part of a gender transition program.  This is not, I feel the need to insist, because I have any plans to "detransition" back to being a woman.  I'm very happy being a man, and without my rounds and rounds of hormone therapy I would not be as comfortable in my skin or as confident as I am.  I went on hormones after many years of socially transitioning without them, and the difference is staggering and overwhelmingly positive.  I got health problems from it, but many of these were probably going to happen anyway (like hypertension, which I have had since I was a teenager) or easy to treat (like secondary polycythaemia).  These are frustrating and definitely were part of my decision, but if it were just a matter of these I would probably still continue.  That said, my reasons for stopping are a mix of philosophical, medical, spiritual, financial, and mental-health reasons.

A warning that this next paragraph has some detailed descriptions of awful injection experiences.  Giving myself injections is a chore that I absolutely dread.  The only thing that motivates me to inject myself at all is putting it on the game Habitica, which I play with my best friends, and it becomes less and less of a motivator as time goes by.  One thing that transgender men such as myself don't talk about so much is the fact that administering hormones tends to get much, much worse over time.  The first shot is often very easy... it slides through the skin like a hot knife through butter.  You marvel over how easy it is, how painless it is, and think "Yeah, I could do this forever."  Then the physical changes start coming.  Your skin gets tougher.  Your muscle gets more dense.  Suddenly you have to make actual effort to stick the needle through that top layer of skin.  Getting it through the muscle starts feeling like cutting steak with a dull knife.  You start injecting in the same place more often than you should, trying to find reliable areas to shoot that don't leave you frustrated and anxious, leading to hard spots within the muscle it's impossible for the needle to get through.  You have a panic attack thinking you injected into an artery because blood spurts out when you remove the needle one time.  You bruise.  Maybe you get an infection at some point.  It doesn't always hurt, but the expectation of "will it or will it not hurt terribly today" makes giving yourself a shot a nightmare.  You start putting it off.  You say "oh gosh, it's so late in the night, I'll just do it tomorrow."  You put off refilling a prescription just because it gives you an excuse to avoid sticking yourself for another couple days.  And while I'm certainly not saying all trans men go through this, quite a large number of us do.  This is one of the reasons subcutaneous injections (which involve smaller needles and much less depth) are so popular now.

So I chugged through that because although the injections sucked, the physical transformation itself is awesome.  In a little under five years I've managed to grow a great beard and handlebar moustache and my voice is in a male-read range.  These are the two physical effects that matter to me, and they are unlikely to go away.  Everything else--the fat redistribution, the lack of menstruation, the extra muscle, a number of emotional side effects--do not mean very much to me, and in the latter case are a large burden.  And every time I sit there with a needle contemplating sticking it in my leg, I re-affirm to myself that testosterone was worth it for the amount of time I've been on it, but is not worth continuing.

There has been a huge hit on my health.  I gained a lot of weight that can't be explained by muscle growth, and a lot of fat in the belly rather than less-harmful areas.  I have secondary polycythaemia, meaning my body makes too many red blood cells, putting me at risk for heart attack and stroke.  My high blood pressure has shot up to the point of needing to take medications.  The secondary polycythaemia, in particular, is difficult for me to manage as a queer person, since the treatment is to go donate blood, something I am often ineligible for.

One thing I'm curious about is whether or not testosterone will bring back any anxiety.  There's a very commonly held idea in the trans community that being estrogen-dependent as a man or testosterone-dependent as a woman is inherently anxiety-inducing, which has been used as ammunition against people who consider hormone therapy unnecessary or cosmetic.  But is it, really?  I have had some extreme spots of anxiety after hormones, mostly due to financial stress.  How much of my pre-testosterone anxiety was merely due to not being read as a man?  I won't know the whole truth here until I'm an estrogen-dependent man again, but I suspect that the answer is "a lot."  When I do dwell on this sort of thing, I just remind myself that I can always start testosterone again, as many trans men have done.

This is the first part in a series regarding my current cessation from testosterone, what that means culturally for me, and what my plans are for it.  In the coming weeks (and longer) I'll be talking about the following subjects:

  • Whether or not transsexualism as we know it is a medical phenomenon and whether that's a bad thing as well as other cultural stuff about the trans community.
  • Plans for dealing with the pitfalls and quirks of living in an estrogen-dependent body with a functioning uterus.
  • Why I'm not moving toward "natural transition."
  • What physical and emotional effects I'm going through as they happen.
  • Whatever else I happen to feel like writing about.
Until then, happy trails,

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On the Very-Natural Right to Die

There's a very hot-button local case that was actually brought to my attention through national coverage, in which a 14 year old girl named Jerika Bolen has chosen to go off life support after a long battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA.  This story got national attention because Jerika decided she wanted one more summer before she died, the climax of which was a prom party in which she was named prom queen.  This request rapidly got thousands of dollars in GoFundMe donations from around the world as well as a lot of controversy.

Soon after this case was brought to my attention, I was barraged with another dose of anxiety from disability advocates I follow, many of whom are against assisted suicide due to some very reasonable social problems:
  1. Our healthcare in the United States is run by insurance companies who may view assisted suicide as a more cost-effective alternative to actually giving people medical care (in other words, they may cover assisted suicide but not painkillers or surgeries to treat the ailment).
  2. People view disabled people as a burden that should be put out of their misery, which may lead to familial and other social pressure to choose this option.
  3. It's been documented that in cases where assisted suicide is legal, some groups of people (namely women) are more likely to have that option accepted, as if women are more worthy of death.
  4. Assisted suicide may be chosen because somebody has little social support rather than an inability to handle the actual ailment.
I didn't actually understand these perspectives that intimately until somebody decided to make this choice due to one of my own conditions:  He was granted the right of assisted suicide in Belgium because he was transgender.  I actually felt personally slighted at the time.  There was somebody who not only asked to be killed, but was granted the legal right because he was like me?  It was admittedly a big mind fuck.

I eventually snapped out of it.  Why?  Because Nathan Verhelst was not "like me."  He and I shared a medical diagnosis, and that's about it.  I have a supportive family, he had an abusive one.  He had dysphoria to the point where surgery was necessary, I am fine with my body without it.  His body was rejecting his surgeries, I have no surgeries for my body to reject.  And even if I had these same characteristics, there is no guarantee we're going through the same thing.  Shortly after he was granted the right, Nathan died.

This is not a common debate among trans people, so I make no claims that I somehow know what the disabled community is feeling when something like this happens.  What I can say, though, is that I recognize that they have good personal reasons for disagreeing with me when I say I do still support peoples' right to die.

Jerika's story is close to me because she is a punk, queer, disabled woman of color, the kind of person I'm likely to read zines by or follow on Twitter, when I see pictures of her I'm brought back to my college days and seeing people she reminds me of at conferences where we'd talk philosophy and activism.  If she did choose to keep going on, I've no doubt that she would have the potential to produce wonderful things for her community as well as others.  All the news coverage makes a big deal out of the fact that Jerika, if kept on life support, will eventually be unable to even smile, but being unable to smile does not make somebody non-productive.  There are plenty of productive people out there who can barely move at all, and that's just if we consider production to be what makes a person worthy of life (it's not).

But that brings me to a different question, here:  Why should she be obligated to be everyone else's inspiration and example?

Jerika's SMA is not the same SMA that people lamenting her decision have.  By her own self-definition, she is in chronic pain that she cannot bear any longer, she cannot handle any more surgeries, she is being damaged by her pain medication, and most importantly, she does not want to live like this anymore.  To say that she should keep fighting because one day she may write wonderful zines would be ludicrous of me, but it's just a particularly ridiculous example of what everyone else wants.  They want somebody else to nonconsensually be proof that they themselves can be productive members of society.  That's emotional and physical labor Jerika Bolen is not obligated to provide.  Peoples' worthiness of life is not based on their ability to provide any sort of labor, including emotional.

This is something that goes both ways, of course.  I worked with somebody in a home once whose parents--because he was nonverbal--were able to secure a do-not-resuscitate order for him at 30 years old.  These were people who never actually visited him and had no clue as to his condition, but were able to get a doctor to sign him up.  It was ostensibly because he was "always sick" (he was not), but all of us working there knew it was because they believed him to be a financial and emotional burden they would be better off without.  Although he would also have the right to this--were it his choice--it is something he does not know about, and for those of us who were with him day in and day out, we know it is not a choice he would have made for himself.

The point is, all this talk about productivity and worthiness of life is meaningless.  Everybody is worthy of life, but the choice of whether or not they want life is a basic personal liberties issue, not a reflection on disability as a whole.

Finally, the idea that our goal as humans should live as long as possible without any concern for the quality of that life is absurd.  Certainly there is no moral fault in attempting to increase your health to live longer, but our cultural inclination toward life extension at all costs and treating death like an unnatural thing has led to people suffering terribly for extra years--perhaps even suffering more than if they'd done nothing at all as they cycle through painful therapies for illness--trying to avoid it.  And again, if this is worth it to you, I fault you absolutely zero percent for that, but we also shouldn't act like it's terrible to let go, and that's at any age.

Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Anti-Capitalism and the Anti-Ecocidal Activist

I don't very often like writing direct critiques of other blogs.  It's a risky endeavor as somebody who is shy and easily filled with extreme anxiety (the reason I don't allow blog comments).  But sometimes I find something that's not only baffling in its argument, but is so in such a way that I think a point by point takedown of certain problems is valuable.

This one concerns permaculture and capitalism, particularly an article on a permaculture blog arguing that capital is "essential to the very concept of permaculture."  At the beginning, the author states that he is "upset" when other people living a green lifestyle are anti-capitalists, and then spends the rest of the article trying to parse out why he is upset by it.

Unfortunately there's a lot he gets wrong.

First, the biggest incorrect assumption made in this article:  That anti-capitalist activists are only against the worst effects of capitalism.  From the article:
When people say they are anti-capitalism they are talking about their fear that mega-corporations control the planet purely for profit. Their marketing plans are designed to shred our bank accounts by beguiling us with the desire to buy things we don’t really need.
This suggests to me that Graham hasn't actually met any serious anti-capitalists, because that's not the heart of what we believe.  It's actually a very mainstream belief.  Seriously, how many people do you think, when asked "Should mega-corporations control the planet purely for profit?" would actually say "yes?"  Even if you are somebody who stands to gain from such a system, saying it certainly wouldn't win you any friends.

I don't know if Graham actually believes that this is what anti-capitalism is, but the entire article seems to make this into a base assumption, like this defines anti-capitalism.  It doesn't.  What defines anti-capitalism is the belief that the people (or workers) should collectively own the means of production rather than somebody else owning the means of production and purchasing their labor, with the fruits of that labor being produced by those based on ability to go to those based on need.

This is not limited to mega-corporations, either.  Anti-capitalists vary in their opinions about what makes a business "bad," but in my own worldview any business where there is an owner who is profiting disproportionately off the sold labor of employees--even if it's small, local, tries its damnedest to be environmentally and socially friendly, and even tries to be a great place to work--is still exploiting those employees.  Some are better than others, and it's not feasible for most people to opt out of buying things from them, but they're still exploitative enterprises.

Next, there's the idea that the author's idea of "Real Capital" is somehow relevant to an anti-capitalist being anti-capitalist.  First of all, it's a super hippie-dippie-wannabe way of looking at capital, as if critiques of capitalism are somehow against making human connections and growing food.  This is not what anti-capitalists are talking about and the author cannot possibly not know that.  His argument is like saying somebody who is against Democrats must inherently be against democracy.  Capitalism within Marxist, Socialist, Communist, and Anarchist discourse has a goddamn meaning that you can't just scrap when you don't like the way the kids are talking nowadays.  It's grating to me, like those people who hound anti-capitalist activists for having to work for wages and buy things to survive.  Graham here is clearly for some reason invested in capitalism looking good (To continue to feel good about selling education?  I don't know that many anti-capitalists who would blame somebody for doing such a thing in a capitalist society, so I don't even know), so he's using a red herring that makes capitalism look all fluffy and wonderful instead of the sociopathic agent of ecocide it is.

And yes:  Capitalism is a serious agent of ecocide.  And it's not that earlier generations have been environmental angels (we'd certainly been getting worse for the planet since taking up agriculture, and the communist experiments thus far share the blame for environmental havoc), but the rapidness of ecocide nowadays is directly linked to the fact that people view natural resources as ways to gain personal profit and can't see beyond that.

Large scale this means people have no problem continuing to extract and burn resources that are pivotal to ecosystems as well as the overall health of the planet if it means some people can make a lot of money from it, usually with some garbage excuse about jobs and the economy.  Arguments in favor of the North Dakota Pipeline, which threatens the livelihoods of Native Americans as well as everyone else, have included an increase in available jobs, which makes every ignorant bastard cream themselves... and they're not even fucking good jobs, they're temporary jobs.  Things like this would not be necessary in a culture where people got their needs met without enforced capitalist work or where the economy was not judged by infinite growth and spending.

All systems have the potential to be ecocidal... capitalism is inherently so.

Finally, there's an issue nagging at me within this article and others, in that it assumes the natural state of the world is as a commodity.  Again, this isn't limited to capitalism and there are differing opinions among anti-capitalists as well, but the endgame of capitalism is to take every square inch of land, every service, and every living thing and make it a commodity that can be bought and sold.  Given the trend among smaller-scale food producers such as ourselves to engage in creepy homesteader fantasies (homesteading's history is in kicking indigenous people off of land and turning it into private property, after all), this isn't that shocking to me, but it is demoralizing.

Capitalism demands all things eventually be commodified in this way, with things that should be collectively possessed--the means to produce things that we need to survive (food, water, medicine, etc.), knowledge, human connections, and most of the stuff Graham defines as "Real Capital"--being bought and sold for profit instead or being relegated to "charity" which folks like this seem to love (even though it means rich people get to decide who or what is worthy of life, death, public use, destruction).

To use a good example, as a deer hunter I harvest food from public land.  Scott Walker and other professional shitheads would rather public land not exist, meaning my only options would be to pay somebody for the use of their land or buy my own land or just hope some other rich asshole is kind enough to give me use of that land as a charitable cause (which he may revoke at any time upon learning that I'm queer, trans, Pagan, or anything else he chooses).  A capitalist is comfortable with this because he sees land as a commodity and does not see public anything as a human right at all, even if somebody's life and livelihood depend on it, and many poor Wisconsinites depend on hunting.  And whose to say how much of that land would even be kept natural?  I mean, recently there was a local Cabelas (a business which stands to gain from keeping wild spaces wild!) that decided to build a location in a sensitive marsh area.  So I don't take this bullshit that commodifying anything--which is exactly what this author is suggesting as a good part of capitalism, even if he doesn't see the end result--is a good thing.

The same can be said for our health care system, the rest of our food supply, our water, etc.  It doesn't matter if you slap a Nestle label on it or not, as if the problem is mere consumerist branding, it's still exploiting both the earth and the humans living on it.

But to clarify, I'm reading a lot into Graham's writing here.  I'm sure he would disagree that a lot of what I write is his intent at all, but intent isn't magic.  And it doesn't change the fact that he starts with the faulty premise that anti-capitalists just don't know what capitalism is, which is fucking ridiculous.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dilly Beans of Many Flavors

I love fermenting things.  In addition to making good-for-you foods even better for you, I have such a love of the process, which is both scientifically fascinating and spiritually fulfilling for me.  Like many people I tend to go on "kicks" where I'll ferment a bunch of stuff at once, which makes sense because right now green beans and wax beans are fairly inexpensive.

Beans are one of the few things I'm really, really good at fermenting, up there with yogurt and sauerkraut.  I try again and again to ferment cucumbers, but it's a crap shoot whether or not I'm successful.  Mead I wind up either doing super great at or super horribly.  I've never successfully fermented a soda.  But beans I have a very high success rate with.

Yesterday I went on one of said pickling sprees, making probably twelve quart jars of pickled beans and cucumbers (as well as a small jar of fermented whole leaf basil, some sauerkraut, and some baby carrots).  I also went kind of wild with my flavors, including a super-hot one involving a fresh cayenne pepper and several chilis japonés, one with loads of garlic and pepper, and one that's mostly chunks of fresh ginger, garlic, and turmeric that only has green beans to help the fermentation process along.

Oh, I'm also getting some new dirt-based probiotics soon.  Out of curiosity what I'm going to do when I get them is take them regularly for a week along with lots of cultured foods and a stricter diet before taking another gut microbiome test to see what it all changes, if it goes in the right direction.  On a related note, uBiome actually changed the information they give on their test results so it's actually readable, which is sweet.  I may go into more detail once the last test comes back.

I have a Saturday off soon and hope to get lots of veggies at that point.  I was supposed to go to Pagan Pride Day, but as this was cancelled I'm just going to the farmer's market instead and looking for interesting things to pickle and stock away.

Some other things I'm considering doing in a short period of time... I want to try making sausage.  I'm looking into a grinder right now, will probably just buy one at the sporting goods store.  I learned how to use current equipment to smoke small amounts of meat, although I'll probably look into whether or not my relatives have an unused smoker (they probably do, knowing them).  I should really make some jerky, too!  I haven't made it in a really long time.

Also want to try making soap, but (as I've probably pointed out multiple times by this point) I'm kind of afraid to.  I may--since I'm planning on using the whole deer if I get one hunting--try making deer tallow soap, as I strongly dislike the taste of deer tallow.  Speaking of soap!  I was looking for a way to stop having to use antiseptic hand washes while out and about.  The idea of taking a bar of soap in a plastic container was not appealing to me... but today I found out about something they make in Japan called Soap Tablets.  These are basically tiny, single-use bars of soap.  I'm not interested in buying any, but I could certainly make some by cutting up a bar of my own soap (homemade or storebought) into feasible chunks.  I've already taken away one of the few wasteful vices at work and took a small towel on a ring my roommate got as a promo gift after buying like one thing from 4Imprint (I have a lot of 4Imprint stuff from that mistake).  So now I at least don't have to use paper towels.

Alright, that's enough musing for now.  Happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bone Broth, Purslane, and Still More Back Pain

Some fun personal updates from my life, and a quick recipe (it's not formatted like a recipe, though).

I have some bone broth being made right now including garden herbs, vegetables I happened to have around, and the bones of both cow and chicken.

I've been making it slow cooker style, keeping it on a low heat while everything in it slowly cooks down.  It's gotten to the point where the chicken bones are crumbling, although I doubt I'll let the beef bones hit that point.  To make it, just put some animal bones (I used beef soup bones from the store along with the bones from a cooked chicken carcass), vegetables (I used onions, carrots, and cabbage), and herbs and spices (I loaded it with herbs and spices including sage, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, black pepper, cardamom, mustard seed, pepper, juniper berries, and of course salt).  Cover with good water and turn the slow cooker on; I start it on high for an hour or so and then turn it down to low for a couple of nights until the bones succumb and release their nutrient matrix to the liquid.

Like usual I'm trying to get more wild food in my diet.  I found a great bunch of purslane I found on my walk to work that I've been munching on.  Purslane is probably my favorite wild edible plant; it's a succulent so it has a fascinating texture with kind of a gel-like consistency while it's chewed.  While I was eating it that bowl filled with seeds that I'll be putting in a purslane-friendly area on the property to see if I can successfully grow some.

I made a soup using the broth and purslane for dinner tonight, which was delectable.  The purslane wasn't prominently flavored in the soup like it would be in say a salad, but it was still a welcome addition.  The broth wound up spicy (from a couple chilis japonés I put in there) with a sweet-spicy overtone from several pods cardamom.  I added chicken and because I felt guilty throwing it away I also added the beef that had fallen off the bone during the broth-making process.  I also added zucchini from the garden.

My back is still being an asshole.  I've been dealing with it using posture, some over the counter meds, mild yoga, and topical menthol.  It doesn't actually hurt so much as it's ridiculously stiff.  The yoga really helps with that, although I'm trying very hard not to overdo it and I haven't been doing it after taking meds (I suspect that was the original problem, stretching on painkillers).
That's about it as far as current updates.  Happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Root Beer Syrup, Hot Sauce, and Coming Out Dermatillomaniac

In this post I'd like to give a couple simple recipes I was dealing with today as well as a bit of a coming out and a little about one of my least favorite ailments.

First, the recipes:

Root Beer Syrup

This is a recipe I have seen multiple places, notably at Rhonda's workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering as well as in the book "Hunt Gather Cook."  Mine is different from theirs in that it has no burdock root, and it has sarsaparilla and liquorice root.

In a gallon of water, boil the following:
  • 1/3 cup sassafras bark root
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon liquorice root
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
  • bunches and bunches of fresh mint (optional, I use this to get rid of my excess mint)
Once it starts boiling, reduce to a simmer and let it for an hour.  Take it off the heat and let it cool at least to a warm temperature (I've let it sit to room temperature and it's fine).

Take some jars and fill them half with sugar.  I use just regular white sugar, I've used coconut sugar as well although it tastes quite strange.  You can experiment with any sweetener you want, but be aware that white sugar will grant this a higher shelf life.  For me it rarely lasts that long, but it's up to you.

Fill the jar with the liquid from above, strained.  Stir it.  Once the sugar soaks up the mix, it might wind up with a lower level than before... just add more.  I wind up with about three and a half quarts of it this way.

To use, put it in seltzer water to taste.  The recipe says like one tablespoon for a pint of seltzer... it just depends on how sugary you want it.  I think it may also work to put it in plain kombucha or water kefir, seal it in a bottle for a couple of days so the sugar ferments and the liquid is carbonated... I haven't tried this, though, and have a bad history with sassafras killing scoby cultures.  I'll update this if I decide to ever try it.

Hot Pepper Sauce

I love this recipe and it lasts a long time, but unfortunately I broke my jar after I got it back from PSG!  So I had a downright mess of fermented jalapeño mix on my floor and no more sauce.

I just made a new batch, pictured right.  It's very fresh right now so it's bright green... once it's done it'll be more of a forest green.

And it's also really easy:  Just take a bunch of peppers and pulse them, seeds and all, into a paste.  For each pound and a half of peppers add two teaspoons of salt.  I also put a large clove of garlic in there.  This particular jar (it's an old salsa jar) has the pulsed contents of 9 jalapeño peppers, five habanero peppers, and a garlic clove.

After a while it'll cover with brine.  Keep the vegetable material under the brine to prevent mold, and let it sit in a cool dark place until it gets to your desired level of ferment (for me it's only about a week).

And now for the dermatillomania.

Warning: Dermatillomania is a self-harm disorder, so please use discretion before you read.

Ever since I was a child, I have had dermatillomania.  This is a disorder characterized by having an "itch" or urge to pick at your skin, pulling off scabs or gouging into non-scabbed skin until it becomes scabbed skin.  In my own case it represents itself as a serious inability to leave blemishes alone.  When I had chickenpox it meant my parents covered me up in bandages for weeks.  A skinned knee would turn into a scabbed up leg.  When I got teenage acne it meant my whole face was covered with sores.  I've pulled off moles, gouged out acne pimples, fussed about scar tissue.

As a transgender person, it makes the idea of surgery doubly risky for me.  I was all into having a mastectomy maybe five or six years ago, but the more I think about it the more I worry that the usual amount of scarring you see in transgender surgeries will be a dramatic understatement compared to what I will have.

What doesn't help is that my skin is genuinely very itchy, and I have been having a really hard time getting rid of that.  I also have acne (one of the reasons why, as I mentioned before, I'm planning on giving up hormones).

A homemade oil lotion helps a lot but getting it on my back is a huge pain, so I wind up not doing it out of sheer laziness.  I was using sulphur soap for a while hoping it would clear up my acne... it doesn't clear up acne, but it does clear up the itching.  The problem?  It smells terrible and I carry that smell with me.  And pharmaceutical acne treatments have a long record of making me feel excruciatingly ill.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Happy trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Monday, July 25, 2016

Philosophy and Testosterone Cessation

I've been thinking a lot about philosophy lately.  My politics and interests are complicated... I fix advanced technology by trade, and I obviously use it as well or I wouldn't be blogging, but I'm also a holder of traditional skills that I try to use on a regular basis and am striving toward them rather than toward more gadgets.  I also am actively aiming toward a more sustainable, primitive lifestyle.  At heart my philosophy is very anti-civilization and anti-domestication, but there's a problem:  I'm a medically transitioned trans person.

Well, OK, it's not quite a problem on a personal level.  I don't have a problem with my trans status, and five years of hormones has changed my body into something me and my culture are both comfortable with (at least while I have clothes on), and they were a great decision for me.  But I'm considering going off of those hormones because the changes that are most important to me--deeper voice and facial hair--are unlikely to go away, and I'm beginning to crave the ease of pre-transition medical concerns (no massive shots to remember taking, no needing phlebotomies, less bad blood pressure, more natural body cycles).  That got me thinking about the nature vs. nurture aspects of gender transition to begin with.

The story in the trans community is usually told a lot like this:  Trans people have an inborn medical condition that causes us a lot of strife, discomfort, and often death through suicide or risky behaviors.  The cure for this is hormones and to a lesser extent surgery.  Hormones should be given early and often.  Somebody who is given the wrong hormones will know fairly quickly, because an estrogen dominant man or a testosterone dominant woman will inherently be depressed.

This is a very nature-based argument which butts heads against a common belief among certain left-wing radicals: Gender identity is not inborn.  Gender is a category constructed by humans to oppress each other, and by expressing the need to transition from one to another trans people reinforce that oppression.  This belief hasn't just led to disagreement, but exclusion of trans people from radical spaces and outright violence.

Here's the reality of this situation, for me:  Nature vs. nurture is a nearly futile and in most cases irrelevant argument.  We can acknowledge that maybe trans peoples' need to take pharmaceutical hormones is due to our cultural upbringing while validating that those feelings are in fact real and the effects of denying hormones to somebody who needs them are disastrous.  But instead of allowing for this sort of complexity and nuance, people instead choose to commit to binary extremes.

Unfortunately this doesn't only combat anti-transgender bigots.  It also facilitates ignorant judgments against trans people who don't meet that narrative, either by being comfortable with our bodies as-is (as many trans people are) or by transitioning by a different method than others.  I was thinking about this because I was browsing YouTube for insight on getting off hormones--the same thing I did when I was going to be going on them--but this time there was very little to go by.  The few trans people who went off hormones had either gone back on them in a couple of months or had been on them for a much shorter time period than I have.  Everybody else had decided they were not trans and were detransitioning.  I found only one transgender man who had gone on hormones for several years, gone off them, continued living as a man, and stayed off them for longer than a few months.

The thing is, I know that going off hormones isn't that uncommon.  Lots of us do it for health reasons.  Some do it for financial reasons, as the hormones and bloodwork can get really expensive.  But it's not something we talk about nearly as much as going on hormones, because it's just assumed people will go on them forever because we've constructed this narrative that assumes wrong hormones are what cause gender dysphoria, depression, and other issues.

I'm not saying they definitely aren't... but I think it's dangerous to assume that society doesn't play a part in it.  Was my masculinity really an inborn trait or was it something developed by cultural pressures?  People talk about sexual orientation as if gays and lesbians are "born that way" all the time, but peoples' sexual orientations definitely do change, sometimes by choice (something I know by experience, as I went from desiring only men to actively conditioning myself to be attracted to women and non-binary people as well) and sometimes by circumstance.  Getting married to the idea that it definitely must not ever be viewed as a choice is a viewpoint that only makes sense if you believe that there's something otherwise immoral or disgusting about homosexuality, which there is not.  And the thing is, there are so many things about us as humans that we assume are inborn biological facts because it feels like they are, but they aren't.  Take the color blue.  If you were raised in a culture that has no ability to create the color blue--as there are very few natural sources of that color--you will fail to see it even if it is pointed out to you.  People who are raised without blue might describe the sky as colorless or green or yellow, the sea as wine-colored, and other fascinating things.  People who are raised in societies that have the ability to render such a usually unnatural color will be able to identify it and distinguish it from other similar colors.  But you can't force yourself to un-see blue.  You can't decide philosophically that blue is not a natural color and you should abstain.  Just because it's culturally produced doesn't make it unnatural or non-factual.

So I am a culturally masculine human regardless of where in my life that happened, whether there was a genetic predisposition or socialization or whatnot.  In my culture, a masculine person raised female has certain roles they can occupy.  We can be tomboys.  We can be butch women.  We can be nonbinary.  In my own case, for whatever reason, the role that I fit is transsexual man, complete with medical transition.  It's a fine role.  I value it and don't denigrate it.

But I also don't know that I would feel I needed medical transition if there had been other accepted roles for me.  I love my moustache and my deep voice, but if I grew up somewhere that people would have accepted me as a man or maybe even a third gender category, I cannot confidently say that this would be a problem for me.

Herein lies the dilemma.  Going on testosterone alleviated my depression to an extreme level.  I am emotionally more balanced, more confident, and overall happier.  But was it because the hormones balanced me out... or was it merely the fact that people accepted me better?  Because if it's the latter, I may be doing myself a great favor by going off of them.  And if it's the former... I can always go back on them.

Basically, the pros and cons of staying on testosterone versus going off it are starting to tip toward the "going off" end, for the following reasons (some of which I already summarized):
  • I will no longer need a contingency plan if a disaster happens and I am suddenly without hormones.  Over the past five years there have been multiple occasions where my pharmacy and doctor did not communicate and I wound up having to bear weeks without hormones.  I won't have to worry about if I can't afford them that month or if--Gods forbid--shit really hits the fan and hormones don't even exist anymore.
  • My body should revert to functioning the way nature intended it to, with all its cycles and functions, which works well with my philosophical and spiritual sensibilities.
  • Some of the health problems I have should decrease in intensity or even dissipate, especially my secondary polycythaemia, which is a direct effect of hormones and which is hard to manage for reasons I am uncomfortable explaining here.
  • I will no longer need to feel the total dread that comes when it's time to give myself a shot.  They were very easy at first, but are increasingly becoming nearly impossible to do on time.  I get nauseous, forget to breathe properly, and have panic attacks over the damn shots.  Not needing to take shots would be incredibly freeing for me.
  • It would be financially better for me.  Hormones aren't that expensive, and my insurance typically covers the bloodwork, but that's still around $250-$300/year that I'm spending on something that I'm not sure I want anymore.
I've already messaged my doctor through the Epic system (as her phone number apparently changed since I last called!) asking what the usual protocol for this is.  I know some people who have had to go off hormones because their doctors forced them to or they ran out of money or some other bullshit (it's infuriating to me that so many people can't get hormones because of transphobia and capitalism), but it may very well not be a good idea to just go off them cold turkey.  So I've asked for advice about that and will begin the process of preparing for this choice if I do choose to make it (I've been thinking about this for at least six months now, and occasionally I remember a thing that is likely to change that freaks me out, so there's no guarantee I'll actually do it).

The preparation that I'll need is to try getting certain health stuff in order, do more research to make sure it's something I really want, looking for ways to deal with what may be an emotional roller coaster, and looking into methods of dealing with stuff that's likely to happen if I do go off it (mostly menstruation).

I'm planning on continuing hormones through at least one more bottle of testosterone after I finish my current bottle, which should add up to maybe seven or eight more months on testosterone.  That way I'll not only have time to think about it and maybe grow some more facial hair (facial hair seems to slow down after stopping testosterone but doesn't go away, thankfully, and my voice should not return to a feminine-read register), but I'll have time to work out a plan with my doctor to ease off of it if that's how she recommends it be done, maybe lose some more weight so that the fat redistribution isn't as dramatic (this and the emotional roller coaster are my two main worries).

Anyway, I'm off to fuss over my food projects now.  Happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Friday, July 22, 2016

Post-PSG Writings V: Other Workshops and Rituals

Here comes why I gave Lupa her own post:  I honestly didn't go to many workshops.  This is really out of character for me, but it makes sense... just being in the environment was massively healing for me, as an atypical Pagan it's hard to find workshops I feel cater to me, and it was just so damn hot that I spent like half the day in the lake anyway.  But I did go to quite a few rituals and... well, at least one other workshop.

Natural Remedies

I had the great misfortune to totally forget to bring my notebook to this one, although I do remember some of it.  This was a fairly hands-on workshop which included the brewing of a batch of root beer syrup with sassafras and sarsaparilla.  I recognized the recipe as being either from, inspired by, or somehow otherwise tangentially related to a recipe in "Hunt Gather Cook" by Hank Shaw, a cookbook and manual I highly recommend.

I also learned about moxa sticks, which are a traditional Chinese therapy similar to and used in combination with acupuncture and acupressure.  Research on these is dubious at best but it seemed to be at least effective on local pain based on anecdotes in the audience (when it comes to simple pain relief I consider anecdotes to be good enough to say "it may be worth a try").

Bast Cat Ritual

This was cute.  I have a long history in Kemetic/Ancient Egyptian worship, so I can tell straight away that this is nowhere near based in that tradition, but it was still... again, cute.  I mean, they involved catnip and cat toys and all sorts of stuff like that.

Candlelight Labyrinth

There was a labyrinth constructed out of tea lights and plastic cups with several altars along its path.  I'd never walked a labyrinth like this before, having only walked chalk ones I'd drawn for politico-religious reasons as a Pagan activist, and kind of wish there had been instructions (although by shrine three I finally realized "oh I'm supposed to use the provided mallet on this chime and make a noise").

The Main Ritual First Night (or rather, my first almost-skyclad ritual)

This was great and I almost cried during it... in a good way.  But the reasons are very personal and not quite related to the ritual itself, if it makes sense.

For some initial context:  If you don't already know, I am a trans man on hormones and have not had any surgeries.  As I get older and more comfortable with myself, I don't even really know if I want any surgeries.  Most of my dysphoria (discomfort with the gendered aspects of my body) has to do with how people view me rather than my own feelings.  So for now I am leaning toward wanting a mastectomy sometime in the future, but only because this would mean I could do things like go swimming in public without feeling weird about it.

PSG being clothing optional and also so damn hot made this a predicament for me.  PSG has policies protecting trans people from discrimination, but that doesn't mean people won't stare or be rude, and the Pagan community unfortunately has its fair share of ignorant assholes (I wrote about a couple of these incidents in "The Bad Stuff").  But one of my goals was to go at least partially skyclad (nude) at least once.  And I was seriously chickening out about this.

But, again, it got hot.  So damn hot, in fact, that my usual style just couldn't work.  I am accustomed to wearing large black design T-shirts because they hide my chest just enough for me to not be bothered by my breasts without needing to bind them, a practice I mostly gave up due to health problems that can arise (if you don't know what binding is there's a Wikipedia for that, the short story is it's uncomfortable and can cause anything from pneumonia to broken ribs if done improperly).  I wound up soaking through these with sweat so rapidly that there was just no way I'd be able to keep up with it, so around my campsite I went topless while wearing shirts elsewhere.

So what's this have to do with the ritual?  The procession starts and I was so not ready, having been working on preparing dinner and other such things.  My black shirt was soaked and so I reached into my emergency stash of brand new light gray shirts instead.  As I was trying to take the tape off, hands shaking, I finally just said "don't be a fucking chickenshit" (these were my exact words to myself), stuffed the shirt back, and went to the ritual wearing nothing but a pair of Thai fishermen's pants.

It was very dark out, but with the fire blazing I'm sure there were plenty of people who did see me.  I felt so free and happy at that ritual, like I'd hit a major milestone, being topless in theory in front of like fifty to a hundred people if not more, just swarming around this fire while chanting and other obvious Pagan things.

This was early in the week and set the tone for the rest of my experience.

The next day, both because of my rush of confidence and because it was so damn hot, I got a sarong which I learned to put on in several different ways depending on just how confident I was at any point in time outside my campsite and how bright the sun was.  I'd wear it as a shawl if my skin was getting burnt, I'd wear it like a stole if it was super hot and I needed air flow, and when I was in a situation where I definitely didn't feel comfortable with the breasts whipping out I found I was able to tie it into a very interesting shirt.

Fascinatingly, all of the fashion I wore wound up looking rather femme, this is actually not uncommon in the land of Pagans, and I certainly was not the only man in a sarong there.  Plus, with the facial hair and deep voice, after five years of hormones I can afford to adopt an alternative masculinity in a place like that.

On a related note, I'll be writing about some gender philosophy soon, it's just not quite related to PSG.

Alright, that's it for now.  I may go through my notebook later to see what I've missed.  Until then, happy trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Post-PSG Writings IV: The Camping Situation

Although I love being around Pagans in general, I gotta say that my overall favorite part of PSG this year was the camping.  In my last post I talked about Lupa's workshop on Ecopsychology and how much I identify with this concept, and this was all reinforced by the fact that I learned all this in an environment that was extremely beneficial to my health, at least for that week.  I live in a suburban area with a lot of trees, gardens, and natural spaces but I also spend a lot of time indoors, including not only my house (which is at least surrounded by natural things) but also a brick-and-more-brick office building I spend hours and hours at almost every week.  I'd already been trying to enforce myself going outside more (which is generally working pretty well, admittedly in part thanks to Pokémon Go) but it's a very solid goal of mine to eventually go back to living in a very rural area and be interdependently self-sufficient.  This is a huge challenge, though, due to some major financial mistakes I've made but more importantly a shitty culture in the United States that makes it possible to drive yourself into deep debt by getting sick and being driven to a hospital outside your insurance company's network by somebody who totally isn't going to drive an extra half hour to take you to one that is in your network.  I am, though, getting more and more stable as time goes by.

Anyway, this was my home for the week.  You'll notice I built my own fire pit and a little shrine.  The tripod was originally supposed to be for my cauldron, but it's too weak for that so I tend to use it for various other things, like hanging things to dry.  The grill attached to it I did use for cooking, but my campfire cooking style is very close-to-the-ground and rapid, so putting it on a tripod makes no sense.

View of Campsite
Close up of Breakfast

I cooked my own food for most of the trip, and was shocked at how well this worked out.  Individually vacuum sealing portions of meat really makes them last well in a cooler, and I wasn't exactly shoving ice upon ice in it.  It was a great experiment in frugality, as well.  I purchased only one bag of ice each day, in the morning, and used a grand total of three pieces of wood for about ten meals.  Also, the fire pit I created using bricks my parents loaned me worked fantastic.

Sleeping was amazing and shocking.  It's well-known I have a problem sleeping with any noise, but I guess that's aggravated by modern life conveniences, as I had no problem sleeping despite constant drumming until 3:00 AM, the hum of nightly Pagan stage performances, and the loudest cacophony of frogs I had ever heard.  I think I used my earplugs like three times, only when the decibel level of the frogs was at an absurd level.  Interestingly the campsite I was at was not my first choice, I wanted to be in quieter camping and wound up right by the damn lake, but it worked great and if I go to PSG next year in the same place I'll probably pick the same location.  Another great thing about this spot is that it was apparently highly undesirable, meaning the closest neighboring campsite was like thirty feet away (you can see in the distance of that first photo that campsites tend to be highly concentrated).  There were also fewer ticks (although let's not lie there were plenty of ticks).

It was also about the same distance away from everything, I joked about it being "as far as you can possibly be from anything you want to go to." That meant I did a lot of walking and got a lot of exercise.  I burned through a pair of shoes while there, but I felt really great anyway.

I used my phone very little while there, maybe a half hour maximum per day and usually much less.  This led to my sleep schedule normalizing to what I guess is my natural point of going to sleep at 10:00PM or so and waking up at 6:00AM.  I'd brought my blue blocking glasses just in case but I didn't really need them.

Alright, that's about all I have to say off the top of my head regarding camping.

Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Monday, July 4, 2016

Post-PSG Writings III: Lupa's Workshops

A bit of context here: I've been a Pagan for a little under twenty years now, and as such have read a lot of books.  It's only rare that I read multiple books by the same author, because so many Pagan books are all the same.  But there are two major exceptions.  The first is Starhawk, who I own four books from that I love dearly.  But my absolute favorite Pagan author is Lupa, who writes about a very earth-based form of Paganism and totemism that is perfect for my sensibilities as somebody desperately trying to rewild in a modern world.  I haven't read all her books, but I've read most of her recent work and I typically pre-order everything she writes (this is a huge compliment, as I am likely to buy books second-hand long after they are printed).  So when it was announced that she was going to be at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year I was ecstatic.

I wound up going to most of her workshops, although it was mostly by accident... see, since I've read the books that were the source of these workshops, I kind of figured I wasn't going to get a whole lot of new stuff from them.  And, well, I was right.  This is not a critique, by the way... they were excellent workshops, but they were oriented more toward people who aren't total fanboys like me.  Of course, that fanboyishness also made all of them extremely gripping and I wound up taking a lot of notes, just because I enjoyed hearing them coming straight from her.

The first I went to was Grounding Spirit in Soil.  This was largely a critique of a common problem in Paganism, which is that so many of us use bad interpretations of science to "prove" spiritual things.  It was based on a blog post I hadn't read called Dear Pagans: Please Stop Abusing Science.  I get the impression we actually have very different opinions on the use of scientific knowledge in Paganism... I love learning about new scientific discoveries and especially archaeological discoveries (my Bachelor's degree is in anthropology!) but I try not to dwell on them too much when it comes to my magick or food preparation.  I even am likely to attempt to "forget" that I know how these things work (I wrote about this in Cultivating a Magickal Perspective on Food).  Lupa's practice--at least as I understand it from her books--is more likely to utilize modern science in some way than mine is.  But as far as the abuse of science?  I am so totally about that.  It's also a subject I've written about, back in March when I went to that godawful "Psychic is Science" workshop where somebody lectured that somehow it's proven that psychic powers are scientific because we have colons and are made out of atoms.

The second was "Skin Spirits" which is based on her book of the same name (purchasable here on her website).  This was actually the first book I got from her, which I procured because I've been using animal parts in magick since I was a child and wanted more ideas.  So the workshop as well as this book focus a lot on sourcing animal parts, legal and ethical considerations, etc.  For me this was largely a workshop of blips of information I either didn't get or didn't remember from the book.  I found out, for instance, that mammoth ivory is not subject to the same laws as elephant ivory, although it may be mislabeled (I work with Mammoth). There was a nice run-down of things I'd forgotten from the book which I used shortly after to communicate with a whitetail deer tail I modified for belt wear that I work with a lot.

She also suggested the book "The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook" by Miles Olson, which I promptly ordered when I got home.  I grew up deer hunting, and although my family (as most) had a lot of compassion, there are some things we did not do, like using the whole animal.  I would, by the way, like to tan a full cape of a deer for ritual purposes if I happen to actually get one.  On a tangentially related note, my partner is going through her hunter's education right now and will be going with us.  When I ordered that book I was suggested the book "Unlearn, Rewild" by the same author, which appears to be about what the description calls "endangered traditional living skills."  This appears to be right up my alley and so I'm really looking forward to it.

Next came "Ecopsychology for Pagans."  This for me was a star workshop, it really was.  I went to it on a whim, I didn't think I'd be that interested, but the other workshop I wanted to go to was cancelled, and honestly I'm kind of happy about that because there was so much inspiration in this one.  Oddly enough, and I don't know how, I'd never heard of ecopsychology... or at least it never sunk in.  This workshop came at a perfect time, too, because after a few days with low technology living in the woods so much of my body and my health normalized itself.  I felt revitalized, motivated, I didn't crave junk food as much (although I still did).  My sleep patterns were normal.  The point is, generally speaking, that humans evolved in a natural area that our bodies and minds still crave, and living a modern lifestyle tends to be detrimental to our health.  Since it was just a workshop obviously we didn't go too in-depth, but I did have a lot of "click" moments that shed light on why I have some of the health problems I do.  It is inspiring me to get outside more, get to know where I live better, and to analyze more parts of my lifestyle that are probably detrimental.  One thing I noticed, by the way, is how well I slept at PSG without the electronics (even with the immense noise), so figuring out how to lower my consumption of those will probably be pivotal to my overall health.  Yes, I say this as I write on a computer approaching midnight.  Work in progress.  There were lots and lots of book suggestions here, the only one I have ordered so far is "Ecopsychology" by Theodore Roszak.

Finally there was "Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up."  My notes for this one are... vague.  I wrote a book suggestion for the book "Ecoshamanism" by James Endredy that I may order when I have more money.  All of the other things I wrote down I know can be found in the book by the same name, which I actually finished the day before and which I highly recommend.

Speaking of which, I actually have my own suggested order for Lupa's books, at least the ones I own.  This goes:
This is, of course, a personal opinion on the matter, and since they were not written in this order I did not read them in this order.  But there's a method to my madness... the first book is a very good overall book on bioregional totemism and nature spirituality.  The next two go into specific forms of life and although they were written first they make good expansions on the material from the first one.  Skin Spirits and Skull Scrying I think you could start using at any point if you were going to read all these books, but I put them last because they're very "nuts and bolts" type books, regarding actual animal parts.

 Oh, and a story... I did visit Lupa once during her author meet-and-greet, being awkward as I naturally am (well, I felt awkward).  I asked her to sign my copy of "Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up," and she asked where I had gotten my copy from.  When I said I'd pre-ordered it, she said "thanks for the vote of confidence!"  If I remember right I awkwardly replied "I pre-order all your things."  I swear I'm not a creeper, but I can be kind of a fanboy, yes.

Anyway, that's about it for those workshops.  Still plenty of PSG related stuff to talk about, though!

Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Friday, July 1, 2016

Post-PSG Writings II: The Serious Improvements

I've already talked about the few very annoying/bad things about PSG there to get them off my chest, but I wanted to talk about something way better:  Things that are really improved since my last PSG.  In all transparency, I should mention that my last PSG was back when they still offered a discount to stay just the final few days, and so there's always a chance my experiences were colored by that.  Some of them definitely weren't, though.

1. There was actual space.

Alright, since I was a weekender last time I wound up coming in when there was a huge influx of people right at the end of the week and all the good spots were already taken.  But at Stonehouse (where PSG used to be) I was camping in a tent in a sea of other tents.  You had to weave to get there!

At Tall Tree Lakes there was scores of space.  I got there late on the first day and was unable to find a spot in the quieter area I wanted to be in, but lakeside camping I wound up with yards and yards of space between my campsite and any other campsite.  Shade was at a premium, but space was not.  I had enough space to build a slick fire pit and hang clothes and put up a shrine and everything.

2. Pan's Ball didn't feel terrifying.

Pan's Ball is basically a large drunken revelry party, and my first one was basically terrible.  The main reason?  Wapatui.  I've read differing descriptions of what this monstrosity is supposed to be, many of which are specific recipes, but growing up the basic premise was you dump whatever alcohol, fruit, and fruit juice you have into a big container (often a clean trash can) and drink it.  It has a one-two-punch of being both easy to drink (because it tastes good) and of indecipherable alcohol level.  Hence, when you're drinking a red Solo cup or whatever of it, you don't know if you're getting one serving of alcohol or two or three or more.  My first Pan's Ball I not only got way drunker than I'd intended to, I had to deal with somebody with alcohol poisoning who seized himself into my tent while I was in that state.  That's not even counting the high level of non-consensual touching in the dance pit ranging from awkward dancing to literal sexual assault.  I had strongly considered just not going.

This year it was entirely bring-your-own and I seriously breathed a sigh of relief.  I put a total of two watered down drinks in my canteen and refused any other peoples' alcohol and danced without anybody doing anything gross.  Other peoples' mileage probably varied, of course, but from my perspective it was a massive improvement.

3. There were queer and trans themes in ritual. Lots of them.

The very first ritual had the best Pagan bait-and-switch ever.  Like many other queer-based Pagans I am constantly having to deal with "all-faiths" public Pagan rituals that treat opposite sex love as the default catalyst for all creation, and it's frustrating as all getup.  This ritual, though... they called out two pairs of men and women and, after basically tricking everybody into thinking they were each representative of The God and The Goddess as a hetero couple, and right after I rolled my eyes at it they totally switched it and the two men and two women coupled off.  It worked so well and was such a great ritual.

The main ritual, as well, called the Divine as "Male, Female, Both, and Neither," as the ritual itself was largely written by a very cool Radical Faerie.

They also--and this was true back when I first went but was much more publicly made aware--were making it very crystal clear that rituals needed to be identity-based and not biology-based, meaning trans people could participate fully.  This meant that I was able to go to the men's ritual without feeling too worried about being outed (which is important because I like when possible to be out).

4. The garbage issue was much improved.

I said in the "Bad" section I wrote before that the trash situation was rude and imperfect.  It was also staggeringly improved from when I last went.  My last PSG was marked by piles and piles of trash, mostly-good equipment being chucked into dumpsters, litter everywhere, and recycling so comingled with non-recyclable goods that there was no way to extricate one from the other.  It was at the point where at our final Town Meeting I remember everyone being publicly shamed for how disgusting and quite frankly un-Pagan it was.

There were still too many recyclables thrown in with regular trash, sure, but it was a marked improvement and I didn't see the same amount of litter.

This should be it for my quick lists of stuff.  My further PSG writings ideally will be about more in-depth subjects, particularly some of the workshops I went to (I went to a lot of workshops with my favorite Pagan author ever and am excited to write about them) and more health-related things.

Until then, happy trails
-- Setkheniitw

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Post-PSG Writings I: The Bad Stuff

I do gotta say, I feel like shit right now.  This is not PSG's fault.  I'm crashing pretty hard from going a week of living a very natural, low-stress lifestyle surrounded by supportive spiritual people and then making poor decisions when reintegrating back into normal society (mostly dietary but other poor decisions as well).  I've had a hard time adjusting to being indoors, in particular, although based on some workshops I went to I have a new appreciation for where I currently live with its many trees, critters, and wild spaces as well as large windows like the one right next to my spot at the table where I write.  So I can utilize a lot of the things I learned (I'll talk about those at some other point) in my own yard and community.  One of the fascinating things to happen... I was having a really stuffy gross headache the day after I returned, but going outside temporarily cured it each time.

Anyway, Pagan Spirit Gathering was an absolute blast and I will probably be spending a lot of the coming year saving up money to go back next year.  But there were a few things that happened that were quite frankly bad, and they're important subjects to bring up.

First, I need to make a distinction here.  People like talking about any mention of bad things happening as "drama."  Basically, if you complain about anything, you're being dramatic, you just want to hear your own voice, you just want to always be right and assert your superiority via correction.  This is bullshit.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but just talking critically about things doesn't make you a drama queen.  A good rule of thumb is to look at what's being said along axes of oppression.  In my case, a good portion of the worst parts of PSG had to do with being a trans person among cis (non-trans) people who were allergic to shutting the fuck up about the subject.

This was rare.  The good parts of PSG were so much more numerous, hence why I can jam all the bad stuff in one post to begin with!  I wanted to get it off my chest first, though, due to overall frustration.

1. I'm not naming any names, but I seriously put a bunch of stuff back at a vendor tent because I overheard the people running it whining about trans inclusion.

Some context:  A number of years ago (I don't remember how many, more than a few but not by much) a trans woman was turned away at the main women's ritual.  This led to a talkback of sorts and in the long run PSG changed their policy to state that all workshops and rituals that are only open to one sort of person must use self-identity only for access.  So a trans woman must be allowed into any ritual or workshop for women, a trans man must be allowed into any ritual or workshop for men, etc.

The people running a particular stand at PSG were having a conversation, admittedly a private one but definitely out in the open, in which they not only explained that "people should be able to hang out with their own kind" but that the trans people who have stepped forward and demanded inclusion were "just looking for their fifteen minutes of fame."

I didn't hear enough of it to confront them about it (and to be fair I was too pissed to be rational about any response anyway) so I just put back the items I was planning on purchasing and didn't return

First off, don't ever assume when you're saying something like this loudly in a space where there are people you don't know that nobody there is affected by what you're saying.  Seriously, it makes me fucking gag that people assume they're never around trans people and feel totally cool with vomiting this sort of thing at any moment.

But let's talk about this "fifteen minutes of fame" comment.  Do you know what "fifteen minutes of fame" means to a trans person being outed?  In the relevant trans woman's case, it meant that she showed up to a ritual that would have been important, powerful, and affirming for her only to be told that her womanhood is not valid.  Showing up as a trans person to something like this only to be told to go away is humiliating, dehumanizing, and downright cruel.

Furthermore, once a trans person does something like this, they are likely to be harassed and criticized left and right by people who have no idea what they're fucking talking about ever.  To be a trans celebrity fucking sucks.  You wind up on hit sites concocted by conservative bigots and left-wing "feminist" bigots alike where you will be torn down, misgendered, and often doxxed (where personal information is posted with intent to make you feel physically unsafe).

Again, this was a conversation between three people and was probably the worst part of PSG I experienced, and at least they were just mouthing off among their own asinine kind rather than making a stink about it so overall?  PSG was pretty damn good.  The rest of the things I have to write about are nuisances more than anything.

2. A trans-related event was pretty much dominated by cis people.

There was a trans meetup type thing of which only two people identified ourselves as trans (I know there were at least three or four more of us but schedules collide and all that).  A big portion of this event was actually dominated by a cis man complaining that his trans friend gets too mad that he constantly misgenders her "because it's hard."  The gist of this line of thought was "why do you have to be so mean?" in an indirect way.  Eh.  It did give me a good segue into actually identifying myself as trans, one of the mild hazards of being well into hormones.  So it was a good event but I wish it had been more trans centered and not centered on cis peoples' perceptions of trans people.

3. Some people were really mean to food vendors.

There were only two food trucks and with the bizarre schedule of the festival they were really getting burnt out, with one finally blocking off a couple of hours a day to prepare so that they could continue to work without being exhausted.  Most people were chill about it, but there was a not insignificant number who apparently wanted these two food trucks staffed by only a few people to be like a fucking 24/7 Taco Bell or whatever.  I have a serious distaste for people who fly off the handle to those in the service industry.

4. People still can't seem to fucking listen regarding garbage and recycling.

Again there was an epic amount of recycling thrown away in the trash despite being told ahead of time there were no recyclers and we'd have to take our recycling with us.  So many of us dutifully bagged up our recycling (it's admittedly easier for me as I was alone and didn't pack particularly heavily), but the number of cans and bottles I saw was astounding.  One of the food trucks had a thing where you'd get refillable large mason jars and even those were getting thrown in the trash (luckily several Kitchen Witches were rescuing them).

Also, that last day, wow.  People were told multiple times to bring their trash to a particular dumpster but of course it started piling up by the latrine trash cans, the one place they explicitly said not to bring it.  It's ironic because Pagans like to think of ourselves as eco-friendly green people but we're often just as lazy and ignorant as anybody else.

And... those were the worst.  I didn't want to dwell on them but I did need to get them off my chest.  There were some other annoyances, but most of them had nothing to do with the organizers of the festival or attendees (Can I blame them for the ticks? Of course not.).  The rest of the things I intend to write about are overwhelmingly positive, and those are coming up.

Happy Trails!
-- Setkheni-itw