Gender Stories

Writing vulnerably, living vulnerably

September 07, 2018 Alex Iantaffi Season 1 Episode 8
Gender Stories
Writing vulnerably, living vulnerably
Chapters
Gender Stories
Writing vulnerably, living vulnerably
Sep 07, 2018 Season 1 Episode 8
Alex Iantaffi
Dr. Meg-John Barker, amazing UK-based scholar, therapist, author, sex and relationship expert and Alex's friend for the past 15 years, as well as co-author of "How To Understand You Gender", shares vulnerable insights on writing, vulnerability and, of course, gender, as well as so much more! Join us at the kitchen table for a warm and vulnerable conversation on so many topics close to our hearts.
Show Notes Transcript
Dr. Meg-John Barker, amazing UK-based scholar, therapist, author, sex and relationship expert and Alex's friend for the past 15 years, as well as co-author of "How To Understand You Gender", shares vulnerable insights on writing, vulnerability and, of course, gender, as well as so much more! Join us at the kitchen table for a warm and vulnerable conversation on so many topics close to our hearts.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/genderstories)

Singer:

There's a whole lot of things I want to tell you about. Adventures dangerous and queer. Some you could guess and some I've only hinted at. So please lend me your ear.

Speaker 2:

Everyone has a relationship with gender. What's your story? Hello and welcome to gender stories with your host, Dr Alex Iantaffi.

Alex:

Hi and welcome to a new episode of Gender Stories. I'm your host, Alex Iantaffi, and I'm super excited today, uh, for two reasons. One is that I just finished coauthoring a book with the amazing Meg-John Barker. Well, I'm about to interview, right? Five days. 58,000 words. Do not try this at home. It's really not, I would not recommend it. We're a big giddy. And, um, I have no idea how this is go but here you go. You're getting another podcast episode. So today I'm going to interview my good friend of 15 years, writing partner, amazing author, incredible scholar and consulting relationship Geek. Dr Meg-John Barker. I can't even say their name! [laughing] Dr Meg-John Barker. There you go. Using my radio voice.

Meg-John:

Oh, I like it! Good radio voice.

Alex:

We were just finished writing a book. How are you feeling?

Meg-John:

Oh Wow. That was the week. I mean, yeah, we wrote a whole book in a week again.

Alex:

Again. Yeah, that's right. We did it before.

Meg-John:

Yeah, we did. "How to Understand Your Gender" and now we've written "Life isn't Binary", which should be out I guess next year because we've written it, so that's great.

Alex:

Yeah, we're totally not plugging our product, but yes, [laughing]

Meg-John:

Please leave reviews on Amazon. It would be great!

Alex:

Meg-John has amazing books like "Queer: A Graphic History" and Meg-John you have "Rewriting the Rules" Second Edition. I'm so excited you. You are like a amazing writer and you're very prolific.

Meg-John:

Well, I've got sort of point in my life where I think I might actually be a writer. It's taken a long time, taken 18 now 19 books and I think maybe I'm a writer and that's really exciting to feel I'm able to claim that title.

Alex:

It makes me feel slightly better because I definitely don't feel like I can quite claim writer or author even though I have those books out. So if it's taken like,

Meg-John:

Oh yeah, next time. Yeah, it takes a long time to feel like that's a thing.

Alex:

How much of that taking a long time, so you have 18 books, we've just written this other book to get over be your 19th book and it's called Life isn't Binary. It's not just about gender, we talk about sexuality, we talk about relationships, bodies, emotion, thinking. There's just, it's such a rich book, not just we've written it, but we were really trying to grapple with a lot of ways in which binary thinking shows up in our life.

Meg-John:

Yes.

Alex:

And I'm curious about how that binary thinking and maybe even in connection to gender might've influenced your reluctance to claim author.

Meg-John:

Yeah. There's something about um, yeah, the, I guess we talk in the book about the kind of distinction between proper sex and other kinds of sex that are less proper. Like things like foreplay, you know, normal masturbation get relegated to being not proper sex and I think I have a similar relationship to being a writer, you know, that sense of there's a proper way to do it. And we also talk in the book about proper ways to be queer, proper ways to be trans. It's like there's a whole thing about, you know, what's the, what's the best way or the proper way or the normal way to do things. And it's really hard to escape those binaries. So I think because I always wanted to be a writer, but because I kind of went in sideways from being an academic and I published academics books first, I mean I never felt like a proper academic either. Yeah then it took a whole load of right into really feel like a proper rider. So it's good to claim that now and like to branch out as well and to write in your memoir more fiction, you know, and the kind of things I guess I've always wanted to write. But I'd really held back from um, so yeah, the process for me of becoming a writer has been very similar to the process of claiming my gender. I think from going from a point of thinking I can't be like I can't be non binary, it's not even a thing or you know, trying to do other genders that felt like they would be more acceptable to the people around me. And gradually, gradually just being like, no, this is my thing. And the same with being a writer. I guess in the last year it's been about letting go of the other things I was claiming and just really focusing on the thing that I love. Yeah.

Alex:

What difference does it make to both kind of claim your gender, like you said, because there's this idea in dominant culture you can't, you have to choose, right? You have to be one thing or the other and you're like, I'm non binary, which we both are. So, um, that's one aspect. And then this writing, you know, kind of claiming your authenticity I feel in both aspects. What difference does that make in your life to be able to claim your authenticity?

Meg-John:

That's huge. I mean, it's huge for mental health. I think that's the big thing. I really noticed that the last five years or so as I've been on this journey with gender and have been on this journey figuring out like what I want to do in the world for like the rest of it, my life is like, no, I got, I got so many book ideas. Like really if I get them all in before I die I'm going to be pretty happy. But yeah, like that process of just allowing, allowing that, you know, it's been hard at times just to say actually this is okay, this is, this is who I am and how I am. Um, and it's really. But yeah, I've noticed the depression that I've always kind of experienced, just really go less and less over that time. Like I still have periods where it comes up and is life for me, but like less so and less so because I guess I'm saying to myself and everyone else like I'm okay, you know, it's okay to be nonbinary it's okay to be a writer and not try and be a proper academic or whatever. It's just, yeah, it's like a big sense of like you're all right.

Alex:

Whatever that means. Because I mean I haven't looked recently but I think on Google scholar you had been cited like way over a thousand times the last time I checked. So I'm not sure what air quotes "a proper academic" in my eyes you sure are one because your work has been very widely cited and you've written some really transformational scholarship around relationships and sexuality.

Meg-John:

Yeah. I guess the thing is that I don't really, like, I don't enjoy conventional research. It's more that I don't enjoy a lot of the structures of conventional academia. I don't really want to go for big funding beds because often they are on the kind of thing that I'm passionate about and what I really am passionate about is getting important ideas out to a general audience. Like that's my big passion in accessible forms, like ideas from academia. Ideas from therapy. Ideas from like spiritual practice, bringing them all together and like bringing them to bear on a topic like relationships or gender or sex and like giving them to people in a way that's hopefully helpful. Um, and I guess that isn't valued as highly in conventional academia as other kinds of work or, um, so that's like the process of being like, okay, now I'm going to be a writer because it is valued there and I really want to bring my own experiences because that's what I've learned the most from like things that I heard that quote recently, "your mess is your message"

Alex:

What?

Meg-John:

"Your mess is your message."

Alex:

Oh, that feels so great. Where is that quote from?

Meg-John:

I don't know, but I think. I can't remember who said it to me, but I'm like, this is it. Yeah. This is it, Your mess is your message. That's it.

Alex:

Well and what I'm fascinated by is that for both of us our mess is like a whole bunch of really scholarly ideas that we've been grappling with for like 20 years.

Meg-John:

Yeah.

Alex:

And I think that's where we connect to really kind of bring all that scholarship but also our personal experience, and our experience as therapists and relationship consultants and I'm kind of bringing it all together into something that we can offer it to see if it resonates.

Meg-John:

That's right, and I love that we do that and I love writing with you because you know, what we bring is so complimentary, like we've ended up in such similar places with our ideas, but like from such, such deep, we've gone to such different areas like you've gone to systemic therapy. I've gone to existential therapy. You've gone to paganism, I've gone to Buddhism. You've gone to like, you know, your personal experiences in life. I've gone to mine, we do different kinds of academic, you know, different academics theories that we draw in and yet, you know, when we put them all together it's like, and it's so much stronger because I don't need to learn a lot of those things and you don't need to learn all of these things. We can just like mind meld and then we've got it all in dialogue, you know?

Alex:

Oh my God. It's like we are relational and interdependent and together we're more than the sum of our parts,

Meg-John:

Right! Which is something we write about.

Alex:

It is amazing! And in some ways I wonder if that's also connected to gender because I don't know about you, but one thing that I was hearing when you were talking about how it's taken quite a while to kind of claim your authenticity. I was thinking about this idea of imposter syndrome, which I've talked about with Erica Hanna as well in episode five by the way, listeners who want to check that interview out, but we talked a little bit about imposter syndrome and one thing they found is that often it is marginalized folks like people who are assigned female at birth, trans folks, folks of color who kind of really grapple with a lot of imposter syndrome because in some ways we don't quite fit into what dominant culture expects.

Meg-John:

We've been told repeatedly that we're not okay. I mean that was like the message of my childhood is you are not okay. So it's like takes a while to shake that off. And it's so easy to like in institutions that were part of us adults to still have that sense of we're not okay. Um, and, and yeah, to the business of claiming a gender that isn't even recognized in wider society. You know, how it's at the same time, both incredibly healing and helpful to do that because it's, you know, it's so important to be able to say, this is me and my gender and also, you know, you're constantly going out of the door into a world that's like what even are you?

Alex:

Right you've still got to go pee know, and there you are most of the time with like male, female and you're like, okay, hedge my bets, how am I going to be read? Where am I going to be safe? That's a lot of stress.

Meg-John:

Yes. Yeah, exactly. But it still feels so much better than the alternative. And the same is true again with the writing. I think to me letting go of some of the things I was trying to be because I thought that's what I should do or something or because you know, institution says this is the way you do it. And like just being, you know, what feels like it comes from within or you know, feels like, oh, I don't know. It's like, um, it feels like a, what Audrey Lorde says in the essay about the uses of the erotic. It's like the thing that just lights you up, you know, following your passion, following you know, what, what's erotic and this really broad sense of the erotic, you know, what lights up your creativity, what you're energized by. Like I feel like you've got to use that as your guiding force.

Alex:

And I think that she talks about the erotic as the life force, which is the life force is not just about sex but it's about creation. So like and writing is about creation and I wonder how much of kind of, how did um kind of embracing being nonbinary and coming out and being nonbinary in the world, how did they impact your writing do you think?

Meg-John:

Well so much. I mean it freed me up to start doing these different kinds of writing. I mean, I mean this is why I got into Audrey Lorde is cause like two years ago actually it was when we were in writing retreat the last time and we were writing "How to Understand Your Gender", but I started writing this other project while we were there, which was the symbolic memoir. I was getting up like super early so I could start on that because it was just dreamy writing, it just flowed so much and it was. So what it, what it is, is like thinking about my erotic fantasies over my whole life and using them a bit like dream analysis, like using them to understand myself and what I really got from it is like there's various different kind of masculine sides of me that got kind of left behind in a way, at certain points in my life when I got the message they're not okay, but they stayed in my fantasies, you know, they came out and at first I was like, is that like I'm into those kind of guys? And then gradually, gradually I learned that like the fantasies have been like holding these sides of me all this time. So that's what the erotic memoir is all about. It's kind of all about gender as well. Um, and so yeah, I feel like another thing I learned writing that book was like, this is what writing can be like. And I learned that through writing with you as well. It's like don't try anymore to do the kind of really dry academic writing that's not, suited for some people, but not for me. You know, really do the writing that lights you up because that's what's going to light up for the reader as well, you know?

Alex:

Absolutely.

Meg-John:

That's where your quality is and unfortunately or fortunately and this is something I really learned from that talk we were both in by Mollena Williams.

Alex:

Oh my God, I love Mollena Lee Williams-Haas. She's amazing!

Meg-John:

Right? And she did this incredible talk at the Nonmonogamous Contemporary Intimacy Conference, which is all about you've got to go where the vulnerability is like that's what your gift to the world is going to be. It's like that's why you have to go. And we were both like sobbing through that were we not.

Alex:

That talk healed me. Like literally. I had just given a keynote what, two days before that conference and I felt like so stuck in some ways and like hadn't brought my, my super best self. Partially because I think there was the part of me that was scared to be that vulnerable because I've gone through a, an experience where my vulnerability was used against me, so there was that betrayal and so Mollena's talk like opened up the world again to me.

Meg-John:

Me too I think we were both really cracked open by that and people should check out Mollena's work was incredible. Such an incredible person and yeah, like that really left me thinking like, again, I've got to be able to do this writing, which is what lights me up and I had written an erotic novel this year as well. So like I'm going to be thinking about publishing the memoir and the novel and more memoirs and more novels and it's super scary. It's like I'm just got to share my sexual fantasies with the world and the things I'm most vulnerable about that's full on, but I just feel like we have to go to what calls us and where we're vulnerable because that's what we can really teach from.

Alex:

That is full on. But then I think about like my, my roots in feminism and it was kind of a warped feminism because I was brought up in second wave feminism and then I have to deal with that and, and if you don't know what that is, listener, it's a little bit more gender essentialist, like the way I was born in my sex assigned at birth, really kind of was supposed to shape who I was. And, but one of the things that really stuck with me about radical feminism is the personal is the political. Yes. And when I hear you talk about all of this, I'm like, yes you are. I think we do in our books, in the books you're writing about, like those erotic fantasies that also intersects with gender, which also intersect with social and cultural messaging. And with intergenerational trauma, right? Because we talked about that a little bit. Um, there's such power in that personal as political. Is that how it feels to you?

Meg-John:

Definitely. And you know, if it feels like something I'm writing about a lot is that, you know, yeah. I think if we can do this kind of work, the work of staying with our feelings so you know, this is kind of individual seeming work is staying with our feelings, learning about these different sides of ourselves that we can be better in the world, you know as well, and we can connect more with people and we can bring something more useful to the really complex issues around us. And yet, you know, all of the ways we got all the ways we got contracted and limited in life is, is down to those wider, shitty forces. So we have to kind of go there in order to open up in a way that we can then start to confront those forces, um, with our activism, with our writing, with anything else we got.

Alex:

And I love that you're doing this motion of like closing your hand and opening your hand. Because I know one of the things that I've really learned from you is to ask myself, what does this open up? What does this close down? Which it comes up again and again in the books we've written together now plural, because we just wrote another one. we're just so excited.

Meg-John:

Our books. Our book babies.

Alex:

Our book babies! Um, can you say a little bit more about this idea of what's opening up and what's closing down for you as you are starting to move towards maybe I'm thinking about publishing some of your more vulnerable and personal writing.

Meg-John:

Yeah. Okay. So yeah, I guess, yeah, what opens up is the idea that maybe these books will more even more powerfully connect with people. Um, you know, maybe this other folks. I mean I just, I haven't heard hardly anything written about how we can use erotic fantasy as a spiritual path. It kind of brings together like there is some work on erotic fantasy and kind of what they mean. Like Jack Morin's book The Erotic Mind and there is some, you know, there's a lot of spiritual work around um, you know, kind of spiritual paths that people can take. But it's Kinda like, oh. And I guess there's a lot about the erotic as a spiritual path. More in like, I'm thinking of Barbara Carrellas' "Urban Tantra" and that kind of thing, Dossie Easton, but it doesn't really get into fantasy it's mostly about doing stuff. So I guess what I feel really excited about offering, it's like this idea of how tuning into erotic fantasies can shape shift us and also shifted the world potentially. Um, so yeah, that what opens up is the idea that I might be bringing you know even more useful kind of ideas that I've got from, from the mess to become the message. What closes down is it's frightening as hell, you know, it's, it's really scary to be that vulnerable publicly and it's like how will it be received? Um, and I think something, therefore I really want to be really mindful around is how do I make this is as good as it can be? And that's something we do with our books as well. We make sure we have sensitivity readers, um, that we, uh, that we are sort of value them for the labor that they're putting in. And I'm certainly going to do that around anything else that I'm writing is to make sure, you know, it's, it's aware enough around all of the intersections, like the ones that I'm familiar with, but the ones that I'm less personally familiar with, that kind of thing. Um, and I want to put like a, a kind of processes in place for like, if I, you know, as I will sometimes say something that isn't quite right, that's imperfect or maybe even, you know, completely ignorant, you know, somebody calls me out on it. I have a process for like how I'm gonna deal with that situation.

Alex:

Yeah, we talked about the work, Mia Mingus work about accountability pause for example, how much we value it because none of us are going to be perfect. Yeah. And we often talk about that white supremacy culture wants us to be perfect, wants us to be pure and that's actually really dangerous and it's almost a form of fascism to aspire for that perfectionism and that purity. Knowing that we're going to mess up in our writing, that we're going to do that publicly as scholars and writers and also making sure we're accountable that we're not just going to like brush it off.

Meg-John:

That's right. Exactly. It's finding that balance of like, okay, that's going to happen. It's inevitable. Don't let it block you because you're still going to be putting out really good stuff and at the same time, you know, when it happens, how are you gonna, how are you going to have a process that means that you don't just get super defensive or you just don't retreat and never write anything again, you know, and also like the, the wider questions of how do we use the power and privilege that we have to raise up, you know, all other voices and to make sure that it doesn't just become all about us and that kind of question too.

Speaker 3:

It's a dance, right? Because we have our own kind of areas of marginalizations and we want our voices out there as non binary people. And also there are other identities where we do have more power and privilege. So I feel like we do dance with that a lot in our writing. Um, and, and I think that's important and I think that's important to struggle with that and knowing that we might make mistakes, but we're still going to do it. Yeah. Um, because otherwise it would be so limiting, we would close down too much.

Meg-John:

Definitely. Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. How to stay open. That's the real challenge. Yeah.

Alex:

So I want to go back to your erotic writing and gender because you said like in your erotic writing, there are all these different gender aspects of they're coming out and I would love to hear more about that, but I'm also curious about whether you think that's just for like trans and non binary people or do you think that like everybody in some ways as kind of different parts of themselves and maybe are gendered by cultural and social expectations and certain ways that not expressed?

Meg-John:

Yeah, I think probably so. I mean, I wouldn't ever like to make a universalizing claim like of everybody's experienced, but I wrote about this, this has been on my website, so my website is rewritingtherules.com and you can find a zine on there about plural selves, which I wrote over the Christmas break, which was like another super vulnerable thing to write because I thought the fun thing to do with that zine is to have two of myself introduce the whole zine. So yeah, so like there's two of them as like comic characters, like talking you through the whole idea of plural selves, which is the idea that we have more than one side to ourselves, which we foreground and background in different times. So people might be familiar with the idea of the inner child or the inner critic for example. Like a lot of people have those and they really do feel like a separate part of yourself. Like when you're in the inner child, your whole body feels different. You know, you act really different, people will respond to you really different. Same as if you're in the inner critic, you know, or um, any of these other places and yeah, I guess I use the erotic writing to explicitly draw out the sides of me that had been disowned is what they call it in, in that kind of theory of plural selves. Um, and it's such an exciting process because she, you know, for me, I first one was like a kind of real vulnerable masculinity or, or sweet soft vulnerable masculinity and I could feel really nurturing to other sides of me, I guess. Good for a really nurturing towards that. It was like something I'd left behind at such a young age. And like it feels really great to bring that into it. It's like, I feel like it's like Sense8 , that's the best thing I can use to describe what it's like. It's like you've got all these parts of you that can come together and be super awesome because you can foreground, you know, the one with the martial art skills or the one who is a hacker. It's not quite like that because I don't have one with martial arts skills,

Alex:

It would be cool.

Meg-John:

It would, right? But I have ones that are like stronger, you know, or ones that are more good at vulnerability. Um, the other one that I really discovered was this real kind of cocky, confident, funny side. And I'm like, I've never associated myself with that, but that, you know, when that comes out, I just love it, you know, it's like really great to feel that kind of confident and swagger almost, you know. Um, so yeah, I think that um, most of us we disown as we grow up the sides where you don't get approved of, our culture tells us is not okay. And often that is gendered so often is that if you've been assigned female, you were to be disowning things that were seen as masculine. And if you were assigned male, you might be disowning things that were seen as feminine. So to a certain extent, I suspect, I suppose you could say everyone has masculine or feminine sides to themselves. And often some are more foregrounded in some of them were disowned. Um, but then, you know, what does that even mean to call some of the masculine and feminine? Like one of my, one of my masculine sides is super vulnerable, you might imagine that that would be associated with femininity, but it isn't for me, it's, it's a masculine side. So yeah.

Alex:

One that shows how messy this whole idea of kind of masculinity and femininity because it's is so specific to like a certain time in history, a certain place geographically, a certain kind of cultural, certain cultural and social norms. Right. Again, like gender is not this universal that we can apply across time and space.

Meg-John:

Definitely not. Yeah. And I, you know, it feels really nice to me that to play with gender in that way, to be like, you know, in these different sides that have different genders. You know, one of them's like very much a kind of gender queer character and um, yeah, it feels really exciting. Fun thing to do and to be writing about them and erotic fiction is also really super fun and exciting as well.

Alex:

Yeah. I can't wait to read the things you've been writing that are more personal and vulnerable even though we they're kind of scary. And what I love about the fact that you talk so openly about plural selves and we do that in How to Understand Your Gender, we do that in Life isn't Binary. And of course you were doing that in your own work that you've just talked about, is that often, I think the idea of plural selves is so stigmatized and seen through the lens of mental health. And I mean we're both therapists, right? So this idea that if people have different parts of themselves, there's something not well or I'll say in air quotes like pathological

Meg-John:

That you're meant to be this like perfect whole than almost like the goal is just to integrate and kind of almost get rid of those selves. And, and I, I mean I got super into thinking how is this represented in popular culture? And I would say it's one of the, the aspects of selfhood or mental health has represented the absolute worst as we think about movies. Like we have Identity with John Cusack where it's like basically every movie about people who have plural selves, one of them is a serial killer. That's just like the only representation. It's like one of them's a serial killer, so either

Alex:

Right? What the hell? So then it perpetuates this idea that everybody with serious mental health issues is dangerous.

Meg-John:

Exactly.

Alex:

Honestly, I'm a therapist, but I also have complex PTSD and developmental trauma and the world out there thinks we're so volatile we're just going to turn into homicidal killers. What's that about?

Meg-John:

I know I'm presumably I would get diagnosed with multiple personality disorder or whatever that's called now.

Alex:

Dissociative identity disorder.

Meg-John:

Right, right? And like, you know, there'd be this idea, you know, well certainly in the popular imagination the idea is that, you know, A. one of those sides or more is dangerous and I'm dangerous and um, B. the goal is to integrate and become normal by just having one self. Whereas actually what I'm finding is, you know, having multiple selves and makes you really powerful. It's like a super palette I can foreground. Okay. This situation course with vulnerability, this situation calls for strength. This situation calls for confidence. Like it's not as easy as that. I wish it was, but you know, I'm finding that those sides come to the fore when needed more and more because I'm creating a much better communication between them and, and regarding them, you know, valuing them as separate rather than trying to integrate them into one whole.

Alex:

Exactly. And it's like in some ways there is so much strength in that plurality and that multiversality, right? The idea that there's more than just this world, this universe that we can perceive but there are kind of multiple stories and multiple possibilities and we do talk about that in "Life isn't Binary". And what I love is that, you know, you are being vulnerable enough to challenge this idea that this is only pathological and to be well is to be whole. And when we polarize things like that, actually there is a lot of, there are a lot of mental health issues that come from polarizing.

Meg-John:

Um, I know that I think the way the systems deal with them, I think, you know, we've been talking around with some friends around, you know, hearing voices for example, and how basically the goal of a lot of psychiatry and psychology then is just to stop the voices. Whereas what you really need to do is learn to communicate with those voices. And in essence they are that, that is another way of seeing a, a multiple self. It's like you have the self that talks to you and it's telling you important stuff. It can be telling you important stuff sometimes in a really scary way, but the goal is not to shut it off. The goal is to kind of engage with it and find out, you know, what it's saying. And I think the same with, um, flow or so. So the really scary thing is how mental health systems can often make people worse rather than better because they think the thing to do is to try and make people normal. Whatever that is, rather than embrace that probably this is really sensible what's going on for them. And if they would actually tune into the thing that's going on for them and be supported to work with it instead of against it, it probably has a really important message is for them, you know?

Alex:

And there might be a lot of information. It's like, you know, my, my friend and colleague Marco would say, fine if you are hearing voices, uh, what are they saying? First of all, because there's a difference between like destructive voices and constructive voices and also where they're coming from right. I often find that destructive voices are coming from trauma and we've internalized them in some way because it wasn't safe to turn, um, whatever we were feeling outwards. So, you know, growing up, we might have kept it inside and internalize the sense that we're bad or dangerous, which then doesn't help dominant culture methods is that you're bad or dangerous, kind of then spiral more into to those situations. And, and I love that too, in some ways to like challenge all the stigma, vulnerability and authenticity is essential. Essential.

Meg-John:

Yeah. Yeah. And we, I think we're really passionate about that, both of us. And we don't want to create an us and them where we're the self help writers who have it all together and all sorted. I mean, I can admit like this week I was going through a massive like trauma responses, like dealing with some mental health stuff that was pretty huge while we were writing our book. So it was like I kept being called on exactly this thing. It's like, yeah, there's no that can't be us, the wise authors and um, the, you know, sort of a struggling readers, you know, who we're going to like impart all this wisdom too. It's like we're, we're in the mess with the reader, right?

Alex:

The mess is the message. And actually I think our mess makes the message kind of more powerful because it is about connecting as humans, right? Yeah. Oh, I'm loving all of this. I'm intrigued by the fact that vulnerability and authenticity are often kind of gendered as well in some ways. You know, the often vulnerability is seen as particularly gendered and maybe now so much authenticity, although sometimes for masculine folks to be authentic is to kind of challenge toxic masculinity aspects. They're not congruent. So I don't know what you think this is just popping in my head.

Meg-John:

I think, you know, I think authenticity has been more associated with, with men, you know, I think, you know, we go back to Simone de Beauvoir and it's like, you know, women are generally brought up to be for others whereas men are brought up to be for themselves. So right there, you know, men are men are assumed to aspire to be authentic beings, whereas women are meant to aspire to be things for other people.

Alex:

Right. It's like men are supposed to be subject and we were supposed to be object.

Meg-John:

Exactly. And I think we still have that so much. Like every time I read Simone I'm like, yeah, but still that shit still really real.

Alex:

A few oh I don't know, decades and years, you know, we're still struggling with that.

Meg-John:

So yeah. And I guess you have vulnerability is super linked to a femininity as well, which is where I'm kinda liking the fact that my vulnerability is really linked to masculinity. And I guess my authenticity is kind of more linked to femininity if I think about it, I have this like good butt kicking warrior side that's like totally a woman.

Alex:

I really relate because in some ways for me as a trans masculine presenting person, there is more vulnerability, there's more authenticity in kind of embracing my feminine part and letting it show through my mannerisms or maybe even the way I dress sometimes if I feel safe enough because it feels if I do that, it undermines my masculine presentation and my pronouns. And so there's kind of this, this struggle between what do, what does the world see, what do I experience within myself and how do we come to this place where there can be a full expression so that people are not limited by their gender in what they can or cannot express. Right? That that totally impacts our mental health, right? Ourselves.

Meg-John:

Big time. And yeah, it's. I think that's the sadness of this binary world where, you know, it can feel like even for Trans folks, it's not okay to be trans. I think of Juno Roche's excellent work around like, you know, it's okay to be trans. It's okay to have a trans body, you know, that that can be what you are. You don't have to be trans man, trans woman, you know you're going to be trans. Um, and I think it's, yeah, it's really hard for, for people to accept that because the dominant narrative is like, you must try and be as much like cis people as possible. You must try and make your body as much like cis people. You must try and be, you know, as a masculine, if you're a trans man, masculine, you must be. If you're a trans woman, feminine.

Alex:

Well then that reinforces that cis gender. So at body of somebody whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth is somewhat superior to a trans and/or nonbinary body.

Meg-John:

Yeah. And we must be doing everything we can to get as close to that as possible, but we're never going to make it, you know, and it's like we're always going to be that little bit inferior to cis folks. And it's like, well, flip that on its head, you know, like that. Again, that's what Juno Roche does. It's like, you know, hey, this amazing trans body. Like, oh my goodness, isn't that incredible? Like, you know, what, what bodies can do, um, and, and in a way, you know, Juno's particularly focusing on sex and saying, well, you know, talking to a bunch of trans people about their experiences of sex and saying, well God, everyone could learn for this. You know, people are doing these amazing things with their sex lives because they've had to think differently around their bodies.

Alex:

Yeah cause it's not like cis gender people are not limited themselves, which is the kind of underlining ideas of this podcast and our book, 'How to Understand Your Gender'. Like cis gender people are also subject to this ideas of gender right I'm thinking of how many cis women are like starving themselves to be a certain size. I mean, I, I've been there when I presented as feminine or like perform femininity in a certain way that's deemed to be attractive and now they might not feel like white women enough if they're not performing femininity in a certain way or men might feel like not man enough if they're not aggressive in a certain way or they don't perform toxic masculinity in a certain way. So it's very limiting for cis people. And I feel like, you know, gender liberation is really for everybody. It's not just about trans. I mean I want trans rights, don't get me wrong, I want trans rights and trans women of color not be murdered, I want our trans bodies to be celebrated. And, and also to be seen as kind of leaders in this gender liberation movement. I want trans women of color not just to be mourned but to be upheld as this kind of leaders in genlder al. Liberation for everyone.

Meg-John:

This is what Juno Roche and Kate O'Donnell said at the end of their book launch, the book launch for the 'Queer Sex' book, which Juno wrote was like, you know, in, in history, people will look back at this time and will look at back at trans people and say, thank you. You know, I know. It's like everyone is misting over at this point.

Alex:

I got shivers. Oh.

Meg-John:

Oh yeah. Wouldn't that be nice because. Yeah. Liberating gender for everyone. That's what we're about. Like none of us just want to like make life better for like our tiny pocket of the world we want to make it better for everyone and until it is nobody's truly liberated.

Alex:

Right? Paraphrasing Emma Lazarus, again, none of us are free until all of us are free, right? Yes. Like we cannot do this in isolation. I'm loving this conversation and I could keep talking forever. I might have to just interview you again on some other subject, but for now, is there anything that we haven't talked about or I haven't asked you about that you were like, Alex, I really want to talk about this?

Meg-John:

Well, I just think it's probably worth mentioning that I have a podcast too. [Laughs]

Alex:

Yes. Can you please tell me, I not only do you have another podcast, I've been on it and I'm about to be interviewed on your amazing podcast again.

Meg-John:

You're going to be on it for a second time. So this is with my other writing partner Justin Hancock who's also a sex educator and relationships educator and so it's called The Meg-John and Justin Podcast. And um, yeah, when you met Justin and we, we said that you were metamauthors.

Alex:

I love Justin! He is my metamauthor and I'm also gonna interview Justin for Gender Stories, so excited you get to have an episode with Justin because he's just amazing.

Meg-John:

So polyamorous people call their partner's partner a metamour and that's why we called Justin and you metamauthors. You're both my partners but writing partners rather than other kinds of partners.

Alex:

Cause there can be many different kinds of partners as we talk about in 'Life Isn't Binary'.

Meg-John:

We do.

Alex:

And as you and Meg-John, I mean... [laughs]

Meg-John:

[laughs] Well I am a plural self.

Alex:

You and Justin talk about relationships quite a lot on your podcast, I realy love your podcast.

Meg-John:

I'm glad you like it. I'm really loving that people are enjoying it. And so yeah, like it's megjohnandjustin.com if you want to go and check that out and some of our free resources as well and some of our sort of slightly more expensive resources, £2.50 to download the zine, which is like not even five bucks for my US listeners and I'm not going to translate in all the currencies of all the listeners that I hope are out listening everywhere. It's not very much. Those resources are amazing. Can you say a little bit more about what people can expect, what people can expect from the podcast on the website they, you and Justin have together. So we've got. Yeah, so we did three three's zines so far and one of them is actually about how to learn from your fantasies. So exactly what I've been talking about. That's the first publication that I've done on that topic, but there's also how to make your own relationship user guide and how to make your own sex manual for yourselves. Excellent. So they're workbooky kind of zines and then. Yeah, we do a podcast. um pretty much once a week, once a fortnight and I'm there on topics relating to sex and relationships. Sometimes we answer listener questions. Other times we just say, let's have a big old talk about this thing that's going on in the world. There's a whole lot about #metoo and consent, understandably. Um, we talk about power a lot. We talk about consent a whole lot, like that sort of thing. There's a couple of videos on there as well, which are free to watch around being present for sex and around consent.

Alex:

And they are excellent resources.

Meg-John:

Thank you. So yeah, check it out. And all of the podcasts we do like a blog post as well. So you've got the kind of short summary version of it as well. That's amazing.

Alex:

And can you repeat where people can find all of this amazing resources?

Meg-John:

megjohnandjustin.com

Alex:

Megjohnandjustin.com people check it out. And also Justin and I are metamauthors because you and Justin have written a book. Can you tell the listeners about the book that you've written with Justin?

Meg-John:

That is called 'Enjoy Sex: How, when, and if you want to'.

Alex:

Amazing who publishes that book?

Meg-John:

Uh, that is by Icon.

Alex:

And what can people expect from this book? I mean, I recommend it to a lot of clients. I love the book, like it's like a book with like consent at the heart and it's nothing like any other book about sex I've seen.

Meg-John:

I think it's trying to say that we need to really, really like engage with sex in a very different way from the way we have done. And we wrote it before #metoo but is to totally irrelevant to that. It's like actually, you know, we're going to stray into nonconsensual sex and we're gonna not enjoy sex at all if we, if we're just trying to, like you were saying before like perform a certain kind of masculinity through sex or we're doing sex because we think we have to in order to keep a relationship or all of this other stuff. It's like, so it's the kind of step back and like actually let's think about the cultural messages around sex, let's kind of like put some of those down if we can and what happens when we really tune in when we're really present to sex with ourselves and another person and it covers like bodies and different relationship styles and different sexual practices.

Alex:

Yeah. Amazing. And what I love is that it's for people of all genders or relationship styles, all bodies, so if are an adult. Again, this book, it's not very long, but it had. It's amazing. It's amazing.

Meg-John:

Thank you.

Alex:

You will not regret buying this book.

Meg-John:

Thank you for the plug.

Alex:

Well I am genuinely enthusiastic about everything that you and Justin do. So if you wanna find out more about the work that Meg-John does with Justin, megjohnandjustin.com. And then if people want to find out more about the other 18 books or 17 books you've written without Justin and I, where can they find that out from.

Meg-John:

So I guess if you look for me on Amazon, they all come up so you can see what people think of them, but also my own website is rewriting the rules.com and it's rewriting-the-rules.com, which is quite hard to say. But yeah.

Alex:

It is www.rewriting-the-rules.com.

Meg-John:

Yes. Yeah. I think if you Google for Meg-John Barker, that's probably what comes up as well. That's probably easier.

Alex:

I'm very excited because the second edition of rewriting the rules is coming out. It's just gonna be so amazing and every time I recommended to somebody they just thanked me for it because again, there's nothing out there quite like it.

Meg-John:

Yeah. So that's just a relationship self help book that's kind of again saying let's look at the cultural rules around relationships and let's think how we might do things differently if we agree that there's some problems with those cultural rules.

Alex:

So we could gush about each other quite an awful lot.

Meg-John:

Yes you too because you're awesome!

Alex:

You're awesome too.

Meg-John:

But you're more awesome!

Alex:

Can people follow you or you and Justin on other social media as well?

Meg-John:

Now we're on twitter. I'm on twitter @megjohnbarker and we're on there @megjohnandjustin as well. We've got facebook pages, Meg-John Barker Writer on facebook and there's Meg-John and Justin on facebook as well. Um, we haven't really gotten into instagram yet.

Alex:

There is time.

Meg-John:

But there is time.

Alex:

My 14 year old will teach you, she's very excited about instagram. She's down over my instagram for Gender Stories, so now you know, it's amazing.

Meg-John:

Uh, I need so in, with instagram because I'm a bit. I'm on there but I'm a bit rubbish. So yeah, I need to do more instagramming.

Alex:

Well, thank you so much. This was incredible. I am so grateful for the 15 years of friendship, the last few years of writing and just your existence in my life.

Meg-John:

I'm really grateful for your existence in my life too, you're amazing.

Alex:

And thank you all. To all of you listeners for listening to another episode of gender stories. I hope you found it useful and informative as ever. Transcripts will be on the facebook page, so please follow Gender Stories on facebook or on twitter @genderstories and keep subscribing, and if you're enjoying this podcast, please review on there and if you want to find out more about gender check out, 'How to Understand Your Gender? A practical guide for exploring who you are' published by Jessica Kingsley and coauthored with our very own Meg-John Barker, who I've just been interviewing. Until next time, keep having a wonderful, vulnerable and authentic life. Thank you.

Meg-John:

Thank you.