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Jotunwork

I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be, than me.
-Bad Guy Affirmation, Wreck-It Ralph

I’m wild and that’s good.

When I talk about working with Loki, or really with any jotnar, the questions seem inevitable. How do I stand that energy? That intensity? That destructiveness? How do I live with so much chaos around me?

The real question, if you know me, is how could I not live with that energy in my life. There’s a reason I talk about monsterwork and destruction and deconstruction. That’s who I am, and that’s how I work. Jotunheim is a much better fit for me than Asgard. I ain’t no country club boy. When I see Loki, he’s free. When I work with the other jotnar, there’s no pretense of it being safe, or of them being tame. Ran is the ravenous ocean, Hraesvelgr is the churning storm, Logi is the wildfire and Surt is the fire at the heart of creation.

Why do I work with them? Because that’s the energy that I need in my life. Stagnation drives me up a wall, and more than that, it can actually make my OCD worse. There is a fear that, if things are calm, I must be simply waiting for the next chaotic thing. I’m happier when things are happening and changing, whether internally or externally. I may not have complete control over them, but choosing to give up control is still a choice.

People seem to worry that Loki is going to wander uninvited into lives that are happy and settled and completely fulfilled and tear them down for no good reason, or maybe because it’s funny. Loki is not actually the God of Fishmalk. He brings necessary change when things are stagnant. He changes that which needs to be changed. If you’re actually, honestly, in your bones happy with your life- well, he’s probably got better things to do.

Civilization is wonderful in many ways (medical technology and the internet are great), but wildness is also necessary, both within and without. To ask the jotnar to be safe, to be peaceful, to stand down from battling the Aesir... that is to ask them to be something they’re not. Asking “why do you work with chaos” is a meaningless question. We all work with chaos, every day of our lives. We are at the mercy of traffic, weather, cell mutation and the stock market.

The only question is how we acknowledge it.

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

I always feel like I’m living with the volume turned up to 11. For me, being a monster is like speaking capslock as my native language. Everything is experienced immediately and intensely, in a way society tells me is “overboard.” The details vary, as details pretty much always do, but the aspect of Buddhism that draws me in is the philosophy of experiencing each moment fully for what it is.

Whatever I am doing at any given moment, that is the thing I have fully committed myself to. If I’m on a mountain, I’m enjoying the hell out of that mountain right then, not worried about the next part of the trail or whatever pissed me off that morning. If I’m fucking, my partner knows exactly where my attention is at any given moment. If I’m working, the work is what matters and doing it right becomes important no matter how dull the job is. Telling me not to care is meaningless, and this can cause me a lot of stress at work. If I’m watching a movie, my emotions are fully consumed by the movie, regardless of how stupid I might look crying in *Wreck It Ralph*.

Being a wild thing means being in the moment, not in the past or the future. What matters is what I’m doing now, and whether I could be doing it even better than I already am. Whatever I’m feeling, I’m feeling it one hundred percent. (Even if that feeling is confusion, or even if I’m feeling two different things and I’m at 200%.) Every feeling is valid and important, it’s just what you do with them that matters. Anger and joy are easy ones to picture, and while Americans are acculturated to cringe at expressions of both, we at least know what they look like. That’s not the case with many emotions. Grief, for example, is felt keenly by monsters and most other creatures; I mourn loudly and messily, and I’m a sobbing mess when I get started. (Traditional Irish wakes as well as funerals with wailing and screaming mourners are both closer to honesty than the stoic, silent funeral that’s so common.)

Fear is a feeling like any other, to be felt completely in the moment when it overwhelms you. The beautiful thing about really feeling all of your emotions is that you become aware of the fact that every mood changes and every feeling passes. That fear will pass, and be replaced by anger or relief or bravery; in the mean time, you can appreciate it for the survival instinct it is.

Because every feeling is valid, there are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures. If I like 80s power ballads, then I am going to turn that Journey album up to eleven and I don’t care who hears me sing along. If I’m running, I’m doing it for the sheer joy of running, even if there’s someplace I have to end up as well.

I can tell you without shame that I love bad movies, 80s rock, and cartoons as much as I love deconstructing mid-20th-century American poetry and traditional blacksmithing and opera. None of those is more valid than the other, and I sing along with La Donna Il Mobile and Don’t Stop Believin’ with equal passion. Shame makes no sense. If I like it, it’s clearly worth liking. If you disagree, we can have a lively debate about it, or we can ignore ignore it in favor of things we agree on.

The American cultural ideal of the “polite fiction” is ridiculous. Most monsters will take you at your word; this is why honesty is so important in fairy tales. If you’re going to lie, lie big. Make it worth your while. But when in doubt, don’t lie at all, especially not to yourself or the people you care about.

Yes, this ends badly sometimes. Freaking out when someone “moves your cheese” is frowned on in the workplace. We’re expected to act like we’re simply okay no matter how we really feel. Maybe some people can learn to tamp down their feelings like that, but I never really have. If I’m angry, or if I’m happy, you’re going to know. (I’ve had bosses complain about my “oversharing” before, and I’ve worked on it, but it’s still hard.)

There is also a tendency toward violent reactions that’s not easy to understand if you’re not from a culture that allows honest feelings to flourish. I don’t punch people any more, but I am going to let you know what I think and I am going to call you on your bullshit if I think it’s deserved. Otherwise it not only builds up inside you, but it can turn poisonous, leading you to undermine whatever compromise you reached.

Even my anxiety is something I live at full volume. I don’t have any small, creeping fears. I have terrors, and I learn to live with them. I have my obsessive thoughts, and I think them *loudly,* and eventually I’m able to release them.

And that’s the amazing thing about living a life where you aren’t afraid to feel everything. Yes, it will hurt, and you will feel every inch of the pain. But the joy and the excitement and all the pleasures are that much sharper as well. When you know every feeling will pass, you learn to treasure all of them, even the anger and the pain and the grief, because you know you’ll never feel precisely this same way again.

This is all I have. I intend to enjoy it.

Gender in the Woods

A friend of mine came out as genderqueer and I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with gender. As a trans man, I’ve put a lot of thought into how I view myself and how I want the world to see me. At the same time, I’m still largely in the closet at work and don’t plan to publicly transition at this job. I spend half my day cross-dressing, essentially.

With as much as I write about opposing forces, you might wonder if this back-and-forth is difficult for me. It’s hard because I’m playing someone I’m not, it’s hard because I’m faced with daily microaggressions from people who don’t know there’s a trans man in the room, but on a metaphysical level, no, it’s not hard. It’s much harder to remember to answer to the right name, actually. I can put on the mask of Who I Am At Work and take on that female self when it’s necessary.

And it is necessary. There are different expectations for the way men and women handle themselves, even here in Greater Portlandia. Actions that would be praiseworthy go-getting from a man are aggressive when they come from me. I’ve made my peace with that, and learned to work with it, but I’ve never really gotten over it. Some days I honestly feel like a woman. Some days, femininity is a role I put on, somewhere between the bus stop and the office. I’m naturally receptive; people tell me things without meaning to. It’s not as useful as it sounds: I’m not good at building rapport, so oftentimes people get freaked out about it after they say it.

This is a kind of liminality, this shapeshifting. I know both sides; I choose how people see me and project what I want to be seen as. Despite the way Western philosophies tend to paint opposing forces as, well, in opposition, they are not inherently at war with each other. The struggle between the two takes place inside my head, and inside the heads of those who don’t understand that gender is not the sum of your parts. Being able to shift is a skill that has benefits. I feel better when I can shift freely, when I am choosing the role I play at work. There are skills that you learn when society treats you as a woman that are different than the skills you gain as a man. On good days I can shift back and forth, taking the skills and mindset that will help the most with whatever I’m working on.

People use 太极图, the yin-yang symbol, all the time without thinking about it, but if you look at it, you can see that it’s clearly meant to be *in motion*. One energy is rising, the other descending. Often you see the core of one energy inside the opposing energy. Getting stuck in one side or the other is stagnation. This is where stereotypes come in, from the 50s housewife to the dudebro – stereotypes that harm, by encouraging us to view the opposite force as *the other*.

It isn’t, though. Especially in the case of gender, where “masculine” and “feminine” are almost meaningless as personality descriptions anyway – pushing away parts of yourself because they’re not correct for your gender stereotype is not going to make you a better Barbie doll or GI Joe. Jungian psychology talks about the anima or animus, the part of yourself that is the opposite gender. I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but I do think we each have an other-self that we have to learn to understand.

It’s a misnomer to call it an other-self, isn’t it? It’s still the self.

I think about Surt-Sinmora, about Loki, about the Serpent, about the other jotnar I’ve met who either switch gender at will or have none to speak of unless they need one. The further away you go, the less gender means anything at all. Learning to understand that, and to embrace the shapeshifting I do on a daily basis, has helped me to keep my sanity.

Gender is real, but it’s also not the be-all and end-all society treats it as. It’s a part of who you are right now, and a part of whatever work you’re doing, but it shouldn’t be a prison any more than light or dark, or ice or fire, or any other dichotomy.

Further Thoughts On Gender and Bodies and Loki
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