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117. Playing with the Pleasure of Your Gender Magic with Rae McDaniel

Nicole: So then the first question I would like to ask you is how would you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Rae: So, I'm Ray McDaniel. I'm a non-binary gender and sex therapist, and based out of Chicago I have a group private therapy practice called Practical Audacity that serves primarily the, the queer population, but really anybody that aligns with those values.

I'm also the author of Gender Magic, um, and I'm, I'm a. Speaker and a trans d e i educator and do all the things.

Nicole: Yeah. How exciting. Well, is there anywhere you wanna start? Sometimes I like to take a step back and ask each guest, is there something you're really passionate about that is lighting you up that you wanna start this conversation with?

Rae: Ooh, that's such a good question. I rarely get asked that in podcast. Um, also, hi kitten. I know. Yeah. Cute.

Nicole: That's Fat Cat.

Rae: Oh, hi. Um, where would I wanna start? You know, I. The thing that I have been sitting with a lot right now is how gender magic connects to my broader mission. Mm-hmm. Which is connected to gender exploration and transition, but it's so much larger than that.

Yeah. And the mission is that I really want to do my part to create a world where people are able to be their most off. Authentic, audacious, like lit up selves free from fear and shame. And I think gender, gender magic and, and gender freedom is one way that I am moving towards that mission, but it's certainly not the, the only way.

So I'm very excited about that. Messaging and really staying rooted in, in that mission for myself and my work.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And dare I say, the world will be a better place when people are freely able to be themselves. I think that I. I don't think it's too hyperbolic to think about a world where violence would be less and all those other pieces.

Absolutely. Because people would be more comfortable with themselves and able to be free in that.

Rae: Absolutely. I don't think violence is authentic. I don't think Hate. Is authentic. Um, I think that those things come from a lot of hurt and I think if we're able to heal that hurt and we're able to move towards people just feeling good in their own skin and connected and rooted, that a lot of the issues that we're seeing today, we'll go away.

Nicole: Yes. Yes, I agree as well. And so I'm curious then how you got to this space where this is your mission, what is your story? Could we unpack that here?

Rae: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It is a, a long and winding road. I'm ready, so I'll All right. You sure? Yes.

Nicole: I've got an hour. Let's go.

Rae: Um, So, going back way to the beginning, um, I grew up as the adopted child of Southern Baptist traveling missionary puppeteers Ooh.

In from the deep south. So I grew up in Louisiana and we, when I was about probably 10, 11 years old, my, my, there was a twist in the plot of my life and my parents decided that they were called to be missionaries. And that they were gonna do that through puppets. So I spent the next five years of my life traveling around, around the United States and some in Central America doing this missionary work with my parents.

I, you know, I was bought in, I didn't know anything. Else, and I was very much in this bubble of evangelical Christianity, but I never really felt like I fit. Mm. Like I always felt a little different, and I didn't know what that meant at the time. I was lucky enough to find a couple people in my life that I, I still know and I'm connected with, that were kind of outside of.

The, uh, typical frame that you would think of. We're all a little bit different and liberal in our own way, but still kind of bought into that for a long time. Went to this tiny little Southern Baptist college in east Texas. But immediately, you know, for, for who knows what reason, uh, got what got really close with the theater kids in, in that school, which were some of the only like gay kids on campus.

And this was a campus where if you were out and gay and the wrong person found out you could be expelled. Wow. Yeah. So I, I started, you know, connecting with these people and started realizing, hey, like this version o of spirituality where my friends, the people I love are struggling so much and they're being oppressed and I could watch them struggle with identity development and relationships and sex and families and, and all of this stuff.

That didn't really make sense to me anymore. Mm-hmm. So, I, I moved away from the church probably about halfway through college and then decided that I wanted to be a therapist that works with the L G B T Q population. I fell in love with psychology. Yeah. And then fled the south, uh, came up here to Chicago and went to grad school here and focused all my work on the L G B LGBTQ population.

That's like part one, the X-Men origin story. So I'll stop there for a second.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I'll, I'll share that. I equally came from an evangelical background and had my own struggle with that. And so I'm curious, when you go back, you said you never felt like you fit in. Was that something that.

You believed the faith and was grappling with that, or was it something that you never felt really like you believed and you were just doing it because of parents? Because I think that can make a radically different experience.

Rae: Yes. That is a hugely different experience. Yeah. I definitely believed for a long time in my life, although I was a very intense kid, I was an only child.

I was traveling around in this. Motor home with my parents, very much a bubble. And I'm, you know, 14 years old, reading St. Augustine's, dark Night of the Soul situation. Yeah. So I, I was bought in, but differently than the way my parents were. Mm-hmm. Like I really. Was drawn at the time to these, these Christian mystics, the ones who looking back are, are more in line with how I orient my life now.

Right? Connection to something bigger, but not necessarily something that we would name it as God. Connection to nature, connection to your intuition and this like deep knowing, looking back and I. It's such an interesting thing cuz at the time I felt very connected to my religion and to God and I, I journaled a lot and I read those journals as an adult and they are so toxic.

I've done that so bad, so bad and such hatred towards myself. A lot of like, why am I wrong? Like God fix me kinda vibe and it broke my heart as an adult that. That was what I felt connected to was my own brokenness,

Nicole: which makes me wanna ask, as a therapist, when you look back on that, how do you understand that?

Rae: I think kind of like I was just saying, right? I was connected to this higher power that. W I'm trying to think how to put it with the narrative that in order to be connected to this higher power, I had to accept that I was broken and wrong and I, I didn't really feel like I fit and I didn't know why, and I think I attached a meaning to, well, I'm just broken and wrong.

And so I need to fix that in, in order to be whole and be worthy. And it, it was a lot, a lot of grappling with who am I? Mm-hmm. What is my place in the world? Yeah. And why do I feel off? And I didn't have an answer for that until I found my own identity. My queerness being non-binary, um, right. Being mon, non monogamous, being kinky, like all of these things that all played a part in.

Um, looking back, I'm like, that's what I was looking for. Yeah. And I didn't need to feel broken to get there.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But dare I push you and say that the doctrine itself actually teaches that regardless of whether we have those identities or not. Right. Like I think that's where I'm curious of when do we call these things abusive?

If we were in a relationship structure where someone came to you and said, you are broken, you absolutely need me to get to have a better life. In the same way that sometimes, not all Christianity, right, but this doctrine of you're sinful. You need me to get to heaven, and if you don't, you're gonna burn in hell.

If we take that context into a relationship, It sounds like someone holding a gun or some sort of violence to you, like you believe or you're gonna die. Yeah, and so I'm always hearing this and I'm, I just, I think as you know, working in the psychology space, I think there needs to be more conversation about how dangerous this can be, this narrative of self that comes through with this.

Rae: Yeah, a hundred percent. You don't so box about that. Oh, so could I, and you understand you grew up in, in a really conservative environment too. Yeah, yeah. I, I do consider myself a survivor of religious abuse. I absolutely do. And now, you know, I have a lot of friends, not a lot. I have some friends who are in the church in some way, in a very different way.

And so I don't wanna characterize it as, All of Christianity believes, you know, in hate and everybody's going to hell cuz that's not the case. There's people doing good work in that space. But I know that because of my experiences I cannot engage with anything that is any sort of of trigger or even has a width of conservative Christianity or Christianity in general.

Right. And it. That to me says a lot that I, I tried a few years ago. There is, there was, I guess, this place in Chicago that it was a temple. It was a non-denominational and non-specific religion temple. Yeah. Uh, it was more just kind of spirituality. Sure. But I, I tried to go, I'm like, I'm curious. See what this feels like.

And the format was, you know, like praise music and then a, a message kind of sermon like, and I walked out and I walked out not because of anything they were saying, but the format itself was so activating to me. I'm like, this is not gonna be a place where I can find peace. Mm-hmm. And if we're thinking about abuse, like that's a pretty big red flag.

Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah. Or, or you hear a song on the radio and it instantly activates things and you feel that reaction. Trauma responses.

Rae: Trauma responses. Yeah. Yeah. I'm curious about your experience in, in the church, and I'm sure. You know, you and your, your listeners have talked about it a lot. Yeah. Um, but I'm, yeah, I'm just curious.

Nicole: Yeah. I went to Christian school my whole life, so that was like an added layer of it. Right. That it was in absolutely everything that I was taught, you know, sex education as well. And that abstinence only, that whole, Ooh, it was, It was deep. I wore a purity ring, the whole thing.

Rae: Oh, I had one of those. Ooh, yeah,

Nicole: exactly right.

Do you still have it? I don't know what to do with it now.

Rae: You know what? I don't know. Um, I had it for a long time. If I have it, it is buried in some memory box somewhere. I have no idea where it is.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Somewhere. Um, I didn't know that I was gay. I think that there was so much cognitive dissonance going on that I would watch like gay content and it.

Wasn't anything that I could like process to my identity or something. I think there was just so much of this cannot be possible. So it's not, even though internally I had these reactions, so then you could imagine the whole level of shame that goes through that. Right. So of course, right. And then what's really interesting is later in life my sister and mom converted to Mormonism.

Rae: Oh, interesting.

Nicole: Yeah, so it went even like deeper into the fundamentalism and then Wow. Since coming out as queer and non monogamous, kinky, the other things, I mean, the queerness has definitely been the hardest part, I think, for my family. So, To grapple with.

Rae: Yeah, same though. I don't really, I haven't come out to my family as kinky or non monogamous.

They can't handle the queer, like, yeah. Yeah. Definitely can't handle the rest of it.

Nicole: Yeah, that's fair. That's fair. Yeah. Yeah. So it's, it's a journey and a half. And then I think because of that, the chosen family that I've built around me has become so crucial to my identity and my sense of family and yeah.

I. Couldn't be here without those people in my circle.

Rae: Yeah. I mean that is absolutely my experience. My, my family is definitely not supportive still. And my chosen family are the people that get me through. Mm-hmm. And I am very, very lucky and privileged that I have never wanted for a place to go on a holiday.

I have. I have people who have my back in such a beautiful, yeah. Way and I, I couldn't have done this without them.

Nicole: Absolutely. Absolutely. It was interesting when I went home to see my family and I was talking to my Mormon sister, she had said that her and some of the other people in the church were getting frustrated about the ways that the church is talking about queer folks and feeling interesting.

Yeah. And feeling this or this. Um, Um, discomfort about the fact that maybe we shouldn't be doing that and people are starting to raise questions and, and actually leave the church. So it was nice to hear that as someone absolutely. Who had done the mission, done that whole path, gone down that way, that like, even within that culture and society, people are starting to ask questions and push back and, and I hope that like you, my dream and hope is that we have more space for our authentic expression and pleasure.

Rae: Absolutely. And that is exciting. I love that people are starting to bring those conversations up. Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole: I'm curious for you about gender. I know the book. Mm-hmm. What was your process with coming to your gender? Um,

Rae: You know, it was really interesting. I think we often have this narrative that there's this light bulb moment of, oh, I'm trans.

Or you know, since you're like three or four years old, and neither one of those things were true for me. I. Describe in the book this metaphor of, it felt like I put on a shoe that was a size or half a size too small. Mm-hmm. And that it was kind of fine for a long time of my life, I didn't come out as non-binary till probably my late twenties, like 28, 29.

Yeah. But after a while, wearing this shoe that was a little bit too small started to cause blisters. Mm. And if you've ever had a blister right, you know that once it's there, that is the only thing mm-hmm. That you think about. Mm-hmm. And you cannot do normal things. It hurts to walk, it hurts to run. And, and that's how it felt, is that I felt, I.

Confined in the sex that I was assigned at birth as female, and my non-binary identity was very much an expansion of who I was so that I could do all the things that I wanted to do without having my brain consumed by gender so much. So it was, it was very gentle. And I've had, you know, I have this incredible chosen family and I have a very supportive queer network.

Yeah. I was running a queer therapy practice, uh, which was another interesting layer of transitioning kind of alongside a lot of my clients. Wow. Yeah, so probably. Like six months to a year into my practice, I officially changed my name or at least changed it socially. Mm-hmm. I told everybody I was going by they, them pronouns though I had been experimenting with all of those things with people who were in my closer circle for a little bit.

Mm-hmm. And then the, the pandemic hit and a lot changed. Yes. A lot changed for me. I. Was already on testosterone, which. Was again, a very gentle process of, I, I thought about it for a long time, but not with a lot of stress. Mm-hmm. And then once I decided to do it, I just, I, I started with a very low dose.

You sure can hear my, my doggo extortionist.

Once the pandemic hit, I wasn't seeing the results that I really wanted. Mm-hmm. And so I started doing shots and mm-hmm. You know, if you know anything about transition, once you start doing shots, it happens, changes in your body happened a lot faster. And so my voice changed, uh, a lot of things changed about my body, but I wasn't talking to anybody because pandemic.

And so then for quite a while, Every time I would hop on the phone or talk to somebody on Zoom, their first response was, oh my gosh, your voice, which was kind of funny and slightly awkward. Yeah, I'm sure. Yeah. But it, it felt good. I never had this end point and still don't, for my transition. Transition to me has always been about, I am transitioning to the most authentic version of me, and I don't ever think you arrive.

So that was changing with testosterone. And then I had had a tickle for a long time about top surgery. Mm-hmm. And probably about four years where it was, I. In the back of my mind as do I want to do this thing? Maybe, maybe not. So I had this tickle for a long time, and I remember having this moment. I got tested for the, the BRCA gene and I didn't have it.

Which for, for those listening, if you don't know, that's the, the gene that increases the likelihood of breast cancer later on. And if you have the BRCA gene, a lot of times people might get a mastectomy as a preventative measure. And I remember getting tested and having this thought of, Ooh, if I have it, I can get top surgery.

Oh yeah, like I could get, I would have permission to get top surgery because as a non-binary person, the narrative is you have to either hate your body or you have to, to be a binary trans person in order to get top surgery. And thank goodness we're moving away from that. But that was a, a good majority of my experience there.

And then one day I just, Was thinking and I'm like, you know what? The only reason I have not gotten top surgery is because I have always had breast, and that's, that is the only reason is it is familiar. I. And I just got to a point where that, that was not a good enough reason anymore. So I ended up getting top surgery in, I believe, uh, late 2021 on my birthday.

Mm-hmm. Actually, uh, and I've, I've never been happier with, with my body. It was such a, a, a grounding into myself and this, this sense of calm and settledness that felt really nice. And the interesting part O of post top surgery is that I feel a lot more permission and a lot more grounded in expressing the feminine parts of myself now, which is, it's like a fun development of even more gender fuckery than was already present.

Mm-hmm.

Nicole: Yeah. I'd be curious if you could expand on gender fuckery. What does that look like?

Rae: Sure. To me, gender fuckery and gender freedom simply means that you have the ability to name your gender for yourself because. We, we are all ourselves, and it, it seems, uh, absurd to me that we are not able to say, this is who I am.

So being able to say, this is who I am, and then being able to express that any way I want. In any way, including things that might, uh, align with what our society expects for a certain gender and also things that don't and the things that don't, I think is where that freedom really, really lies of being able to say.

I am who I am no matter how I choose to express myself. Yeah. And sometimes I might choose to express myself in ways that just do not fit into this box of male or female or even non-binary because our culture has this idea of non-binary means a skinny, white, masculine person with short hair and wearing.

A button up shirt from Wild F and Right. Look, not I have a button up sharp shirt from Wild Fang. Not hating, but it's not the only way that I express myself. Right,

Nicole: right, exactly. And so then I'm thinking about, like you said, that blister moment for you of that continual rubbing, that there was something that was off some lack of expression because of society and these sort of rigid boxes.

Rae: Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. Gender magic, right? Taking off this expectation of it being a dark, scary thing, but also what was it like going through that time? Did it feel scary? That unknown of, who am I asking those questions?

Rae: I love that you asked this question because that is exactly the narrative that is out there is identity development and in particular, exploring gender.

Transitioning your gender is dark and scary because it's unknown. Hmm. Because it is, it has to involve suffering. The general narrative is that suffering is at the core of gender exploration and transition, and. I wanna call bullshit on that. And the way I think about it is if you look up at the sky and you consider the cosmos and space, if you consider the ocean and all the things that we don't know about the ocean and space, That unknown does not cause us suffering.

Right? And anxiety. In fact, most of the time that unknown causes awe and wonder and these really beautiful aspects of, of curiosity without needing to grasp onto, I have to know the answer to this. And that was very much how I felt. Is it, it never felt scary and it never. Felt like it was full of suffering in any way, even though there were, there was self-doubt in there.

Sometimes there was a, a sense of not knowing where I was going and negotiating my own identity. Mm-hmm. And moments that were not great. Right. I don't wanna. Paint a, you know, roses love and light, right? All the time, sort of vision. I had a lot of moments where I'm like, I don't know how to express myself, or this doesn't feel right in my how I, I wanna show up in the world.

But all of that said, the overarching feeling was very grounded and I always felt like I was moving towards more of who I am. Yeah. And that felt really good. Mm-hmm. And that is really the message that I wanna bring in gender magic, which has, we can't ignore all the hard stuff in the world. Like God knows we are in a, a time where it is.

Can be scarier than ever to be a transgender person, and I am not ignoring that. Mm-hmm. It's important. It's also important to acknowledge and let ourself feel the hard feels, and we're all gonna have bad days. I believe that folks can explore and transition gender in a way that really does center. Awe and curiosity and joy and connection.

And over my 10 plus years of working with clients and going through my own transition, I developed some, some skills and how to help people navigate that so that it is more likely that they're going to experience those. Emotions and that way of exploring and transitioning gender, and that is what I wanted to share in gender magic.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Which is so crucial. I'm always thinking about the frame, right? I, yes. Basic example. I get these. Street tickets in Chicago all the time for parking. I know. And I'm like, oh. But then I'm like, let's reframe this. I love donating to the city. You know, like it's such, just a small example, but like the frame, right?

It creates so much of how we see this and when you come up to it thinking it's this scary thing compared to thinking about. Wow. What expansive space do I have? Yes, to color all across the lines, the whole spectrum and any, you know, that 64 colors in the crayon box a hundred, whatever we wanna put the number on, right?

But like that full expansive art palette to play and have that moment, it can absolutely change how you look at it, how you experience that. And so I think this message is so crucial and needed.

Rae: A hundred percent. That frame creates our reality. Yes. The language that we use to describe transition, to describe gender exploration.

Mm-hmm. It creates our reality. Yes. And that is not a small. Small thing.

Nicole: No, not at all. But I am also thinking about the clients that I have worked with who have experienced such distress about it. Mm-hmm. And I think kind of what you said earlier, I think this is where it becomes really crucial thinking about the society and the communities that we have, because, When you don't have a community of people who are supportive and understanding, and when you think about expressing yourself authentically, and this goes for out, even outside of gender, right?

A lot of different things. Absolutely. Yeah. When you think about expressing yourself authentically and thinking about your community of people and or larger society and how they will receive you, and if that authentic expression results in some sort of disconnection, of course. It would be so scary and terrifying.

Of course.

Rae: Right, of course. Right. That which highlights that need for the community. And I, I know that everybody out there is not in a city like Chicago. Right. Um, And with the internet being what it is today, there is community out there no matter where you live. Mm-hmm. And also it is not true that everywhere in the south or everywhere rural has nobody that resonates with you.

Hmm. Or could be supportive of you. So building that, those strong connections is. I would say the number one thing that is gonna get you through Yes. Those days that it's hard, the, the days when the grocery store clerk misgenders you, cuz we're all gonna have those days. Mm-hmm.

Nicole: Absolutely. I got chills when you said that moment that even in the deep south there are people out there that understand because I, I wonder and hurt for the amount of people that feel like they're alone out there.

Yeah. Because of that society and. You know, I think the internet is a beautiful thing because of that, because there is safe spaces to go on there where you can have that connection and that is a beautiful thing and to ground in the reality that you're certainly not alone.

Rae: Yep, absolutely.

Nicole: Yeah. So you were talking about awe.

Enjoy. And you talked about having a skillset. I'd be curious if you could go into that. What does that look like when you're supporting people? I'm sure there's people listening who are exploring, curious and would love to hear what you have to say about that.

Rae: Sure. Yeah. Well, there's a, a lot to it. A whole Book's worth even.

Yes. But some, some of the core pieces, one of the biggest things is really aligned with what we've already been talking about, which is how you are viewing the process and how you are framing and orienting exploring gender. In particular, we as a society tend to frame gender exploration and transition as what we are moving away from, what we are trying to to leave behind versus what we are moving towards.

And one of the key pieces of gender magic is helping folks get a little, little bit more clear about what is your why for exploring gender and transitioning? What are you moving towards? What is the vision of your life? Not just gender because gender is just a tiny part of your life, but for your whole life that you want to experience that.

What space might be opened up if you are your most authentic lit up self in the world? And one of the things I I say a lot is gender freedom period is not the point. The point is freedom too blank, right? Whatever that is. And helping people develop. What is your blank? What do you want freedom to do, to be, to experience?

And when you are able to orient towards that, that is a much stronger motivator. And it is also a motivator that keeps you out of, um, the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn response. You're able to get into this front part of your brain, the, the prefrontal cortex, right? Where you're able to be more grounded.

Mm-hmm. You're able to make decisions easier. Mm. You're less confused, you're more clear. That makes every single thing easier. So that is always the place that I start. Another key message of gender magic is about getting out of your head because a, a lot of my clients spend forever just stuck in their head.

I'm gonna think, think, think about this and solve this problem, and then I'm gonna make a move and, and I say, let's flip the script. Let's think a little bit. Sure. Thinking is great. But let's get moving. Let's take action to explore actively. It's a message of play. And when we are able to frame gender exploration and transition as play, it does several things for us.

Again, it gets us in that front part of our brain where we're really able to, to be a little bit more clear every step of the, the way. It means that failure is impossible. Mm. You cannot fail at playing. Yeah. It also reframes success because if success when we are talking about gender exploration and transition is about moving towards the most authentic version of you.

It is always a process that you're going to be going through. You're always going to be growing and changing, right? And it is about you. It is about your experience of who you are in the world and not about the grocery store clerk or even your family members. Mm-hmm. Gendering you correctly or seeing all of who you are in every moment of your life.

All of us have parts of ourselves that are not fully seen in all the areas of our life, and that's just true. But when you feel grounded in, this is who I am. I am the most authentic version of myself at this moment. It will grow and change with time, but at this moment, I'm, I'm leaning in that direction and you are able to build a close, intimate network of people who also see you for who you are and respect you and celebrate you.

Yes. For who you are. Everything else gets easier. It matters way less if the customer service person misgenders you on the phone or a stranger yells something harmful at you because you know who you are and are grounded in a community. Yeah. That also knows who you are.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That protective and enhancement.

I mean, so much of our strength comes from our community.

Rae: A hundred percent. Yeah.

Nicole: When you were talking about what we're moving towards, then maybe inviting people to get quiet. Mm-hmm. And try to envision. What that looks like for them. What would you walk them through?

Rae: Yes, so there is one of my all time favorite exercises in the book, which I will, I'll tease is a, it's a 10 year in the future letter, which what it is, is you write a letter to yourself of today from the perspective of you 10 years down the line and you walk.

The you of today through from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. Mm-hmm. And this is your ideal life with no holds barred. Your imagination can go anywhere you want it to be. Think big. And you write all of it down in as much detail as you can, and gender magic walks you through a lot of specific questions that can help with kind of fleshing it out a little bit.

And then the, the magic of this exercise is that, that's it. Right. There's not now read or now look at the letter and make all this stuff happen in this very grippy way. It's read the letter, maybe read it once a week, once a month, once every six months. Mm-hmm. Remind yourself of it. But you would be shocked at number one, the beautiful things that come out of people's mouths.

Mm-hmm. I, these letters have brought me to tears. Aw, they are are amazing. And that you start to very organically align your life with this version of you. Mm-hmm. Without trying, without gripping, it just becomes a lot more obvious to you when you can see this vision of your yourself. So that's one of my all time favorite exercises that I'm excited to share with your listeners.

Nicole: Yeah, it makes me think about like a light post, right? That beacon, yes. That light, that home direction that you could gently sail towards and seeing that over those next 10 years of being able to get closer and closer

Rae: to that light. Exactly. It gives you that lighthouse, like you're saying, to just be in the back of your mind as you are making little decisions.

Maybe some big decisions, but really it's about the tiny, tiny decisions. The tiny actions that build up over time. And suddenly you look back and you're like, oh, holy shit. Like my 10 year self is happening. A year in and not 10 years down the line, which is another like piece of magic of these letters.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. And it, it is, uh, I would say a crucial part of keeping this in the gender magic, right? The joy side. Because I can imagine so much of the brain goes into the fear. What if what happens with this and stays into that? Dark side and being able to like mm-hmm. Makes me think of just even the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy, right?

Of trying to balance that perspective of like, okay, we can understand why, again, within society, all the things, but mm-hmm. Where is that hope? Where is that lighthouse? Where is the joy? What is the joy? Because a fair and balanced perspective includes both and frequently we don't do that, and so it's very important to get intentional about what vision you're seeing for yourself.

Rae: You nailed it. We spend so much time on the negative and even giving equal space, not even decreasing the negative, right, just equal space to the positive. The dreaming, the imagination feels revolutionary. Yes.

Nicole: And I love taking it into a space of play because like you said, you can't fail at play cuz I'm sure so many people feel, or at least I've seen this in my work of like, well, what if I do this and what if it's wrong?

What if I do that? Mm-hmm. And I offend someone about how I understand my gender or other sorts of. Things and then it becomes this, everywhere you look around it's, it's eggshells, right? Like I don't wanna step on that. And then in that, then we become static. So being able to see it as play as something you're exploring, I think can open up so much space for people.

Rae: So much space. Yes. Yeah.

Nicole: It was interesting. Um, I was in one of my classes and someone came in and we were talking about gender and they had asked us to think about how closely do you align to your gender identity. Mm-hmm. And even that question, I'm curious what you think about that. It was an interesting question, at least for me, as someone who has been identified as a woman since birth.

Right. To think about like, yeah. What does it mean to identify with that? Like what is woman? And then that sent me down a fun rabbit hole for a good amount of months. Like, well, what is that? I don't know what the column is, so how do I know if I align . With that?

Rae: Yes, it, it's a great question. It's also a question that has so many questions inside of it, like you're naming of what, and I'll, you know, I was assigned female at birth too, so I'll use woman as an example of what does.

Woman mean. Right. You know, what is the kind of core of that? Which once you start asking that question, like you said, it goes down a rabbit hole of like, maybe society has gotten this wrong, or if we really start thinking about it, it starts to unravel. So I think that's a big part of it. The other part of that question that I find really interesting and valuable is, Are we talking about gender identity or are we talking about gender expression?

Mm, yeah. What does femininity mean? What does masculinity mean? And all the definitions of those things have changed over time. Yes. Now when you ask, do I identify as a woman as my assigned sex at birth, you're asking yourself a core question of, of who am I? And do I feel like that reflects who I am and also what is my version of what it means to be a woman?

Is it. You know, a fifties style with a dress and heels and pearls. You know, that's one way of being a woman. But there's also so many other ways of, yeah. Of being a woman that it may not mean anything about your gender identity. But if you've never considered, how do I want to show up in the world in the gender identity that I have?

That is a really valuable inquiry.

Nicole: Yeah. And I mean, it starts to unravel real fast.

Rae: Oh, so fast.

Nicole: And then to a point where I feel like I don't have grounding in some way because I'm like, I don't know where to pin. So then at that point, What do you say to the person who's in that? Is, is it truly what it means to you?

Rae: Yes. So I, I do believe it's truly what it means to you. It is our identity. We get to, I, I wanna be careful about how I phrase this, because we can't choose our gender identity. And a lot of the time how we understand ourselves may grow and change over time. Right. So how we choose to, uh, label mm-hmm. Our gender identity may, may change, and then.

How we choose to express that often changes a a lot throughout our life. And if people are in this place where it's feeling ungrounded to not have a, a pin to place in it. Yeah. I take people back to this analogy of space in the ocean and what if we didn't have to know to feel grounded? What if we don't need the answer?

Mm-hmm. Of. I understand exactly where to pinpoint my gender identity and how I want to express it forever. What if the, the journey in the process was the point? Mm. What, what if our society didn't put as much pressure on needing to decide with a capital D and instead allowed us. To consider gender the same way that we consider space.

And that every time the the Hubble Telescope or any of these things discover something new, we're all like, wow, that's amazing. Yeah. And we wanna know more, but we wanna know more without the anxiety of, I have to know in order to feel connected to this. To feel awe. To feel joy to. To explore.

Nicole: Right, right, right, right.

Does that make sense? Yeah. Which makes me think about queerness. Mm-hmm. And the journey that that is, and the fluidity and the exploration, continued exploration, if that feels like a fair comparison. And yes. Kink as well for me at least. Right? Like where do I pin myself in all these different things versus, Ooh, interesting.

That's a cool discovery on the telescope today. Didn't know that was

Rae: there. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. I was gonna say, labels are useful when we apply them to ourselves, so they're not useful if someone is assigning us something generally. But they also aren't useful when labels become another box that we've put ourselves in instead of.

A way that we understand ourself in this moment and that we connect with others and, and you use kink as an example, and I'm curious if it, it feels the same way to you when you discover something new about a kink identity or, or something you're interested in. Yeah. Do you relate to that with the same anxiety as something about gender?

Nicole: I guess the answer would be, No, because kink feels like this box I'm opening up of myself that I'm exploring, which I'm, I'm clearly seeing the connections here of how it's like the same, but, um, yeah, it feels like a box that I'm exploring with this big question mark. And, and maybe it's because I have been in the kink community and so I've been told from so many people that like, Hey, that might change in a year.

That might change in a year. So I've always had this openness and expansive to the NIST that it will keep flow. Unfolding as I go through it, which then makes me curious if, yeah, this pressure to pin gender is really a reflection of the society that is quite literally pinning it on people. And so if that's why maybe there's this extra pressure that this thing needs to be so clear, but in somewhere else where the cultural container has been more of a.

Magical unfolding, right? Mm-hmm. A playful space. I don't, I don't feel that pressure at all.

Rae: Yep. I mean, and I think, you know, we're both therapists and a lot of it we can point to mental and medical health practices. Over the years we've created a system and A A D S M where it is very binary in a lot of ways, and people have learned over time that in order to get.

Medically necessary care or to change your body in a way that feels like it aligns better with you. You have to be sure. You have to pinpoint, you have to hate your body. You have to have extreme distress. And it is wild to me that we have created a system where you have to hate yourself in order to be yourself does not make sense.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Because I don't hate vanilla sex.

Rae: No. Right. Same. I don't, I don't hate it. I just, yeah, exactly. There's more options.

Nicole: Exactly. I like that whole crayon set. Right. Uhhuh. Exactly. And so then, That frame though, that to be, that you'd have to hate. This is such a restrictive way of limiting our expression, our authenticity, our way of being in the world.

Rae: Nailed it. That's it. Mm mm

Nicole: I'm curious then. What would be your, your message of action of hope for the listener who is, is eating up what you're saying and getting excited about that? Like where would you guide them other than the book? Like to start living that authentically?

Rae: We, we've spoken to some of the key pieces.

Yeah. Earlier, find your people. Find your people, first of all, because I promise you that they exist. I promise you cuz I know them personally. Like they, they are out there no matter where you are. And when you are able to build that container, it makes everything else easier. The other thing I would say is to really think about.

What does it mean to play with gender for you? What would a tiny action step, right. Minuscule, minuscule action step be to move towards something you're curious about. Mm-hmm. Without feeling like you have to have the answer before you take a step. Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah. I do believe that that next step becomes clear.

Like there is a calling, whether we wanna call that our inner healing wisdom, our authenticity, whatever it is, at least for me, and in the work that I've seen, when you get quiet, that next step is whispering, sometimes throwing you with a brick, you know, like it depends on how long you don't listen to it.

Yeah. But you know, it is. Speaking to you, and I think people really know what that next step is if they choose to listen.

Rae: Yes, I completely agree. And people might name that spirituality, they might name it, simply feeling connected to the, the energy of the earth and the energy of the universe. Yeah, and I think you're right that we have so much wisdom inside of us.

In our gut, in our gut reactions, and for me, my spiritual journey is anything related to organized religion is an absolute no for me, but I. Something that I feel very connected to is this sense of connection to the earth and to energy, and in particular, I love the metaphor of mycelium, right? Mm-hmm. The, the like core pieces that create mushrooms, the fruiting body that extend throughout the earth in these really profound ways.

When I stop and get still, I feel. Way more connected to that interconnected earth, and that feels supportive and grounding to me. Mm-hmm.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Yeah. They share resources and connect mm-hmm. Other sorts of plants and are able to do that. I think I loved what you said, even at the very, very beginning of this conversation of.

Hate not being authentic. Mm-hmm. And I think that so many people think that's a part of our authentic nature, this aggression. You know, we can go back to Darwin, the whole thing. We can talk Sure about that. But I, I believe that our authentic expression is connection, is love, is interconnection with our community and with other people.

When we have a world where we don't have to fight for resources or feel unsafe to be our authentic self.

Rae: I completely and totally agree. Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah. So I think stepping into a, into play in whatever way is definitely a step to get closer to that space.

Rae: It is. It is. And if you, if gender feels like it is too big of a thing, you can back your way into it and start playing in other ways.

And we're just talking about being in Chicago and the sun is shining. Like get out there and, and fly kite. Like do something that activates that play part of yourself. Mm-hmm. And you can build on it.

Nicole: Yeah, because again, like you said, you can't play with your, when you're in fight, flight, or freeze fawn mode, you like, quite literally the parts of your brain are not active to be in that space of creativity and play. So yeah, if you go outside and fly a kite and get into that space, it's gonna feel much easier to step into play in other parts of your life as well.

Rae: Exactly. I love some brain science.

Nicole: Yeah. I wanna hold a little bit of space as we come towards the end of our que our talk. I do have a closing question and I can transition there, but I also like to hold space in case there is anything on your heart that maybe we didn't get to that you wanted to share with a listener.

Rae: You know, honestly, this conversation has felt so rich.

To me and so flowy that I feel like I've shared what's on my heart.

Nicole: Good. Good, good, good. Well then the closing question I ask everyone on the podcast is, what is one thing that you wish other people knew was more normal?

Rae: This is gonna be real obvious, but. Gender freedom, that we don't have to be in these boxes with these quote unquote rule books that we were assigned at birth.

That we are all unique creatures and we get to fully be that and fully express that. And it, it really. Does create magic in the world when people are walking around with that level of freedom and authenticity. Yes.

Nicole: Yes. And it just, as you were speaking, I was just getting this overwhelming sense of how.

Much you are needed in this world. Right? Thank. When we think about the DSM and we think about that narrative of, of pain and all of that sort of pathology lens, right? To create a lens of play and expansion and pleasure in all of this, we are so in need of you and that light in the world to give people hope.

Of a different narrative.

Rae: Thank you. That's what I wanna do with gender magic, so thanks for a phenomenal conversation.

Nicole: Of course, of course. Is there anywhere you'd wanna plug for people who are listening and connecting with you and wanna follow you?

Rae: Sure. So Instagram is a big hub. You can find me at the Ray McDaniel.

That's Ray r a e. There are links to purchase the book there. I also invite you to sign up for my mailing list. Uh, there's, there's links for that. You can find the book anywhere books are sold, but also on gender magic.com. Yeah.

Nicole: Great. It was so lovely to have you.

Rae: Thank you so much for having me.

Nicole: Of course.

If you enjoy today's episode, then leave us a five star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And head on over to Modern Anarchy podcast.com to get resources and learn more about all the things we talked about on today's episode. I wanna thank you for tuning in and I will see you all next week.

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