Note: Rowe is The Well’s Communication Coordinator and first wrote "Weaving with Intention” for Stories from The Well in September 2019.
Wrapped in the arms of stillness
time paused, indefinitely halting
the fast moving train for which
I was driving, piled up in wreckage
weeks, maybe months, of unraveling
just to see how it needed to happen
The guides had been asking for a break,
whispering in my heart “slow down”
waiting for their chance to converse
openly in the shadows, shine their light
on the parts I was too ashamed to look at,
to call me by the name of my own choosing,
release me from external expectations
that reflected off my cool hard exterior
“Soften” they would ask, the burden is
too heavy under all the armor. There is a
gift in opening to let those who love you
in to greet the real you.
March 2020, I think, can be collectively thought of as the moment when “normal” life seemed to stop. My “normal” had felt overwhelmingly full, a busy job, work on my own creative projects, life with my partner, and yet there was a continuous nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. My internal self was consistently asking for a break, to just be able to sit with myself and nourish my own personal sphere. And I’ll be honest: I didn’t feel like I deserved that. I was constantly involved in something external, even in classes about personal spiritual work. I managed to orient myself to be in service of the group, setting my own work to the side. A quote from writer, activist, and ordained Zen priest, Rev. angel Kyodo williams says, “Without inner change, there can be no outer change, and without collective change, no change matters.” And I had been trying to skip ahead, be in the outer work, the collective change while resisting my own inner change.
It took a global pandemic to halt that fast moving train I was driving. In an instant I was no longer driving all over the city to meetings and events and I was met with myself, no distractions. These questions arose: “What am I running from?” “Who was I when “busy” no longer defined me?”
And, like a ton of bricks, my answer came after watching the semi-autobiographical TV show, “Feel Good,” in which the main character Mae (played by Mae Martin), struggles with her gender identity. In one episode, Mae talks about feeling like a failed version of both man and woman and how that affects their relationships. This admittance was something I deeply resonated with, but was afraid to put language to.
I had first begun to question my gender when I came out as bisexual at age 21. It began with buying clothes from the men’s section and cutting my hair short. As I began to explore my queerness, I still felt like I had to present in the restrictive frameworks of heteronormativity. I noticed how when I was dating women, I felt like I could express a more masculine side of myself than I could when dating men. My sense of self felt conditioned by external forces.
I knew vaguely what the term “non-binary” was, but that was for brave people who weren’t afraid to express themselves to others who might not understand. I didn’t think I was that brave even though I identified in that gray area outside of “man” and “woman.” So, I teetered along the edge.
When quarantine began I could no longer distract myself (besides binge-watching “Feel Good”), nor did I want to. It was time to be brave. I began engaging with as much Queer media (books, movies, TV, podcasts) as I could and I started to realize there were so many ways to be Queer. It felt like my world expanded tenfold.
Signaling this expansion, a new name emerged, like the wind had whispered it into my ear: Rowe.
As with most truths, it was a reckoning that would echo through all of my relationships. When I first came to my partner with this piece of me, he was worried that I no longer wanted to be the person he had fallen in love with or if I would still be interested in him. Following weeks of open — and often intimidating — conversations, it became obvious that our love was not threatened with my shift in gender.
The following months were filled with social anxiety. Everytime I introduced myself, or spent time with my friends and family, I felt even more isolated in my knowing. I wanted to share, but when I would come close to saying “I’d like to be called Rowe with the pronouns they/them” my throat would clog with insecurity and I’d back down and spend the whole rest of the day beating myself up for not saying it. I had to rumble with vulnerability in every conversation with every new person I encountered. It was rough and scary and felt like walking through fire. Sometimes I was met with such joy and excitement, cooling my nerves. Sometimes I was met with confusion, or the quick response of, “Just don’t be mad when I mess this up.”
But, I was choosing to show up for it and by doing so, liberated pathways of being, relating and seeing the world opened up to me. This is not the end of the story. There will be struggle, but I feel confident that I can face it with a more grounded and authentic sense of self. In her book “Radical Dharma,” Rev. angel speaks to this liberating choice in her testimony on Bringing Our Whole Selves: A Theory of Queer Dharma, she writes, “I could let painful truths that had been hidden away emerge on my cushion because through choosing queerness I had already practiced choosing to be free. I knew that it meant allowing myself to be seen and that fully accepting myself is an inherently binding agreement of allowing others to be fully themselves.”
P.S. The Well holds space for this personal, relational and public work in our Monday morning strategic meditations. If you'd like to join let us know!
Rowe (they/them) is a queer artist and writer living in Cincinnati, OH. When they aren’t lost in a creative endeavor you can probably find them lost in the woods. Connect with their work at weavearowe.wordpress.com