Friday, August 25, 2017

31

For much of this past year, I've reflected a lot on my life. I think stories are important; particularly the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And, when I think of the story of my adult life, I keep going back to one specific period where I faced a turning point. At the time, it was a challenge that resulted in some really significant changes, probably the biggest I've ever made. But it was also an opportunity that I think I missed. And, in many ways, I feel like I'm being given that opportunity again now. And this time, I want to get it right.

***

In 2009-2010, I was working on my Masters. I was 23 and, until that year, things had been pretty stable. I had only ever really been a student, and I had done pretty well at most of the things I tried. I'd made almost straight A's, been pretty active throughout college (writing for the paper, working on a speaker's committee, doing some side jobs), and I had a really kind girlfriend. I had, of course, had a lot of mental health issues, especially in the teen years prior. Yet for a few years, things were manageable. And it was kind of nice.

But, of course, I got older and approached graduation. And it came time to leave the safe embrace of school, my comfort zone, where I'd always pretty securely been near the top. And I knew. I knew things were going to change. And I knew it was going to suck. And I felt like I had no power to stop it.

In retrospect, it wasn't really a surprise. I had wanted to be a teacher, certainly. But my people skills were pretty limited. I think I liked the “idea” of teaching more than the reality, and even then I mostly chose it because I (inexplicably) hoped it was something I couldn't fail too badly at. Not great reasons. But then, I wasn't really in a great place. I knew I had pretty bad social anxiety and was bad at speaking in front of people. I knew I had a rocky history with depression. I knew a lot of things. But at the time, I didn't feel like I had a choice. I was terrified to start teaching, but I was equally terrified of most of the world. Everything in my life seemed like an invitation towards failure. I had found some peace inside a pretty loving relationship, but I was (unknowingly) codependent and pretty suicidal on my own. Most days of my life, I found it almost impossible to get out of bed unless I absolutely had to. I felt isolated, self-hating. And it was all pretty much just normal. I didn't really have “depressive episodes;” I had a depressive life. Up til that point, I'd managed to somehow hold it together. But it was tenuous. Just waiting for something to change.

And then it did. I graduated undergrad. I started my master's program. I began to teach. And then I fell apart. I was terrified. Terrified to teach, terrified because I felt I had no other choice. I started panicking, I started being almost catatonic. It got so bad my girlfriend broke up with me. And when she left, I kind of just... shattered. Work was hell. My personal life was hell. I felt like the entire world was falling apart. It's probably the worst I've ever felt in my life, and I hope I never, ever have to feel that way again.

So I made some changes. The lesson I learned from that year was this: up til that point, I'd done what I was 'supposed to do.' Not necessarily what I wanted to do. But what it felt like I was 'supposed' to do.' So I changed that. I quit teaching. I decided to transition genders. And I decided to apply to Counseling grad programs (I'd always really wanted to be a therapist, I just felt I was too fucked up to be able to help anyone).

And then I hoped for the best.

The thing is, it wasn't really a bad call. People talk all the time about different things that can change your life. Doing things because you want to instead of because you're “supposed” to is a pretty big step away from depression. Counseling, at first, felt like a great fit. I was very familiar with and comfortable with pain; working in that field seemed natural to me. So too, transition was a huge moment of self-actualization, both because I felt more congruent with my self but also because it required me to take a lot of risks of disappointing people and to see that I could actually survive it. I made some big, well-intentioned changes.

Good decisions, with the right idea. Just limited ones.

The thing of it is, I did made some progress and change. But ultimately, I kicked the can down the road. I covered up the core. Because what I *didn't* do was this:

I didn't explore my depression. I didn't try to understand it, what made it work, what activated it, figure out what I could do about it.
I didn't explore my social anxiety. Or my intense neediness in and for relationships.
I didn't try to understand how my past affected my present.
I didn't try to connect with others experiencing similar things.
I didn't learn how so much of what I was experiencing was about feelings, large hidden disproportionate feelings that were laying havoc upon my internal and external life.
And, most importantly, I didn't take time off to figure things out. Almost immediately, I started researching and applying to graduate schools (without having a clue what I was doing). I had crashed. But instead of looking at the crash and why, I kept running. And running. And running. Hoping that this time, things would be different. That this time, somehow, someway, they might actually work out.

In short, they did not.

In some ways, that's not fair. Grad school forced me to grow and mature in many ways. I made some wonderful friends, had some fantastic mentors, grew into myself much more. I am thankful to have had as positive an experience as I did, all told.

But all that stuff I listed above? Yeah. That didn't go away.

Instead, I buried it. In fantasy, in hope. I buried it and told myself that if I just “got through,” if I just survived and reached some promise land things Would.Get.Better. And, well, they didn't.

Enter 30.

I moved across the country. I was finally done with grad school. I had a pretty good (albeit temporary) job. And I was miserable.

Every week felt like one more crushing realization after another. I was alone. I was scared. Hopeless. I got down to 110lbs in December. I could barely function at work. I felt like I was dying and out of control, every day. And that I had no way to stop it.

It sucked. So bad.

I felt exactly like I had before grad school. I felt like I was 23 again. Miserable, alone, with no prospect for the future. I felt like I hadn't made any progress at all.

It was very bad.

But, somehow, amidst my very familiar flailing and pain, I started doing somethings I hadn't done before, too. I started focusing on myself. I started talking about my actual problems in therapy. I started confronting my hopeless and continuing to try anyway. I started trying to really, truly change.

Continuing from the previous year, I kept going to Al-Anon meetings. I found another great group in Tacoma, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and I went there too. I read their 'Big Red Book.' I read 'The Body Keeps the Score.' I read 'Trauma and Recovery.' I started slowly putting together the pieces of my story. Once, a giant ball of horror. Increasingly, an understandable narrative. Given who I was, where I was, who I was with, could it have turned out any other way? It made sense. Awful sense. Unfair, painful, tragic sense. But it made sense.

And I started owning my part. So you've been single for 7 years? Well, there are some easy answers (you're trans, you're ugly, you're horrible). And there are some hard ones. You're tortured, and that often scares people. You have a lot of pain and a lot of hate, and no matter how much you try to hide or disown it, it's written on every ounce of you. You give up easily. You are not genuine with your feelings, making emotional connection difficult. Your strategy of clamping down and toughing through your emotions works for survival but is terrible for the ambiguous, playful, relaxed nature of a successful date.

You are responsible for your life. You only get 1 of them. You won't live forever. And you lose more of it every single day.

These things are terrifying. But, as I sat with them and started to work through them ("having tea with my demons" as a friend called it), I found something else: they were liberating too.

For the first time, I had to ask myself some very hard questions:

What's important to you?
What kind of life do you want to lead?
What kind of person do you want to be?
How are you doing this or not doing this?
What can you do to change it?

At first, as I've asked myself these questions, I've hated the answers. Hated my dishonesty, hated my withdrawal, hated my control (or lack thereof).

But, increasingly, as I've started to understand where it comes from, I've started coming up with different answers. I've started saying, 'Hey, I want to be a genuinely honest, kind person. I don't want to live my life afraid. I don't want old sadness to hold me back. I want to be open. I want to be connected. I want to look people in the eye. I don't care if I'm not special. I just want to feel good and free.'

I wish I'd done this when I was 23. When I really truly crashed the first time and had a chance to take stock and be more intentional about everything. I wish I'd let my life unfold, reprioritized, and really tried to make some changes not just to the life I lived me but to the ways I was living it. But I am fortunate enough to still be alive. Fortunate enough to have found some programs, found some philosophies, found some healing that is helping me move in the right direction. Fortunate enough to think there's still time. That change really can happen. If I can let it.

So that's 31. 30 was crash. 30 was autopsy. Painful, needed breaking. Burning down the house. 31 is building a better foundation. It's envisioning a better life, and devoting myself to living it. I don't expect it to be fast or easy. If anything, it'll be a lifelong struggle. I have doubts. I see so many people with families and careers, and it deeply saddens me that I don't really have either. I so often envy those people their joy, their life.

But as one of the wise people in my Al-Anon program says, “Happiness is an inside job.” You can have the world and hate life. But you can also have very little, and feel so grateful for every bit. So, here's to 31 and finally trying to figure out how to live a life worth living.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

On Love, On Change, On Hope

In seventh grade, I had my first crush.

Her name was Christine Strout and she was the smartest girl I knew.

She had orange hair, and I remember sitting behind her in Math class, thinking about how pretty she was. Back then (meaning, before high school), it was pretty well-established that I was the smartest person around. It wasn’t something I bragged about or even mentioned (even then, I think I considered intelligence more of a “genetic lottery” than anything else, and I didn’t see much to be proud of for natural luck). But it was there. And then, there was her.

I don’t remember much about her (or that time in general). I do remember the thrill I’d get when she would answer questions in class and I would be genuinely surprised by what she said. I remember dreaming. And, I am pretty sure, I remember never talking to her. At some point later that year, she moved away. And that was that.

***

This has not been an uncommon pattern.

For as long as I can remember, love has been practically the only thing I’ve cared about. I have gone through the motions of school, careers, extra-curriculars, this that and the other, but it’s all mostly been that: going through the motions. I’ve wanted love. Love, love, love.

And so, given that, it might be surprising that I’ve had so little of it. I didn’t have my first kiss until 18. Had one long-term relationship from 20-23. Had a few flings and one “star-crossed lovers” episode. And that’s about it.

Since then, for about six years, there’s been almost nothing. For so long, I’ve tried to figure out what to make of it. Am I unattractive? Is it because I’m trans? Am I fundamentally damaged? Too intense? Too _______? It’s almost infuriating, because unlike work and school, it’s largely outside of your control. You can make yourself work harder, you can study more, you can strategize. But with other people, none of this works. You can’t make someone like you. You can’t force love. It’s perhaps the strongest feeling of powerlessness I know. And, for most of my life, it’s kind of ruined me.

***

Then, sometime last year, I turned 30. Existential crises aren’t exactly new to me; sometimes I think my life has pretty much just been one long, existential crisis. But even still, leaving Knoxville and turning 30 was like a punch in the face.

In many ways, it was a wakeup call. I looked around at my life. And what I saw was horrific. I’d just completed a PhD in a field I didn’t really like, doing work that often felt tortuous. I’d been single forever. And although I’d travelled thousands of miles, I still felt haunted by everything I left behind.

What’s more, I saw I was significantly alone in this. At Utah, I was part of a four person cohort [seven, if you add the social work interns]. And, each day for the year, I got glimpses into their lives. They had doubts, certainly. Some days were worse than others. But what I mostly saw were hard-working people who had supportive functional relationships, passions outside of work, and generally decent self-esteem. They were not superheroes. But they were resilient and their lives were rich.

Many of them have gotten or are getting married. They’re thinking about kids, thinking about building upon careers they’re interested in and have worked hard to build, and are excited about all the different places they might go and live. And, again, they weren’t perfect or always cheerful or anything. They had issues and concerns like anyone. But the degree of the disparity still kind of shocked me. I was and had been hopeless, loveless, aimless for most of 15 years at that point. I don’t think I’d really realized until then just how much of a toll my depression had taken. I knew I was depressed; had been depressed (probably since the days of Christine Strout). But I was beginning to see what depression was. And what it could look like if I wasn’t.

***

So, I suffered a lot that year. A whole lot. Every day felt like a Hell I couldn’t escape. But eventually, I suffered so much I decided I wanted to stop suffering. So, I started trying to make some changes. And I started trying to learn.

When you’ve been in a rut for a long time, it’s easy to feel defective. Part of depression, at its core, I think, is a learned helplessness that says “you have no power to change.” And feeling that way, that nothing you can do can help, you really do start to believe that it must just be you. You must be wrong. Inescapably wrong.

But I had suffered so much, was so sick and tired of being so unhappy all the time, that I started learning anyway. I started seeking help. And one place I sought, in particular, was Al-Anon.

Al-Anon probably deserves its own separate post. But I will say this: I grew up in a dysfunctional family. A family divided, a family full of denial, resentment, animosity barely hidden (or, every so often, raging into full view). I did not see people talk to each other, work through problems, be genuinely affectionate. Instead, I saw people say things to “the people they cared about the most” that you would never say to your worst enemy. I saw manipulation, exploitation. I saw people go insane, caustically, violently insane. And I saw people pretend that it never happened or, even better, tell themselves it would never happen again (with no clear plan for that other than wishful thinking and good ole-fashioned “we’ll just try harder).

Growing up, I learned to focus on others. Managing my parents was my full-time job, so focusing upon their thoughts and feelings was core to my survival (and the only control I felt I had in a fundamentally unstable and unsafe environment). But in Al-Anon, I learned about focusing upon my self. I learned that we are probably the most significant force in the ways our lives go. I learned, as our facilitator would say each week, that “so much depends upon our attitudes.” And I learned that even if you don’t drink alcohol or do drugs, you can still have addictions. Even if it’s not a material substance, you can still be enamored with the promise of something outside yourself that will, ultimately, set you free. And that that hope, however understandable, can be the most insidious thing of all.

***

So what does this have to do with love?

Well, remember when I said all I wanted was love? That’s a pretty big sign right there.

Love, for me, has always been that escape. If I can think of someone else, I don’t have to think about myself. I don’t have to worry about myself; make decisions for myself; feel my pain, tolerate my fear, own my past. Love can let us disappear. And, for me at least, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

It is a fantasy. The kind of fantasy a person comes up with when they feel they have no alternatives. A rescue fantasy, an escape fantasy. When you feel so weak, so powerless that it feels as if only your only hope is someone else coming to save the day, of course that’s what you’ll want. You’ll wish for them. You’ll wait for them. Someday, your princess will come, in her suit of armor with a sword of fire, and she will stop the horrors of the world and you can spend your life focused upon her.

And, again, this fantasy comes from an understandable place. I’m hardly alone in holding it.

But, at the end of the day, it is a fantasy.

And, as I have unpacked it, I’ve started learning some things.

For one, I’ve learned that there are lots of reason for love. There are some people who are afraid to live alone. There are some people who want to save or be saved. There are some people who feel perfectly content apart from all of that noise and fury.

And then there are some people who just like hanging out with somebody else. Some people who don’t seek tons of validation, who don’t need a partner, but who enjoy their partner’s company, who find that while their partner is not their whole life, their love enriches it all the same the same.

In fact, I asked an internet group I’m in about this. And one person said that if her partner died, she would be sad to lose that person. She believed she could be happy in and out of a relationship. But she loved her partner, and would just be sad about losing him. Others described partners as one sphere of many, as a source of joy independent of the sorrows and excitements of other aspects of their live. Some said they’d always want a partner. Some said they’d mostly felt pretty ok without them.

And, to me, this was a revelation. I never knew how someone could be happy outside of a relationship. I never knew how someone could view a relationship, could view love as a complement to life’s joys but not a prerequisite. It felt so secure, so healthy. And it made me want to love differently.

So, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to love honestly. I’m trying to work on my insecurities, to feel comfortable with myself whether or not I have a relationship. I’m still not very good at it (it’s been a particularly deep well to climb out of). But sometimes, I can see a vision. A vision of me with my own feelings, my own identity, walking next to someone I love, enjoying sharing this part of the journey with them not because they complete me, not fearing rejection or abandonment, not feeling like I need to do something or be someway to keep them liking me. But instead, I see me feeling comfortable with myself and, as a result, feeling all the more able to trust and enjoy someone else.

I don’t know if I’ll get there. I still often feel ugly/unattractive, defective, evil, creepy. I think there’s a pretty decent chance I’ll never find love again.

But all the same, it’s a nice goal, a nice vision. And I just have to hope that, if I keep putting in the work, I might someday realize it.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

On Weirdness, Pride, And Where-ever We Go From Here

Since it’s Pride month, I figured this would be a good time to write about being queer/trans. But I don’t just want to write a narrative of “my story.” I want to write about what it’s like, before, during, and long after. How it changed a lot, and how it really didn’t change much at all. And how I’m still trying to figure out where to go from here.
***
From the time I was very small, I felt pretty different. I didn’t fit in with most other kids. I was weird.
But I was weird without knowing it. I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that I was different from anyone; I just did my thing and then the world found out and decided that “my thing” wasn’t ok because <reasons>.
Around six, I remember playing lions with a friend (because when you’re six, “lions” is a game where you just are a lion and act like a lion and that’s pretty much it. It was good stuff.) And I really wanted to be a girl lion, so I was. And he was a boy lion. And I think I cuddled with him. It was really cute! And then, for some reason, the friend disappeared.
Sometime not too far from that, I kissed somebody at lunch (or they kissed me; who knows?). I always thought it was a boy, but someone else (years later) claimed it was her. What I remember really well, though, was that another student saw us and told the lunch monitor who had us sit at the “bad kids” table up front. And then we got a private talking to after from our teacher about how that’s not appropriate behavior for school.
And that’s the way most of my growing up was. I didn’t really understand what or why we were supposed to do things. Like, why do I have to line up with the boys? Why do I have to do boy things at school performance dances? Why do boys have to play with boys and girls play with girls? I very much didn’t want it. But it was just what was supposed to happen, so eventually I did it too.
Now, in some ways, this is the classic transgender narrative. But it seems like a childhood narrative too. You do what you want. People tell you it’s wrong. You’re like “huh?” And eventually you conform.
And it wasn’t just gender stuff. I wasn’t Christian and everybody else was. They sang all these songs and had all these gruesome pictures about some dude dying for everybody and talked about this place where people who were different [like me!] suffered for eternity and then they treated me like I was weird when I was just like “huh?” And, of course, my dad did a lot of really fucked up things too, but, like, when you’re a kid, you think it’s probably all ok and that you just don’t understand cause they’re the adult.  And my whole family acted nice and happy and then, periodically, it would turn out we all hated each other and it was really scary and awful? It was weird, man. It was all really weird. And as a kid, you don’t know. Am I the weird one? Are they? Their rules don’t seem to make a lot of sense, but, I mean, everybody else seems ok with them soooo?
So, I mean, yeah, the queer stuff was weird. Gender is weird. Religion is weird. Families (good help us) are so weird. It’s all weird. And while at first I felt weird, eventually that started to change. And instead of weird, I was wrong. I was very, dangerously wrong.
***
So, fast forward a bunch of years. I do some therapy. I fall in love. We break up. I’m real unhappy (after the break-up, sure, but before it too, just in different ways). So I feel really lost and still feel really broken. And I think about how uncomfortable I’ve felt as a boy, for most of my life. And I feel like I need to do something. So I decide to transition. And I hope, on some level, that I will be able to remove the wrongness inside me. I make some goals. I make a timeline. It’s all very orderly, very obtainable. I get through it. I get through it. I get through it. I make it to the other side.
And then….
Well. It’s like going through the looking glass, seeing a different version of yourself, but still being yourself. And it’s still weird. In many ways, it feels like a better fit. Like, there are many parts of myself that I can access and put out into the world much easier. I’m more myself. But it’s still. weird. too.
In some ways, it’s about being a woman. Things I used to do, pre-transition, are now awful. Like, I used to have a lot of “integrity” and was very “intellectually assertive.” And post-transition I was “combative” and “threatening” and I had to make myself small or else [for people who don’t have any feelings, men have lots of feelings]. It’s weird, too, because while men get valued for many things, much of mainstream American culture just values women as caretakers or sex objects. My appearance, all of a sudden, was much more contentious. And it can make you feel really awful.
And it’s weird being a trans woman! With cis women, it’s weird because I can try to fit in but I often still feel different. Like, I’ll be in a group of women, and they’ll start talking about their periods. Or dating men. Or (and men do this too) about essential differences of men and women that are obvious and I’m supposed to agree with. And it’s so weird! It’s like, part of me doesn’t really mind, but another part of me is like “I have no idea what is happening here, I’m just gonna go along with this and listen.” So I say “Yeah, definitely, peanut butter, that time of the month, yeeaaaaa.” Or “Oh man, dating men, so hard! They’re all like… menly and then you’re all like ‘I’m a woman’ and they’re all like waaaattt?” Or “yeah, women really are so <xdageaeabeaghea> but men are just like <ahahawlwahdsdazl> haahahahaaa.”
And then there’s dating, which is another post entirely, where I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do and obviously something is going wrong even as I have little to no idea what it is.
So ,even through the looking glass, it still feels weird! It’s cis women, sure. But it’s, really, still everyone. I am more myself. But that self still feels profoundly out of place.
***
So, where am I going with all this.
The thing is, I want to go to Pride and feel at home. I want to feel part of something. I want to feel connected. I want, like so many other people seem to have, to “come out” and to “be myself” and to have things be ok.
But I go there, and I still feel weird.
And I know things aren’t ok. I know shame doesn’t just leave after “coming out.” It doesn’t evaporate when you transition. I know that what I’m grappling with, what perhaps most of us are grappling with, is bigger than one identity, bigger than one experience, bigger than us.
Being trans is complicated and hard.
But, really, so is being a person.
So, I don’t know. I would love to write a trans narrative with a happy ending. But instead, you get a person narrative. You get someone complex and lost and kinda broken who really doesn’t understand much of anything. Who gets the distinct sense that something is wrong but who really has no idea what it is.
So I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need a Gay Pride Parade. Maybe I need a Human Pride Parade.
Or, at the very least, a Human Acceptance Parade.
Now that would be weird.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunlight

One of my favorite parts of going to Seattle is the bus ride. Living in Tacoma, I’m close enough to Seattle to get there pretty fast but far enough to make it still be a trip. And, when I take the bus, we ride along an industrial corridor filled with street art. Some of it’s bizarre, some of it’s realistic; there’s a young woman lying on the ground in a daze with dark water pooling out that I resonate with particularly strongly. But my favorite is one of the last paintings; where, written in bold white letters on a solid black background, it reads
THEN OUT CAME THE SUN
I remember being awestruck the first time I saw it. It’s cheeky, certainly; Seattle is known for its constant drizzle and people talk all the time about wishing for it to stop. But, moreso than that, it’s triumphant. Resilient. It speaks to months and months of darkness and then, in a moment, the light breaks through and everyone lives anew.
I haven’t always had a good relationship with sunlight. In my younger years, I could barely tolerate it; practically the only thing that soothed me was rain, because it was the only time the outside looked the way I felt inside. And even now, sunlight usually makes me feel guilty, as if I should be enjoying the world more, making the most of my time like everyone else instead of spending it as I always do (in the dark, in the shade, in the shadow).
But, in recent years, that’s started to shift. I still like the rain. Seattle’s “The Emerald City” because the rain brings so much verdant growth, like tears into arid skin. But there are some days when the sun feels less oppressive and more like life. Some days, even if just for a few moments, I want to be alive just to feel the warmth of it beating through me. And even though it’s still dark inside, has been dark, will be dark for so so long, perhaps someday the sun will come out again and the rain, having nurtured the earth, can give way to the bright and beaming.

The City of Destiny

Escape is a tricky thing. I think, for much of my life, I’ve been trying to escape. In some of my 12 Step groups, it’s called the “geographic cure:” the hope that the mythical “Some Place Else” will offer something, anything that will address the pain inside.

It’s not an unreasonable expectation. So many of our stories talk of finding where you fit, are quests to find whatever it is we’re lacking. And so, for many years, leaving Tennessee was that for me.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), I’ve found that it doesn’t. Different places offer different things. Salt Lake City was, undoubtedly, different than what I’d grown up with. But, as the saying goes, where-ever you go, there you are. It doesn’t change you. And that, at the end of the day, is the blessing and the curse of being.

That’s been my experience with Tacoma: a yearning for something different, a finding of something different, and, ultimately, a learning that though the difference helps you grow, you are still what has to change the most.

***

Tacoma’s nickname is “The City of Destiny” [dubbed so because it was the Western end point of the Northern Pacific Railroad]. And I think the name fits well. Most of the West Coast, to me, still feels like a “destination.” There are so many transplants, and even those who have lived here since birth are still new by Eastern standards. It’s odd to think, but Washington didn’t become a state until 25 years after the Civil War had ended. My families were in Tennessee and North Carolina at least back to the 18th century; few but the First Nations can say that here.

And, just so, similar to Utah there’s a peculiar kind of American spirit here. It is one of optimism, of possibility. The Oregon Trail literally led to Oregon, and people travelled it for the same reasons they came to America in the first place: possibility, opportunity, hope for something different. That pioneer spirit leads to a rugged independence that, I feel, really is different from the East. There is less community, less shared experience (or, if there is, it’s a kind of intellectualized, conceptualized community, an identity moreso than a group of people doing things together). But there is more toughness, tough in the way you’d have to be to make it here, in a way that sometimes scares me in its ferocity for life.

There is also sadness. It is not unlike Utah, “happiest of states,” with its pride and its deep undercurrent of pain. Whereas in Utah there were antidepressants and prescription pills, here it’s sunlamps and heroin. Kurt Cobain, Patron Saint of Seattle, is as famous for his death as his life, and his fellow grunge compatriots share similar stories. It hurts, in a way I’m familiar with. But it’s pain all the same.

So it is that daily I find myself wanting to love it here, for it has all the trappings of a place I’d live. I resonate with the ways this place feels. I love the innovation and the art; while the South is almost stagnant in its tradition, there is nothing here that doesn’t change.  I love the grunge, the low-key aesthetic, the earthiness and the ingenuity. It is new, it is wild, it is free.

Yet despite its advantages, it’s imperfect too. Oddly, (shockingly, if you’d ask a younger me) I’ll often find myself actually missing Tennessee. I miss its warmth, its spirit and soul. Whereas the South is a place of the heart, of passion and feeling, the Pacific Northwest is a place of the head. People here aspire to be right, cool, deep. And although my head has always been strong, it’s not what I value most. Instead of thriving here, instead I feel I falter. I feel big, I feel loud. I feel almost dorkish in the ways my love is large. Instead of feeling like the PNW is the Place For Me, I increasingly feel pride in my Tennessee heritage: I like passion, I like caring. I want to love the world in a way that these stiff Scandinavians find terrifying.

And, in some ways, that’s disappointing. I don’t want to return to Tennessee. But I also haven’t found what I’ve been seeking. It is different here, undoubtedly, and that difference has helped me learn, helped me grow. But it’s not all I’ve wanted. I still want different, I still want more. I am still as dissatisfied now as I was seven, ten, twenty years ago. And I’m only now coming to find what real change might look like.

***

When I was a kid, I loved The Wizard of Oz [we can put this in the same category as “wearing my mother’s nightgowns” and “joyfully sleeping in my sister’s heart-carved bed” for “And You Were How Surprised She Was Queer?”]. As a four year-old, I don’t know if I got the themes. I probably just liked the characters and the fantasy. But at its core, The Wizard of Oz is a story of seeking, of play, of change. And it’s a quest, a search for the fabled Wise and Powerful Man who can finally give you what you need to feel whole.

But, of course, the quest’s a scam. Dorothy and her entourage get to the Emerald City, meet The Wizard, and find he’s a charlatan. A Man Behind A Curtain. The promise of magic, the promise of salvation is ruined. And their hearts break anew.

There is disappointment, there is grief. There will be no strong and powerful outside force which will heal and save our alter-egos. But as this hope fades, it gives way to something quieter, stronger, deeper. Dorothy’s friends find that the heart, strength, and smarts they’d wanted had been theirs all along. And Dorothy, of course, could go home anytime she wished. She need only ask.

Seattle, that other Emerald City, is much the same. I have come seeking acceptance, comradery, wholeness. But what I have found is that the city can’t really give me that. My background may be different, but my core is still the same. There is no Oz at the end of my journey [even if she is smart, cute, and as filled with life and love as I could want]. No, home is inside. Whole is inside. There are spaces that can help me heal. But whether it’s in the lush bloom of the Smokies or under the watchful gaze of Mt. Rainier, I’m still the broken one. I’m still the healing one. The growing one, the living one, the dead and the reborn.


I think I’ve lived enough places now to start to see that, ultimately, I have to learn to live in me. I’m not really sure what that looks like. But, at least for now, my search is no more about finding “The Right Place” (or person or job or or or). It’s about being ok with where I’m at, with who I’m with, with who I am. So that, ultimately, where-ever I go, I’ll be right where I need to be.