Meg & Christopher

 

Kyira: “So, Meg, what made you decide to sign up for and be a part of this project?”

Meg: “I think it is important to get the message out. And, even, I look at it from a younger women’s perspective as well because I know … like when I was younger, I struggled with, um, like I was telling Ashley (the photographer) I have, um, I was diagnosed at that time with a rare disease called Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis. And it ate away half the bone in my right knee and left ankle. So like my perception of my body at that time was very distorted.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Christopher: “You hated your legs.”

Meg: “Yeah, I hated my legs, hated my thighs. And, you know, everyone else like you would look at me and be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I don’t even see that.’ But …”

Kyira: “You watched what happened and the result of it.”

Meg: “Correct, yes. Um, but as time went on, I became more accepting of this. And this actually, you know, it didn’t go away but it lessened in the severity. I didn’t wear shorts or like a short skirt until I was 25.”

Kyira: “Oh.”

Meg: “Yeah, so (laughing). At 25, I was kinda like, ‘What the hell’s wrong with me? What am I doing?” So it was kinda like, um, and maybe that’s when I started to feel better because I wasn’t in so much pain.”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm.”

Meg: “So, if I was feeling better then obviously my self-esteem about my legs and my perception of my body increased.”

Kyira: “And you weren’t constantly being drawn to it. It you have pain somewhere, then it’s pulling you in all the time.”

Meg: “Exactly, exactly! So that was, I guess, kind of like – I was telling Ashley cuz she asked me about this too – but, like, it’s kind of why I wanted to be a part of this as well, to show, I mean I obviously know, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ that sort of thing. And making sure that everyone knows, not just women but men too and transgender, etc., that we’re all beautiful in our own, like, different way. And especially now with, like, our new, um, (hesitates) leader so that’s even more scary and different, and especially the things that he’s …”

Christopher: “I wouldn’t call him a leader. You can call him ‘Commander-in-Chief.’”

Meg: “OK, ‘Commander-in-Chief.’ (Laughing.) Yeah, I don’t even know if I want to call him that! I mean, he is just …”

Kyira: “The new person that’s going to be at the forefront of things in our country …”

Christopher: “The new embarrassment.”

Meg: “Yeah, (laughing) the new embarrassment. Um, it just makes me really sad that, like, he’s said these things, he’s, you know, even in front of the media – making fun of, you know, someone who is developmentally disabled. It’s just very frightening. So, yeah, that’s kind of why I wanted to do this and why I feel it’s important.”

Kyira: “And to help others feel they can share their stories because I think the more people talk about the nuanced ways that they experience discomfort or identity development issues, like, the more we create space for anybody to talk about what they’re going through. And like you said, the changes in our climate in the United States sort of are closing the loop on safe spaces where we can talk about it.”

Meg: “Correct!”

Kyira: “And you talking today does continue to open the door further, at least within the realm of this project and hopefully beyond for people to keep talking about it.”

Meg: “Yes.”

Kyira: “That’s huge.”

Meg: “Yes. We want people to feel safe to talk about, you know, specifically their identity.”

Kyira: “Right. And then eventually get to the point where it doesn’t have to be that it’s a safe space, it’s just a space, and it’s just the norm.”

Meg: “Yes, exactly. Kinda like what we had talked about (during a previous discussion). …”

Kyira: “And Christopher, you made a very quick decision this morning to join in. Ehat do you think allowed you to do that, to be a part of this movement?”

Christopher: “Um, I guess that’s the type of person I am. I like to join movements of positivity and things that are creating social change.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Christopher: “I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded person and have worked with lots of different populations of people. I’ve, my background’s in education and I lived in Alaska for a long time and worked with lots of different populations of people up there, like, you know, like special-needs populations as well as very poor populations and Native Alaskan populations, things like that. Um, going up there I think also a majority of the people up there have transplanted there and are pretty open-minded people like me. Where I was in Juneau, Alaska – the capital – there’s a lot of support for the arts, theater, things like that. So you have this amazing, open-minded, eclectic community and, like I don’t know if I wouldn’t have moved there if I would have done something like this. But the type of people that I met really impacted me. I even ended up in a burlesque troop and, you know, dancing around with nothing on but, like, black hot pants (laughing) and black electrical tape over my nipples to give a show with, you know, three other guys and three other girls. And, um, yeah. I’ve always been a bigger dude, and my brothers are little blond, skinny guys. And when I was younger they used to, you know, say how fat I was, or that I wasn’t as fast as them or things like that. And, I don’t know. And my dad was not one to like support or like prop me up, I don’t know. It’s – it is what it is. But going up there and, you know, I think becoming my own person was super, just positive for my self-growth and my identity. And just recognizing that, you know, people are all different and can be celebrated for their individuality (long pause).”

Kyira: “Mm, hmm.”

Christopher: “I have friends that I’m really close to down here, but I notice, like they’re my best friends but I still notice in them this, this narrow viewpoint of what’s acceptable in life. And, like, my one best friend might do something like this, but I know like my other buddy would not even, probably, even come to an event if I said, ‘Hey, there’s this really cool event going on and it’s this group in Madison that’s, you know, all about just, you know, helping people feel good about themselves.’ And if it didn’t have to do with, like, Badger basketball and, you know, the Brewers and something that was ‘manly,’ or beer and cheese …”

Kyira: “Right. What they’ve interpreted as what they’re supposed to be focused on.”

Christopher: “Right.”

Kyira: “And how to act.”

Christopher: “Right, exactly. But he also never lived outside of Wisconsin, Minnesota and you know, like, not to say that that’s a bad thing, cuz Meg’s never lived outside of Wisconsin (laughing).”

Meg: “But I feel like I’m pretty open (laughing).”

Kyira: “Well, but I think especially when you’re talking about that, like, so that really does connect to the second question, is like how culture impacts you. Like the culture of the Midwest, especially if we think about forming what does it mean to be masculine? What does it mean to be male? That’s a lot of pressure. And, like, I would …”

Christopher: “Especially outside of Madison, you know.”

Kyira: “Yes!”

Christopher: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “And I would bet most people, that’s not what they’re interested in or who they want to be …”

Christopher: “Right.”

Kyira: “… but ascribe to that because they’re supposed to, to fit in.”

Christopher: “Right.”

Kyira: “You know, so even thinking what you said about your brothers and your dad, like, I wonder if your dad was ever given the space to know how to build somebody up, to know that you can be more than just, you know, whatever it is that …”

Christopher: “Just cookie-cutter …”

Kyira: “Yeah, which is just an interesting thing to think about, just generationally how does that sort of oppressive way get transferred down?”

Christopher: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So what would you say when you think about culture – and maybe it is the influence of, like, you know, moving into a different culture – but how has culture impacted you and the way you’ve been able to evolve or see yourself as you are now?”

Meg: “I guess, like, no I haven’t lived outside of Wisconsin, but I feel like the things that have happened in my life so far have, I have a different point of view.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Meg: “Like my sister, you know, with my disease and, um, my sister was diagnosed with Aplastic anemia when she was 9. So, like, we had a pretty different childhood than most, so we were exposed to like, I mean, she spent a lot of time at UW Hospital so we were in a, you know, I saw all kinds of different stuff. Um, I didn’t play sports when I was younger, you know, so I have a different viewpoint than most. I mean, and I was diagnosed with MS when I was like 24 or 25 so, I mean – and yeah, that’s like mid-20s, so it’s not like your formative years or anything. But still, I feel like I have a different viewpoint, I guess, than most people. I have more compassion for Chris’ comments of like, ‘Oh, to be manly.’ You know, so I feel like I’m more compassionate towards, you know, like special needs. And I’ve worked with that in the past, and transgender folks – I have a cousin who identifies as transgender, so I embrace, I mean, I’m totally supportive of her. So I just, yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t really answer the question.”

Kyira: “There is no right or wrong way to respond…”

Meg: “No, I know. I mean, I don’t want to go off on like a tangent (laughing).”

Kyira: “You can go off on as many as you want …”

Meg: “Okay, (laughing) but coming back to um, oh, how do I see myself?”

Kyira: “And I think it’s that piece of you, I think were unfortunate and fortunate enough to have gotten a lot of cards that were a little bit more difficult and rare, that other people didn’t get.”

Meg: “Oh, yeah. Correct.”

Kyira: “And so the perception you had of the world and your place in it was tainted by that in a lot of ways – good and bad.”

Meg: “Correct! Exactly, exactly.”

Kyira: “Do you see, I mean, especially when you think about physical illness and people finding out that you’ve been diagnosed with different things, do you see people treating you differently, or the standards they have for you being different?”

Meg: “Sometimes, yeah. Yeah. Especially the MS. Um, because that can come, that’s not, I mean you may look at me and not think that, but cognitively like I know that sometimes I, so then that – and if you know about MS, then you already know that there’s like a cognitive point as well. So I make it a point to try and think before I speak so it doesn’t come out like word salad. Or like sometimes, you know, some days word find is difficult. So sometimes, yes, I do think people think, or are kind of like, ‘Hm. Is Meg having a bad word find day?’ (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right.”

Meg: “So it’s that sort of thing.”

Kyira: “Yeah. I think, I feel like there’s a lot. And it comes from a place where people try to have empathy but it can be a false way of showing empathy.”

Meg: “Yes.”

Kyira: “It’s not actually being empathetic.”

Meg: “Right. And I don’t, I don’t think they are intentionally trying to do it, of course. But it’s kind of like you see like there’s a, cuz I feel like I can read facial expressions, or like I can feel a vibe where you can, the vibe is then now different. And it’s like, ‘Aw, buckets.’ So then I get kinda like, ‘Ugh.’ Sorta thing.”

Kyira: “Yeah. Like a deflated sense, a little bit.”

Meg: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “I don’t think it’s the same, but I can relate in the sense of, I talk so openly about, like, my eating disorder and like having gone through it. And I see, even now, like once people are aware of it, I’ll watch people watch what I order, or how much I eat, or what’s happening. Or, like, I’ve had several people that have followed me to the bathroom when I go to the bathroom after I’m done eating. And I’m like, one, not everybody with an eating disorder does that. Two, fuck off. (Laughing.) Like, I deserve to just eat and not have to take care of you because my past is overwhelming to you!”

Meg: “(Laughing.) Right! Exactly.”

Kyira: “But I think it comes from that loving place of like, ‘I don’t want her to slip back. She’s only eating, you know, a few bites of her food. Maybe she’s got this and I want to help her.’”

Meg: “Maybe you’re not hungry right now.”

Kyira: “Right, right. But it’s that piece of that. So I think in some ways I feel like that could relate to a degree of, like, how it does come from those good intentions.”

Meg: “Yes.”

Kyira: “But, like, people sort of put you in this box of now, like, you aren’t strong enough. Or I have to take care of you, or something is wrong with you.”

Meg: “Right. Correct, yes.”

Kyira: “That’s hard.”

Meg: “Yes.”

Kyira: “What about for you? How would you say that, like, culture and I think specifically for you because you talked about sort of having different cultural influences based on where you’ve lived and the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, how has culture impacted the way that you see yourself? And now, I guess specifically, how you’re able to see yourself as more of a beautiful person than maybe you did growing up?”

Christopher: “Uh, I think that, I think that culture has made me feel better about myself. And I’ve always, like, I can remember one of my, one of my best friends in high school coming out when we were seniors. And I went to a Catholic high school in the suburbs of Chicago, and it was like not, it wasn’t shamed but it wasn’t, like, embraced. And I don’t ever, as far as I know – and we were close, like, up to the day we graduated and, you know, went off to college – I don’t think that he was ever, like, bullied, or picked on, but he was definitely dropped from like being included in things, being included in going to, you know, the beach or invited to parties and all that sort of stuff.”

Kyira: “Right. He was ‘othered’ in a lot of ways.”

Christopher: “Yeah. And there was a couple of us that, like, we weren’t in the ‘in’ crowd, but we’d still get invited to the parties or whatever, and we were fine with like – I remember that second semester of senior year in high school and that summer, just doing our own thing and having our own parties and, like, ‘Who cares?’ Because we want to hang out with Joe. And so, and I’ve always been, like, sensitive and I guess I’ve always been comfortable with my masculine and feminine sides. And, uh, I think the, like the rise of our culture needing to be more accepting of all people and of, you know, the LGBT community is something that I think, have always thought, is awesome. And my parents are very open, accepting people – my mom, especially – and, like, has always been, you know, like supported that in the Chicagoland area. And so it was something this, I mean, I wanted to go to college at San Francisco. And my parents were like, ‘You’re not, we’re not gonna pay, you know, you’re not gonna be able to take out loans for the University of San Francisco.’ It cost like almost $30,000 a year, and this was back in the mid-90s. And so I ended up going to college here in the Midwest. But as soon as I was done with college, I was like, ‘I’m going out West,’ and I ended up in Alaska. And Juneau is very gay-friendly and, like I said, has tons of arts and culture and stuff. And, I don’t know, I had friends that would like call me the ‘Big Bear, ‘Oh, you’re such a bear. You’re such a big, handsome bear.’ (Laughing.) And I would just, like, laugh about it and was totally comfortable with what they thought of me and what other people thought of me. But it’s been hard coming back here to the Midwest, and I even feel like I kind of like lie, and not on purpose, like cuz people say, ‘Oh, why’d you leave Alaska?’ And I’ll say – like, I told Meg, I have an awesome family and I wanted to be closer to my family. But in reality, I don’t feel like I’m any closer to my family being thousands of miles closer.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Christopher: “Um, and that, uh, yeah it’s kind of disappointing. Cuz I thought I wanted to be back, back closer to them, cuz my brother started having kids and I, you know, love my nieces and nephews and stuff. But I’ve, you know, people don’t grow and change just because you do (laughing).”

Kyira: “Right. And I think there’s a deep need to grieve when the people that we’re told we’re supposed to be connected to end up being the people we’re not connected to.”

Christopher: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So, and that realization of, like, that doesn’t inherently make them bad people or me a bad person. But there’s something that’s in us that’s making it so difficult for us to connect to the degree you might like to.”

Christopher: “Right.”

Kyira: “And being able to grieve that loss, because that isn’t something you’re going to have, and then find a new way to connect with or have, um, goals of what those relationships would look like.”

Meg: “Definitely. (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “So what would you say are the ways, or are ways that you wanna consider really celebrating the growth that you’ve made so far? Or how you want to work on nurturing yourselves? And that could be independent or as a team, like how you pull from and support each other as you kind of move through those next pieces.”

Meg: “Um, I guess from like an individual point of view…I guess for myself, I started, you know, embracing my legs that I thought were ridiculous, even though they’re not. Now I started wearing shorts or skirts, and I don’t really care anymore. And now I actually like wearing short skirts and I look for short skirts to wear (laughing).”

Christopher: “And I like telling you how good you look in them.”

Meg: “And Christopher tells me how great I look in them. I guess for each other, for myself I know I need to be better about, um, giving positive comments and things to Christopher as well, not just about, like, but just about everything in general.”

Kyira: “And what about for you?”

Christopher: “Um (long pause). How do I celebrate my beauty?”

Kyira: “Or nurture, from the sense of, like, how do you stay in today and not allow yourself to get pulled back to some of those difficult things. Or when you moved back here and you realized that there is this disconnect of wanting to have those deep relationships, how do you stay who you are and stay true to that?”

Christopher: “I think like this, seeking out people that are on …”

Meg: “A similar thing.”

Christopher: “Yeah, like have a similar open mind about, um, individuality and people that like to celebrate life by doing thigs like volunteering in the community and, you know, doing art and creating things that other, you know, like music. And just social, even like social – pot lucks and cooking together with people and things like that, instead of trying to force bonding time with, with …”

Meg: “Watching a football game.”

Christopher: “Yeah. Right. (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Well, and so finding a connection that feels real to you.”

Meg: “Correct.”

Christopher: “Yeah, right.”

Meg: “Finding those same people. And I guess, I’ve lived here for 13 years and this is the first time I’ve found people …”

Kyira: “Your people.”

Meg: “Yes. Outside of, like you know, work, I guess you would l say.”

Christopher: “Well, and you don’t have a partner that, like, shames you for wanting to go and meet new people.”

Meg: “Correct, yeah. Right. Where, in the past, that’s …

Kyira: “That’s been an issue for you.”

Meg: “Yes. So it is being grateful for the people I have found meaningful connection to.”

Kyira: “Yeah, absolutely.”