Monday, December 19, 2011

The Last Girl

Without a doubt, my favorite genre is the post-apocalyptic. I include dystopia in that, because dystopia encompasses the same kind of widespread destruction of humanity in a spiritual form, even if the people will likely survive into the future (and may move to a non-dystopic phase within their ontology).

In the abstract, it's romantic. Youth, desperation, terror, and unquenchable need all lend themselves to the "fucking like they do in art films" mentality (and support the "hot/crazy" positive correlation). The apocalypse lends itself to those emotions directly.

In the immediate, it's, of course, not romantic at all. I've had conversations and long periods of time with someone I desperately loved when I had reasonable expectations of her not surviving or not making it to safety and those months (crystallized in a few particularly intense weeks) are some I never, ever want to relive.

But what that experience and genre do convey is an immense sense of meaning. It's survival. Except, in most of the better media involving the apocalypse, it's rarely the survival of the individual but the survival of the community. It's love, it's family, it's human as a quintessential social animal and the struggle to not let that spirit of humanity die lends a sense of importance to every moment that is largely absent from modern, middle-class, Western lives like my own.

In the apocalypse, there is literally a struggle between Being and Nothingness. Whereas we are interchangeable and expendable (outside of our communities) in modern life, in the end of the world we *are* life.

Or that's how it often seems, anyway.

In truth, there is so much "quiet desperation" even in this world of comforts. One need only go to a "Take Back the Night" rally and listen, for an hour, to every single person who comes up and says "I've never told anyone this before, but..." and you find that spiritual survival is very much an ongoing and contemporary struggle. And, indeed, those struggles are what make me feel real and vital.

The lives of others, as it were. In an apocalypse, I would survive for someone I loved. But I wouldn't survive for myself. And the same's true now. I find meaning in the meaningful struggles of others. I'm only safe when I'm ensconced in another, only happy and joyous when another is embracing the all of me. It's all other other other.

It's the same way in apocalypse too. I write this same post again and again and again. Because it's the fundamental tension in my life. I have no (or minimal) worth in and of myself. And I'm not entirely sure if that's a bad thing. After all, I rather doubt most people would want to be the last person on earth. But one of the last of a select two? That would make all the difference. Why not in life as well?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Last Night in Three Acts

Last night, I went to three things.

First, I went to my ex's to play board games. She generally hosts a boardgame night with her boyfriend once or twice a week, and I try to go whenever they don't have too many people attending. It was really nice. I like her, I like her boyfriend, I like his friends, I like her friends. It's a warm, intimate place with lots of laughter and engagement.

But I left because there was a going away party for someone I didn't know too well, but that I admired anyway. She was a member of LAMBDA, the gay-student group on campus, and pretty much ran the thing single-handedly. So I went. There were a lot of folks from Americorps there, because her girlfriend is in Americorps and they were her friends. And many of them were really nice. But I tried to have conversations with them and, due to my complete lack of interest in small talk, I tried to talk to them about their plans and passions and education experiences because I figured folks in Americorps would be committed to these sorts of things. And it largely failed. They'd talk, but it was clear they felt uncomfortable, and for all their years of study the level of their discourse was... somewhat less than I would have liked. Some other lesbians from LAMBDA showed up who I knew, which was nice, but I still found it difficult to have longer conversations with them. I had to work hard at it, asking lots of questions and drawing them out. And that's generally a sign that they're not interested.

So I went home, and then I went out to a gay club for about an hour last night, at the behest of some friends who were already there (it's a five minute walk from my apartment). It was interesting to people watch, certainly. Seeing so many queer individuals in one place, I can really appreciate how much diversity Knoxville has, even if it's not immediately apparent day to day. But I kept my long coat on inside, my coat of armor, my "don't fucking mess with me" veneer. And although I enjoyed the company of some of my friends, it was hard again. I felt out of place. And when someone asked me "Are you a real girl or not?" it pretty much deflated me entirely.

I say all this not to give a travelogue, but to point out a few themes. One is that so much social interaction is hard. It's not that I can't do it, but it just feels like I'm trying to force something that's not there. And it ends up being quite alienating. Another is that I'm quite guarded. I defend myself by reverting to cognitive discussions, I come on too strongly in that domain because it's the one I feel strongest and safest in, and I just give off uncomfortable vibes. Someone at an autoparts store yesterday asked me why I was so sad, and I thought "I'm not really that sad right now, am I?" I am uncomfortable, unhappy, and afraid. And it shows.

And that's the kicker. I want so much to connect to people, but *I'm* the impediment to connection. And I don't really know how to change. There are times that are better, like with my ex in places where I know everyone and we're doing things I like. But is there a way to translate that comfort and security to places outside that comfort zone? The only way I can think of is to carry a partner inside me, a safety net to fall upon. That, or love and believe in myself. But how the hell does a person manage to do that? I really wish I knew.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"I'm not single, I'm alone."

I can't tell whether online dating is killing me or keeping me alive. It's a ray of tantalizing hope, certainly. But it's frustrating and fraught with perpetual disappointment. Conversations are abruptly dropped with no warning why. There's no real way to evaluate why some people respond and others don't. I fall in love with someone's profile and she lives in fucking Toronto. I've exhausted the supply of remotely compatible individuals within at least 200 miles. And there seems to be little chance of things getting better any time soon.

As someone [the only one] I've been messaging off and on on okcupid said,
 "you continue to be hilarious as your emotional investments in this website's prospects fall away like so much overstewed tallow from the bone. "
 The conventional wisdom is to learn to love yourself and love will eventually find you. I'm improving on that count. I am continually surprised at my confidence and assuredness, knowing what I want and taking active steps to try to make it happen. I still have something of a fundamental lack of self-worth, but I'll find the suicidal ideation creeping back in and part of me shouts at it that even though things aren't great, they're encouragingly positive. It's progress.

But as one of my friends said, quoting tumblr, queer dating is like applying for jobs: you either do it online or through referrals. One can hope you'll meet someone socially, but especially in Knoxville that just doesn't seem feasible any time soon.

And that's quite discouraging. I put myself "out there." I go to all kinds of events, talk to all kinds of people, look for what I want and don't get too beat down when I fail any one individual time. But I worry that it really is a matter of place. In Asheville, in Atlanta, in some big city elsewhere, in some *progressive* college town, maybe there'd be a thriving queer community. But here there just... isn't. And although many of us are making efforts to advance that cause, it's not like lesbian graduate students are just going to pop out of the woodwork.

So. I keep staring "3.5 years" in the face. And part of me feels like that's insane. Surely I'll find *someone* eventually. And even past that, I have a lot going for me in my life otherwise. If only what I have felt like it was enough.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fear and Loving in Nashvegas

Last Friday, I went to see a sex therapist in Nashville as part of the requirements for me to get letters for Sexual Reassignment Surgery. I'd seen her two weeks before and taken some assessments, so this session was primarily to go over the results and talk about some of the difficulties I might face both related to the surgery and for life in general.

I'll state, for the sake of clarity, that I was and am quite irked at having to go through this process. The cost, the patronizing way the process is handled, the blatant ciscentric measurements, etc. all made me come in rather angry and mistrusting. But my therapist at home suggested I just try to make the best of the opportunity and, politics be damned, see if I can get something real out of it.

Overall, I think I did. The sex therapist told me the results of my tests probably wouldn't be surprising, and they weren't: I had significant degrees of anxiety and depression, with a fair number of indicators that I might have depressive personality disorder. I am very guarded, prone to intellectualization as a defense mechanism, and sociopolitical minded. In other words, I am, you know, me.

There were a fair number of points that she made over the course of the three hour session, but the one that's perhaps most salient to me is this: I often allow my emotional needs to compromise my judgment. As she put it, I am able to well argue most of the decisions I make. Providing rationales is not difficult, and it serves as a particularly solid defense mechanism. However, such capacities also mean I can rationalize to the point where I convince myself of various courses of action which, while having degrees of logic behind them, are ultimately unhealthy regardless of their ethicality or rationality. That's not particularly unusual, of course. But it can be quite dangerous to a person with my particular self-destructive proclivities.

As should surprise no one, this manifests itself most poisonously in my relationship choices. The "relationship" I was "in" (and it is so complicated as to justifiably merit scare quotes) was started with someone I knew I couldn't trust who I found myself completely falling for anyway. My desperate need for someone who fit me as well as she did caused me to rationalize my way through various warning signs and pertinent obstacles to the point that I signed myself up for a year of violent uncertainty, terror, self-loathing, and ultimately heartbreak. The kind where you lie sobbing in bed wishing that pain alone could kill you because it hurts so fucking bad to lose so much of yourself. The kind that haunts you like the dead, that leaves you replaying everything over and over and over and wondering why why why?

And as much as I want to say I've learned, I'm still quite vulnerable to repeating it. I find myself lying in bed wondering if I will be single forever. What if I will never find someone who's compatible with me? What if everyone I meet who's compatible is partnered? What if I'm in the wrong place at the wrong age with the wrong circles and I am destined to be alone for the entirety of the foreseeable future? Oh god it's terrifying. I hate being alone. I hate it I hate it I hate it. I want someone to want me. I want to want someone. I want to be able to wake up sobbing in the middle of the night and have someone there. I want to have dreams of isolation and desolation and be able to have someone hold me when I wake fragmented. I want someone to call when I'm afraid, when I'm angry, when I'm bored, when I'm horny. Someone to touch and fuck and talk to and hold and play and and and and and. And I don't want to be alone. And what if my standards are too high? What if this is forever? What if if if if if if

Yeah. It's so seductive, this narrative. It's like my father taking things that have some basis in truth, cherry-picking the parts that fit his perceptions, and then using that truthful foundation to make the cherries appear just as valid. Why wouldn't a person so scared and alone and needy grasp onto whatever's tossed her way, given the very legitimate needs and the very real uncertainties described above?

Why wouldn't I? Because down that path lies so, so much pain. Grasping for what's immediately available lends itself to heartbreak and waking up at some point wondering where the hell my real life went. I tell myself that I'm playing the long game, laying the foundation for decades of actualization at the cost of immediate sacrifice. And when I have that foundation, I can find someone who does not complete me but complements me. Who adds vibrancy to my already meaningful life.

It's entirely feasible. It's healthy. It ought to be so very rewarding. But it doesn't make sleeping alone tonight any better.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2010

[This essay was originally written for the 2010 Transgender Day of Remembrance. I'm reposting it here because I think it still does a pretty good job of reflecting how I feel.]

There's a moment, right before I give myself my hormone shot, when I pause. Certainly, it's not the only time. Even after going full-time, I still have to convince myself before leaving home that I cannot hide forever. That I need to be myself regardless of the risk. But it's that point of impact, when the needle pierces my thigh and evokes that jolt of pain as I push the estrogen into my body, that I'm truly afraid of. Even though I know, from doing it so many times before, that the actual injection won't be that bad, I have to stop and stare and steel myself for that moment when it all becomes real. When I affirm, yet again, that I'm continuing this fool's errand of taking nature into my own hands. I pause. And I remind myself why I'm doing it, why I want real breasts and soft skin and blessed, resonant, so-right femininity. I remind myself how good “Juliet” feels. I remind myself that this is part of the price to feel true to myself. This is what it takes to feel female. And I plunge it in.

That's what I've written in my graduate school personal statements, anyway. And it's certainly true, in a sense. For me, and many others here I suspect, transitioning is not only hormone shots and building up the nerve to leave the house. No, the hardest part, for me, has been and continues to be persistent questions of identity, of logic vs. intuition, of body vs. mind, of theory vs. reality. Questions that, even now, I struggle with.

Of course, for other transgender people, there are different questions with different answers. Some transgender people feel they were always the right gender, it was just that their bodies were wrong. Some feel that they don't need to transition from one sex to another, that intermittent crossing is right for them. And some others eschew gender entirely, paving out their own identities outside labels or convention. While we share in common discomfort for our birth gender, our negotiations of that discomfort vary as much as we do individually.

This may sound like common sense to many. Of course individuals experience things in different ways. But in the one narrative allotted us, the coming-out story, we're allowed no such nuance. Almost invariably, or so the story goes, a person assigned male at birth spends years wrestling with himself, feeling like “a woman trapped in a man's body,” until he finally gets his penis chopped off and everything's all better. Because there are no pre-ops. There are no transsexual men. There are no closeted transsexuals. There are no post-ops but still struggling transsexual people. There are no “third genders.” There are no transgendered people of color. There are no people who never felt comfortable in their birth-assigned gender, but never felt like the other gender inside either. There are drag-queens, “she-male” prostitutes and porn actresses, and white, middle-aged women trapped in men's bodies. And even those groups, who I do not mean to slight at all, are not allowed to be people: siblings, parents, coworkers, friends, neighbors. They're jokes, freaks, or murder victims.

Of course, we, here, know that's not true. Or at least, we do now. But because of this invisibility, because of the reductive nature in which we are dealt, those who have not come out, those who have not found a trans-community, those who have not known what is possible, those whose feelings do not match the “narratives,” they do not know that their feelings are ok, that their desires are ok Those people and so many more can feel so alone. So very alone. I certainly did. And in a condition where self-hate is practically a prerequisite, that's a recipe for tragedy.
I tried to be sympathetic about the recent outcry over gay bullying and teen suicides. No one deserves to be made to feel bad about themselves and any efforts to mitigate that harm are good. But, yet again, the “T” on LGBTQIA was largely absent. Even though a recent survey estimated that over 40% of transsexual people have attempted suicide, even though that doesn't include the many who have succeeded, even though that doesn’t include the many closeted and unknown transsexuals who took that pain with them to the grave because their society gave them little other option, even despite all this we are told that “It Gets Better” –particularly for the mostly gay, white men who can afford it to.

For me, at least, it has. And thank God for it. After years of depression, of a suicide attempt and plans for many more, of hating myself and feeling that my body was not my own but purely a source of suffering I could never escape, I was able to come to terms with who I was and who I needed to be. The internet helped me see that the impossible was possible. Local transsexual people, some of whom are here tonight, helped me find the resources I needed and served as living examples I could aspire to. Allies, friends, and family supported me, some more than others, and accepted me as Juliet. And I am finding what it means to look at myself in the mirror and finally like what I see.

But I cannot fool myself. I've been lucky. Privileged, even. I am white. I am young. I am thin. I am able-bodied. I have liberal parents and mostly liberal friends. I have health insurance to cover many of my costs. I did not have to worry about losing a job or a relationship [although finding them may prove difficult]. I had access to free mental health counseling in college that allowed me to find a good therapist who was a supportive ally, who not only facilitated my self-discovery but supported me while I was transitioning. I have had transsexual individuals present and virtual who provided so many resources, so much hope. I have had all this and more. And even then, I'm still so often terrified. Even then, I have almost destroyed myself. Even then, I so often spiral into more despair. Even with all those advantages, it has been a difficult process with struggles left I can't even think to forsee. And I am one of the luckiest ones.

Indeed, today is not just about me. It’s not just about us. It’s about all transgender people, most of whom are not as fortunate as I have been. It’s especially the men and women we honor tonight, who have lost their lives due to hate, bigotry, intolerance. But also because even not-hateful mainstream media continues to make us invisible. Continues to see us only as inverted penises and elongated clitorises. Continues to not let us be seen as real, as human. But tonight, perhaps more than any night, we are not invisible. Tonight we remind our society that not only do we exist, but that our community suffers terrible losses, still, daily. Tonight, we are humans recognizing other humans who have had their humanity stripped from them.

We are visible. And it is a risk. It is a sacrifice. It is scary and intimidating and in the back of our minds we know that our names could just as easily show up on this list next year. But our visibility saves lives. Our insistence upon our humanity improves lives. Our refusal to be what others want us to be inspires others to do the same. It saved mine. The presence and help of others here now and that I’ll never meet have made my life so much better. And because I know how much it has meant to me, I hope I am strong enough to remain committed to doing the same. To being out. To embracing who I am. I certainly don’t blame anyone who isn’t; truly, I can only hope I can do it myself. Because I know I’m fortunate. Because I know I’m thankful. Because I know I’m needed.

I don’t experience a high when I give myself hormone shots; I don’t consider them magic liquid meant to “cure” me. And they hurt, a bit. It all hurts, a bit. Sometimes more than others, when I look in the mirror and only see Dylan’s hard and hairy face staring back. But I know that the impossible is possible. I see it before me today. And the shots, the fear, the risk, it’s worth it. Despite the difficulties, I have never felt better than I do now. I, of course, cannot speak for them, but I rather suspect the people we honor tonight would say the same thing. Thank you, everyone here who has personally helped me with this transition. Thank you, everyone who has sacrificed so much to make being ourselves possible. And thank you, everyone here tonight, for continuing to be seen, continuing to be real, and continuing to save lives [mine included]. Thank you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Same World

I have a friend, a best friend, who tells me the world is self-preservation. Everyone, taking taking taking, protecting themselves, leaving empy cum-stained sheets and tear-soaked pillows with as little remorse as they were taught to feign in some half-forgotten church service gloomily lurking in their past. She sees the child-fuckers, the nihilistic capitalists, the apathetic self-deluding masses and knows that trust is an invitation to be stabbed in the heart again and again and again.

She writes poetry and fiction, of empty households and barely-teenage girls having sex with too-older-men and there is no rage or trauma or hurt, just parasites that feed upon each other. And I read some of it and think “My God, this is so indelibly bleak.” And I tell her that its only flaw is that it is not realistic. This is not how people are. This is not how the world is. Her vision is well-earned, no doubt, but surely it is coated in a veneer entirely of her own making.

And then she tells me. Months later, for I am so fervent in my belief. She tells me, “Juliet, you are the only person who’s ever read my story and thought it was unrealistic. When I first read it to my class, everyone raved about how very real it was. It reflected life in a way that resonated with each of them. You’re the only one.”

We talked about it. And I am struck by the mutually exclusive validity of our subjectivities. For me, people are mostly good with good intentions. We are ignorant and we are weak and we are flawed, some of us moreso than others, but so many, so very many so often rise above. There is good, there is beauty in everyone. And when I get past the fog of myself, I am startled by how clearly that beauty shines through.

We talked, and my friend agreed that if I rewrote her story, others would find it realistic too. For I pursue and call out my truth as relentlessly as she does hers. We sing different songs, but they are both music all the same.

This is a world where my father was sexually molested as a child and on Saturday night his demons found me in a dream and shattered me to pieces so I sobbed in the dream half-awake and half-asleep and I found no way to put myself back together again.

This is a world where a person I have known for three months would not let me suffer in self-imposed silence and persistently offered herself until I came to her on Monday afternoon and she beat me with love in an unyielding barrage of unrelenting compassion until I melted down and she held me and I was regrown anew.

This is a world where a former coach at an illustrious public university created an organization that was supposed to help young boys and, over the course of decades, used it to rape at least a score of them while so many very powerful people knew and did nothing.

This is a world where some of those boys will turn into tormented men like my father, self-centered vacuums that consume and blame everything around them in a desperately futile attempt to close the gaping hurt another broken man, in a matter of moments, so thoroughly wounded them with.

And this is a world where some of those boys and some of our friends will find themselves almost by chance at a Take Back the Night rally (as I was two weeks ago) and they will say “I have never told anyone this before, but…” and the whole room, already saturated in tears, will burst apart anew in shared suffering and everyone will say and mean “We support you” and a stranger will hold that young man and he will be powerful and beautiful and will, in his life, help scores and more of other little boys and girls turning men and women who will all be so much better for him.

This is a world where my friend calls me crying in the middle of the night because the strange man outside her apartment is salt, is salt, is salt and I can only pray she's ok tonight, for the the weeks of sleepless nights ahead pale in comparison.

 And this is a world where that friend managed to call me, where she trusted me, trusted me enough to call me, bleak world be damned.

And somehow, it’s all the same world. Somehow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sitting with Uncertainty

Part of the difficulty in being single is the feeling that you can't quite count on it changing. There's a degree of serendipity involved in meeting a good match that, no matter how much your partnered friends may protest (and it's always, only your partnered friends), belies the reassuring reaffirmations of one's self-worth.

I focus a lot on that uncertainty. It's not unlike being sick, sometimes. You hope you'll get better. You think you probably will. But, right now, it hurts so much. You curse yourself for not fully appreciating how good you had it when you weren't sick. And you worry that it will keep going on, debilitating you for who knows how long with pain, suffering, and energy depletion.

Most people get better, depending on the illness, and professionals can often give us reasonable ideas of what to expect and how to treat it. So too, I can, intellectually, tell you that I've been in some form of relationship for three of the past four years. Although the relationships I had generally lacked maturity, substantive support, and very in frequent physical contact, I've also had a host of my own issues to sort through.

Aside from the major depression, I really can't compare myself to straight cis people. Hell, I shouldn't even compare myself to some of the younger trans people I know. Partially because we all move at different paces. But partially because if I had known anyone like me, like they do, I might have transitioned and been much happier much sooner too. I've been what I consider "real" and "alive" for about four months, and my relationships to this point largely reflect that.

However, just as I can tell myself these things logically, until I'm actually "better" they're just guesses. Educated guesses. But guesses.

Uncertainty pervades so many crevices of our lives. Does she *really* love me? Does what I'm doing *really* matter? Will I ever find a calling in my life that will fulfill me? I've heard before that men aren't as close to their children because they can never be 100% sure that the child is theirs, unlike the mother. I, of course, think that's ridiculous. But when my father tearfully confessed that he sincerely doubted whether I was his biological child (which, apparently, was the difference between him feeling a responsibility to care for me or not), even that uncertainty became rather pointed.

And, for many of us, it's the uncertainty that's the worst part of what ails us. For instance, if you told me I'd have a positive, fulfilling, sustainable relationship tomorrow, would I feel so bad about not having one now? What about in one month? Six months? A year? Two? Because while being single is certainly not optimal (for me), I can definitely say knowing it would end in a day, a month, six months, and probably a year would relieve a great deal of my concern.

Ideally, I think, this would be a good way to live: assume that it will come when it comes and not stress over it. Of course, that's much easier to do when you're straight and cis than gay and trans. And, arguably, worrying allows me to reassess and continually push myself towards a better outcome. But in many ways those are cop outs. If my suffering is not the pain of the present but the fear of forever, that's a fundamentally different question than I've been asking. And, arguably, it's the one I should be answering.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Fear and Need

I, fortunately, have never been traumatized enough to have triggers. I have an irrational skepticism and distrust of parents (particularly fathers), and I still quiver when people yell at/near me, but nothing akin to flashbacks and emotional turmoil.

But last night, I got a taste of it. Just a taste, mind you; I don't mean to equate it with PTSD or something serious. But it was the first time something has happened that has taken me back to an emotional state and given me irrepressible images of my past.

Essentially, I was sleeping last night and some drunk guy started pounding in quick bursts on one of my neighbor's doors. And I immediately woke up and my mind went straight to my father banging the same way on my door, as he had for decades, about to barrel his way in and rage at me for who knows what. It was like I was a little girl, terrified and helpless. Fortunately, someone else went out and asked the drunk guy, essentially, whatthefuck, and the guy made it clear his friend was sleeping and he was just trying to wake him up. [With ten minutes. Of pounding.]

But I was really scared. And I kept on seeing my father's hand on the door. I held my invisiblegirlfriend/pillow, and, per usual, pretended someone was there with me trying to comfort me. And the guy essentially left. And I, eventually, fell back asleep.


The event was noteworthy for the pseudo-flashback, certainly. But it had more relevance later when, listening to a brief meditation on fear (ok, you caught me, from Robert California on The Office), I thought back to what I had listed as my greatest fear the day before on a personality test [I took a battery of them as part of getting my goddamned letter for SRS]. Greatest fear: "Never fully living and loving." Greatest worry: "Spending my life alone." Etcetera. I was, of course, cognizant of this theme, to the point that I made a sardonic note at the bottom of the test saying "There are ~12 answers, out of 40, that somehow involve my current sense of loneliness and lack of romantic fulfillment, in case you've lost count." I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid of living a meaningless life. I'm not [unreasonably] afraid of being hated, reviled, or a failure. But I am acutely afraid of dying before I find and thrive in, for some substantial time, a secure, giving, reciprocal romantic relationship.

But thinking about fear, I thought: *why* am I so afraid? It's not as if there will come a point where I will be so crushed by insatiable need or circumstances so dire that I will simply spontaneously perish or implode. I have been alone, in one form or another, most of my life. I have survived, in one form or another, as well. No partner has been present to comfort me in my fear. No partner has looked upon me with desire I embrace and reciprocate. No partner has been on call to protect me, hold my sobbing body, reassure me of my worth and value. And I have survived.

Why, then, am I so afraid? Why am I so single-minded? Certainly, there are attachment models, which I may discuss soon. There are past traumas and current desires. But why is romantic love so paramount? And why, so often, does it seem to be so essential to have now?

I don't know. But I think it's important to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Too Significant Other

For as long as I can remember, I have needed others to complete me. I chanted "boredom" as a child, always wanting someone to play with, a refrain my mother would counter with "entertain yourself." I found solace, as a teen, in the nascent internet, fighting orcs and kobolds alongside strangers for hours, away from the gripping isolation of the real.

As a young adult, I obsessed of romance. I wrote manic poems to an unknown "you," as gripped in need as I was in futility. I dreamed and dreamed of arms and lips and knew I was too wretched for either. I was wrong, I was never enough, and I always wanted more.

And then I started to find them. For a month or two. For a few years. Intermittently and all ending the same way: progress progress progress and surprise abandonment. Leaving me with a broken heart and the vacuum roaring anew.

I'm still grappling with the paradoxical products of abandonment and abuse: unquenchable need and unyielding mistrust. But things are changing.

My therapist made a good point last week. I was describing my father (who else?) and she noted that it sounded as if he always wanted more and more from us, wanting us to need and want him so fiercely that he could find some relief from his self-hatred. He was a blackhole, always wanting more, never realizing that nothing could ever be enough.

And she said I'm not too different. And I agreed; the description did fit. Certainly, I recognized the damage my father's need caused, and I set forth to try to protect others from my self. But, fundamentally, my life was and is not enough without others in it. It's the primary source of my distress, and the lingering concern of my life. And, if left unchecked, it could change into something as monstrous as his.

So I'm left evaluating where I want to be. On the one hand, I don't want my happiness to be contingent upon another's valuation of myself. But I also don't think it's unhealthy to need people. People make me laugh, people make me feel loved, people make me think, people are soft and warm and wet and smooth in so many fun places. And the more I read of dystopia and existentialism, the more it seems that horror comes from loss and isolation and meaning comes from connection. A life alone, for most, is no life worth living.

The key, though, is remembering that we are not alone. And, what's more, when we feel we are alone way, we should remind ourselves that this is not forever.

To wit:
So, fun story! On Saturday, I flirted with my first girl!

I was at a seminar thing and she was at a booth for a local social justice thing. And she pretty much didn't say anything about her booth but complimented my hair and I was all "ohmygodsheissocute" and then I was all *tonguestopsworking* and "stupidwords" and she was all "what" and I was all "I'll-let-you-get-back-to-work-bye."

And as I walked away I was all "I HAVE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE OHMIGOD."

So I went back and asked her if she was coming to my presentation and she said "I'd love to but my partner's parents are in town." And I was all "say-words-to-mask-embarrassment."

I mainly note this because it's yet another example of how detached I was from "typical human experiences." I didn't believe two people could just look at each other and feel mutual attraction; it seemed like some kind of romantic media myth. But apparently, when you start to like yourself and believe others can like you too, it starts to happen! Who knew?

Being alive is beginning to rock, you guys.

That's me, posting somewhere else. And certainly, I was rejected. But something happened! Attraction came from simply seeing each other, and it gave me hope. If, in the course of simply being and doing myself, I come across people who see me and say "I would like to rock her bones," then there is little reason to believe the right time and place and person will not conspire in my favor eventually. Because, even as I cringe writing this, I am a pretty decent person: loving, kind, witty, creative, empathic, intellectual, strong-willed, etc. I am certainly no better or worse than anyone else, but I do believe that the right someone could be very glad to have me. And just as I'm looking for my someone, she probably is or will be too.

I think this is key. I still want and need someone, an aforementioned fact my pillows know intimately. But I am not so insecure, not so desperate as to believe that it cannot happen, should not happen, or is too unlikely to happen. I may have to wait for quite some time. And it will hurt and be lonely and will not be what I want.

But unlike the entirety of my life before, I am beginning to think I am worthwhile outside of romance. I hunger for more, always more, but I use that to fuel my growth, not to consume others. And, ultimately, if the next relationship should falter, although it shall hurt, I hope I will remain confident in my ability, if I so choose, to find another. And another. And another.

Being alive doesn't really rock yet. But it's beginning to. And, suffice it to say, that is a life-altering, ever-so-significant change from all the others I have known.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"What I Believe of Therapy"

I've been to a lot of therapists. But, with most of them, I've not received much “therapy.” More often than not, I gain some things, feel less understood, and end up more rejected than I did when I started. But one, particularly, was different. Certainly, I mistrusted her initially too. I thought she hated me, was hyperconscious of her affect at all times, was terrified of hurting her or horrifying her with how I felt,and found her as frustrating as most everyone else in my life. But she stayed. And so did I. And, eventually, change happened. It was not ideal. But I grew. I explored. And I ended up transitioning genders, changing careers, surviving the end of a romantic relationship and starting a new one. And most importantly, I trusted. When the time came, losing her was hard. But I felt more positive about it than I've felt about losing anyone else before. That, to me, is realistic therapy: Growth, change, trust, and termination that is affirmative not rejecting.

But the APA Code doesn't settle for realistic. It has those five wonderful Principles that compel every one of us to aspire for an ever elusive “better way.” And, being an idealist, I conceive of therapy in similarly aspirational terms.

In short, ideal therapy is a lot like ideal sex. It is a conscious risk, a giving of a bare and exposed self into the care of another who, if they so chose, could do so much harm or so much good. It is an act of worship, a spiritual experience that tells both parties that there is more to this existence than one's isolated, limited self. It is a connection, a celebration of humanity. It is Cat Power, it is Margaret Atwood, it is T. S. Eliot. It is real in an existence that forces us into self-imposed masks and externally-imposed definitions. I want to leave both experiences affirmed, I want to leave connected, I want to leave secure in the knowledge that I am a person of worth who will find that warm embrace again and again and again.

Ideally, anyway. As mentioned, this is an aspiration not a destination. But the more invested I become in my quest to learn how to love everyone I meet (including that most elusive of prey, myself), the more I veer towards soaring humanism, the more I see existence veiled in existential threat, the more apt my aspirations become. As a therapist, I feel like I am participating in something holy, but instead of prostrating myself before the divine, I am living and loving and suffering in congruence with humanity personified in the individual before me.

Certainly, psychotherapy is not reciprocal. But I would not consider it my “calling” if I did not feel that I get just as much from it as my client does. Certainly, psychotherapy is not desire of the other. But there are different desires which are uncovered and explored. Certainly, psychotherapy's medium is not the physical. But what my client entrusts in my care is so precious, so vulnerable, so fragile that I cannot help but consider it a gift. A gift that I do not take lightly.

Undoubtedly, I am somewhat grandiloquent in my rhetoric and my metaphor sent warning sirens flaring in the mind of each prospective supervisor who reads this piece. But when you ask me what I believe of therapy, this is the visceral response that comes to mind. I am not in this for money. I am not in this because I like to “help people.” I am not in this because I was clueless and had to “choose something.” I am a psychotherapist because I know what it is to suffer, I know what it is to despair, and I know what it is to change. I am a psychotherapist because it connects me to others, to the real like no other role can. I want to stand just outside the ring of fire and watch my clients fall to their demons again and again and again. I want to feel every blow they take. And I want to joyously watch them rise, as they look to me for smiles of assurance, until they finally emerge battered and bloody but victorious and trade their isolated inner struggles for the cause of humanity.

That's what I believe therapy can be. And that's what I'll work for it to become.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Normal" & Abuse

I've been watching The United States of Tara, a show about a woman who has dissociative identity disorder (which causes what is sometimes referred to as "multiple personalities") and the effect it has upon her family. It's an interesting dynamic because, on a certain level, there's a great deal of dysfunction. Tara's alternate selves ["alters"] appear with no warning and inhabit spaces within her life that create a great deal of unpredictability and destructiveness. But on another level, despite these difficulties, the father is loving, the children squabble but mostly get along, the gay child is well-integrated, and Tara and her alters are not particularly threatening to the family. There is chaos and unpredictability, yes. But there are safe spaces, love, support and togetherness too.

Much is made about how "crazy" the mom is, although moreso in a "this is trying" way than a pejorative way. Yet I cannot help but watch and think "I wish I had a family like that." It doesn't seem particularly unreasonable, nor does it seem unrealistic. There are difficulties and hurt, but they are counterbalanced and cared about in compassionate ways. Tara's mental illness is a trial, but there is still a sense of closeness and a palpable sense of love that makes everything manageable. Hard, but manageable.

And it makes me wonder: How much of this is situational dramedy/cultural myth and how much of this accurately reflects contemporary American family structures? Many of the characters in the show focus upon how "abnormal" their family is. But their "abnormal" looks wonderful to me. Does "normal" exist? I don't think so. But perhaps more appropriately, are even the majority of family units close and loving? Do most people actually trust their parents? I honestly don't know.

I remember going over to my friends' homes when I was young and being somewhat shocked to learn that their parents slept in the same bed. My mother slept on the couch for my entire childhood, storing her clothes in the closet in my room and essentially having no space of her own. Not that my sister and I had those either, mind you. We were fortunate enough to have individual rooms, certainly. But if my father wanted in, he'd come in. Perhaps he would knock, but that gave you five seconds before he'd start to yell. "No" and "Please leave" or "Not right now" were not options.

Nothing was optional, where my father was concerned. Everything he wanted to do was mandatory. He'd even make us come out of our rooms to watch as he berated my mother (I don't consider such one-sided affairs "fights") and blamed us. As my sister says, " He would also blame everything on us.  So, as we would watch them fight he would point to that as an example of what our misbehavior (or lack there of in many cases) would cause."

When he did this, he would yell. Constantly. Bellow, roar. And you simply couldn't argue or speak. If he asked you a question, you answered, but his truth was the only one that mattered. My sister, again, "
He would not let anyone else talk.  He would just sort of berate you.  I also found that he would not so much lie as stretch the truth during these yelling sessions.  He would take something said in one context and completely misconstrue it or the events surrounding it." You could not win an argument or ever be right because he would use just enough 'truth' to lend himself credibility but inflect the rest so he was always the sole victim. 

He would threaten to throw things we loved away or take them from us, and once he even threw my sister's cherished blanky in the trash to punish her (our mother fished it out).

Leaving him meant we didn't love him. Telling him "I love you" was met with "No you don't."

And my mother, as a result of him or her depression, more or less shut down. She wouldn't respond unless we yelled at her (we so often did). She would do pretty much anything you wanted her to do, with no sense of her self worth. I almost think of her as a ghost, with the image of her tapping on the door futilely as my father cornered us and berated us locked in our rooms, telling us she was insane and couldn't love us, telling us how wrong we were for hours and her milquetoast protests of "Families don't keep secrets" so painfully inadequate, exacerbating everything.

And I still don't know how frequent this sort of thing is. How many people primarily associate childhood with terror? When people say they don't get along with their parents, what does that mean? I know "normality" doesn't matter, exactly. But I would like to know how many people, in general, relate to this. Because I know being trans is different than the norm. Being lesbian is different than the norm. But is being abused different too? Is Tara's family the ideal or the plurality? And what does the answer to that question mean?

I know "normality" doesn't matter. But it would be nice to have more validation. I might make another post about this, but it was immensely validating to have my sister share her experiences [we're just now getting to the point of trust where we can do that with each other]. You really start to think you've made most of it up until someone else "No, this happened." And I almost want to make a television show that says "No, this happens. All around us. And it doesn't stop once you leave." But I suppose being a psychotherapist will just have to do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still and Moreso

It's true. I was so nervous when I was going to first meet Juliet, but then the only nervousness was just normal ex relationship stuff. It instantly clicked for me, because you were You, both *still* and *moreso.*
My ex, on what it was like to meet me for the first time a year after we broke up and I was well in the throes of transition [we talked about it the other night, but this happened about a year ago]. I just found it a really sweet way of describing what it's like to watch someone transition.

It's been about two years since we broke up, and I really value the friendship we've since found. I'm quite lucky to have and to have had such caring people in my life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chemical Romantics

I tried to write a more removed and broadly applicable response to Clarisse Thorn's post on Feministe about romantic Chemistry but that approach ran out of steam fast. So I'm just going to bullet point this bitch. <insert deal with it .gif>

- I love stories like these. That's probably not a surprise; I rather like introspective stories of pain and heartbreak with intense personal disclosure and growth potential. *is so going to be a therapist*

- Thorn's 27. I'm 25. And I feel so far behind her, in terms of relationships and sexuality. I suppose I ought to cut myself some slack, what with being trans and all, but then I see some of my former GSSE students, now 18 year old freshmen, in committed relationships and I'm like "Well, fuck. At your age, I'd kissed a girl and liked it. I didn't have a committed relationship until I was 20. And that was more or less long distance and secretive for most of it. Then I had an intense but immensely harrowing 'something' with a young woman for a year wherein I saw her in person twice and barely spoke to her for the last seven months. IFAILARRG."

Which is really not fair. I mean, I've had a mostly healthy 2.5 year relationship with someone who was very sweet and affectionate. And I've had an intensely passionate 'something' with someone who feels like she's seared upon my soul for being so like me, to the point of a loss of individual identity, tearing us both apart [unhealthy, but worth the experience]. I can blame myself for not transitioning sooner, but that shit's on society and the ways my parents raised me, not me. And even if I had transitioned sooner, I really feel there would have been a good chance that I would have lacked the esteem and maturity to keep myself out of risky situations five or so years ago that might have sabotaged a lot of the good work to get to the places I am now.

So yes. I know it's not fair to hate myself for not having a "live with partner" or even "spend most days of week with partner" relationship. But good lord, that feeling is there.

- The core part of Thorn's post, a reflection upon "chemistry," is something I imagine most of us have wondered about. I'm in a church group with a bunch of age-diverse people, and it's interesting to hear the older folks talk about how they viewed love when they were my age vs. how they view it now. There's a definite divide between "passion" and "companionship." I'm young. I want love where we tear each other apart, engage each other constantly, form a dynamic partnership for all forms of stimulation and, more or less, take over the world or fuck each other for days not caring about it. They want someone stable who will be consistently comfortable to be around that they can regard with general fondness.

I dunno. I'm going to keep looking for chemistry until I've had enough of it. But I'll be interested to see how I change as time goes on. I guess that's the reason I'm doing this blog thing, eh? To look back and laugh at my naivete? Or something.

What's your idea of love?

Depression Update #2

The good news is that the antidepressant I switched to (Celexa) is working. Minimal suicidal ideation. Minimal hopelessness. The world seems flattened, as opposed to oppressive. I'm floating instead of being buffeted. And, given where I was, that's a marked improvement.

The bad news is that the side effects are quite noticeable. My sex drive is noticeably diminished (a good thing, for now at least). I yawn frequently. I sleep so much more (this, at 12:20a, is the latest I've been up most of this week).

This is not a perfect solution. I know people say antidepressants won't "change you," but I'm changed. I don't feel my own pain as much, which makes it somewhat more difficult for me to feel others. I'm perpetually tired, which cuts down on my pseudo-manic exuberance. I'm stable. And stability is dangerously new.

As mentioned, though, it's an improvement. I think I'll still want to try to go off of it again. And again. And again. I'm going to wrestle with this all my life. But I am going to wrestle it. I'm not going to live in fear of it like my mother or drown it like my father. I'm going to keep engaging it. And, in so doing, I hope I can maintain the sense and direction of self I still strive for.

I'm busy, now. Blessedly so. I have ideas for what to write about, but the time's not there and the energy (see above) is lacking. But hopefully I'll have something soon. We're getting into the tofu of our counseling theories, now. And I am embarrassingly excited.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fantasies #1

I have never lived alone before for any significant period of time. Before, I've had a roommate or lived with a parent. And that's generally been good; it distracts me, keeping me from thinking or ruminating alone in the dark too much. But now, I live in a single room where I am often alone for many hours each day. And although I can distract myself with my computer for most of that time, there are still always periods where the siren song of my bed, literally one yard away, calls. And once there, I'm at the mercy of fantasy.

My fantasies come in two forms. One, which this entry will focus upon, is the "positive:" my imaginary girlfriends. Sometimes she's a real people, sometimes merely "based upon true stories," sometimes purely ethereal. She's a habit I developed during the long months when I heard no contact from my previous partner. I'd talk to her, feel her, have her hold me as I fell asleep each night. She, of course, is gone. But the habit's continued.

So what happens in these fantasies? Well, unsurprisingly, often sex. But it's not masturbatory, in the traditional sense: I don't physically stimulate my penis (although I have a complicated relationship with the place my vagina would be). Mostly, though, it's pure imaginary narrative.

[the following is explicit, so proceed with caution. Also, the valuations I attach to my lesbian fantasies vs. others are purely based upon my own experiences and not indicative of my feelings towards straight sex in general.]

I'm in bed. I look up, as if she's just walked in. "Hey. I've missed you," I sweetly, coyly say. I don't imagine her response; since I so rarely have a defined person in mind, I can't really extrapolate a personality. But she makes a response, and I just... respond back. It's visceral communication, and sometimes we flirt and sometimes we fight and sometimes I burst out of bed, push her against a wall and inhale a kiss before resolutely kissing down her neck and breasts and stomach and thighs until I'm on my knees tongue between her legs, staring up at her with eager joyful eyes to the backdrop of her moans.

Or, and this one is an almost nightly ritual, I'm lying in bed preparing to sleep. I murmur an apology for going to bed so late, giving her a peck or a long kiss before turning on my side away from her. She follows, after a moment, to my surprise, smoothly gliding her arm around my abdomen and clutching my breasts as I moan.  Sometimes she'll gently move her fingers up and down my spine, sometimes she'll shower my back with slow sweet kisses. Sometimes she'll fuck me from behind with a strapon (or, on the rare occasions she's a he, with his cock), and I will moan and shiver in exultation. We'll finger each other, she'll lick my imaginary cunt, I'll do the same in [consensual] violence or tenderness to her. My pillows and sheets know so very many kisses and caresses.

I hope you'll pardon the explicitness of these fantasies. I mainly detail them because they are so new and joyous. It's only in the past handful of months, if that, that I've really explored fantasies of me having a vagina and having lesbian sex (what little I know if it). When masturbating (penile stimulation), I almost can't help but imagine myself with a penis, so I either focus upon my partner's pleasure or (more easily) fantasize of sexual assault [identifying with the victim; a topic to be explored later].

But these new fantasies? They're vibrant. Simply imagining, with no physical stimulation, feels more physically pleasurable than... almost everything before (a few memorable kisses and one orgasm aside). With a vagina, I feel that I'm desirable instead of forcing someone to engage in an act upon a part of me that inherently taints us both. It's sex as a mutually pleasurable act instead of merely a conduit towards intimacy with some vicarious thrills. It's my entire body alive, for the first time. It is exhilarating simply to imagine my newly formed breasts cupped in greedy hands. It is remarkable to finally get why people like sex on a physical level. And it is transcendent to feel wanted and loved instead of knowing you are but finding a callous wall where those feelings should be.

Sometimes I read to her. Sometimes I rest my head on her chest. Sometimes we talk about our days. And there's sex. And then, when she fades and reality returns, I think "Wow. And all these couples I know get to do this. Every day. How can they not be fucking ecstatic?" And you will tell me it is not all I imagine. You will tell me the thrill dulls. You will tell me there are always complications. And I would agree. But as a person who has felt so dead, your protestations feel like you don't even realize how alive you are. Your body and self are your own, and you're sharing them on a mutually pleasurable, visceral level with another. To me, that sounds like fantasy.

A fantasy I've never realized and fear I never will. So often, those fears creep into the back of my mind, following familiar paths that no longer even bother protesting. A gas leak, a returning infection, a chronic pain. And the darkness and the hopelessness and the distance from All That Living comes back. And then my lover's embrace is a noose, her kisses knives, and I'm giving blowjobs to gun barrels.

But that's for another entry.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Yesterday, I asked my therapist to help with one of the required letters I need to get Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) sometime next year. Well, I guess I don't remember asking the question specifically, because I just assumed that she would. It's a bullshit practice, requiring someone to have two letters from "licensed professionals" evaluating what they should do with their own body. I figured it'd just be more i's to dot and t's to cross; I mean, who could even take this shit seriously when I'd have been on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for two years and full time at least a year and a half by the time I actually had the procedure.

But as soon as I gave her the document the surgeon's office had sent me, she got defensive. She didn't "feel comfortable in the evaluative role" saying she had a "dual relationship" that meant her "objective judgment" would be impaired. I said that was fine, she didn't have to do the evaluative component, she could just write the shorter second letter. But she kept on protesting. She didn't have "training." She was worried about what would happen if something went wrong and someone started calling her office to see who approved the procedure in the first place. She expressed a lot of doubt about people's satisfaction afterwards.

And then she kept going. She said, even if she was trained and felt component, she didn't know if she'd write it for me. I might want to have kids. I haven't had sex in two years and certainly not as Juliet. I'd been acutely suicidal a few months ago, she wouldn't recommend me for "any surgery."

And it was telling people I was transitioning all over again. Because every fucking familial adult I came out to did the exact same thing: "I just don't think you've exhausted your options." "I mean, there are maybe two places in the entire world you can live once you've done this." "There are so many steps and hurdles you're going to have to go through." "In college I dated another woman for like three weeks and we fooled around but it didn't work out and now I've been married to your uncle for ten years." "I was young once, too, and I had some crazy ideas about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. But you get older and things change and we're just worried that you're rushing into this." Ad fucking nauseum.

And you know, I can get ignorance. I can get fear and concern. Transsexuality is completely new to you, you've just heard about it on Dateline, you never thought it'd happen to one of your family members, etc. Whatever. The part that really hurts, though, every single fucking time is that they don't ask questions. My therapist did not ask me "What are your feelings about having children?" My father did not ask me "Have you talked to any trans women locally?" My mother did not ask me "Do you think this decision is impacted by any of the other stressors in your life?" My uncle did not ask me "How much research have you done about the process and steps involved?"

None of them asked and let my own answers about my own self satisfy them. A year ago, I had a "conversation" with my father. And he said that he didn't trust me or my judgment because of my "life decisions." And I asked him what life decisions he meant. And he said "I mean exactly what I said: your life decisions." And I said that didn't make any sense, to make an accusation about something and not even be able to explain your argument or label your terms. And he said "You're always going to have an answer for everything." And it's been "I can't say why, but you're simply not good enough" for my entire life.

[Cut for length. Suffice it to say, imagine reading about some hard things survived and a few relative metrics of success.]

And I did it these things with intentional humility and, despite some acerbity at times, continued compassion for others. I've tried to understand and forgive everyone around me. I never missed a day of class. Even in college, I voluntarily missed maybe two classes. I always got up in the morning. I've never taken a sick day anywhere. And I don't think I've really asked much of anyone.

I'm not fucking proud of any of this. I'd never mention it, outside of sharing the emotional component for the sake of you understanding me better or perhaps comparing experiences for a knowledge base. I don't consider myself particularly strong, I don't judge anyone for any differences in their own personal trajectories, I certainly do not in any way consider myself superior or special. I did what I did with what I had for whatever my reasons were.

But I mention it here, now, because overall? I think I make pretty good decisions. I think I act pretty respectfully and conscientiously towards others. I'm not particularly kind to myself, but I'm getting there. I think I'm doing fairly well, all told. And it fucking tears me apart to look at all the above and think that my therapist, my family, my whomever would just assume I don't have good reasons for what I'm doing. That they don't trust me or respect me.

Because, I mean, yeah, transphobia. They're projecting their own fears and insecurities onto me. But if they respected me, at least? They'd ask. They'd think "Damn, this seems crazy. But Juliet usually makes pretty decent decisions. Let me see what she has to say first." And then, after I explained, they would say "It's obvious you've given this a lot of thought and know a lot more than we do. We really just want you to be happy. So how can we help you make this work?"

That doesn't seem too hard. Nor does it seem like it's asking too much.

So why the hell does it feel that way?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brief Writing Note

I'm trying to make it a priority to write a post at least every other day, and I have... except I'm also trying to make it a priority to not post a post the same day I write it, so I can go back and edit it with a clear head.

Unfortunately, I get drained after writing the post, so I don't have the gumption to go back and fix an old one. But I'm working on it and still here. Stay tuned?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Depression #1

[In order to assess my progress on antidepressants and create a symptom-specific record for how depression feels, I've been keeping track of depressive and anxiety episodes. I'll post past and contemporary posts every so often.]

After months of gnashing my teeth and wailing into the wind, I finally convinced myself to return to my psychiatrist to resume antidepressants. My objections were legion and familiar: they would "cloud reality," they would prevent me from adequately empathizing with others, they would make me dependent upon medication to regulate my emotions for the rest of my life, and, perhaps most heinously, they would require even more monetary expenditures solely for the betterment of my self (as if I could ever deserve such things).

But one night last week, I felt an intense anxiety. As if my chest was on fire, as if sandpaper was rubbing against some deep essential part of my self, a conflagration of irritability and unease that erupted inside me. I'd pace the same three yards in my efficiency apartment back and forth back and forth for hours. And I'd have an urge to rend my chest in twain and let all the venom inside me pour out in a brilliant, beautiful, bloody mess.

This is nothing new. What was new, though, was that I could not articulate what I was so anxious about. Always before there have been things I was not doing, ways I was failing disappointing or hurting others, ways I was not As I Should Be. But nothing, at that moment, seemed to merit the feeling. It all seemed so... disproportionate.

And so I made the call. Because, finally, I am accepting that there are some things I do not have to suffer, no matter how much I feel I deserve them, no matter how ardently I convince myself I should be able to beat them. There is no reason to keep hurting as much I do. It's a lesson I will probably have to reteach myself for the rest of my life. But at least I'm more receptive to it than I used to be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Therapeutic Trust

One of the more peculiar revelations I had with my previous therapist was about trust. About two years ago, [while I was teaching high school, pre-transition] I entered therapy with her and told her that I was a fairly trusting person. After all, I would tell her almost anything she wanted to know. I was very afraid of making her depressed or upset, but past that I would honestly talk about or reveal most anything. And, to me, that was "trust."

But after probably six or seven sessions, she commented that she didn't feel like I trusted her. I was confused. I felt like I did. I didn't think that she'd do anything to hurt me, and, aside from that fear that I'd hurt her, I thought she'd be pretty nonjudgmental. Wasn't that trust?

And it was. In a way. It was certainly significant for me: after all, I wouldn't talk to most people about much of anything, and here I was having an entire hour a week focused upon myself.

But she was right: I didn't trust her. I thought there was an excellent chance I'd say something she would find appalling. I thought she didn't like me for at least the first two months. I thought she'd find me as wretched, weak, and contemptible as I knew I was. I thought she'd be hurt by me, be disappointed in me, hate me, or leave me. I was not safe with her (or, really, anyone).

There's a trust that someone will be honest with you. A trust that someone won't intentionally hurt you. But there's also a trust that you can "be" who you are and feel what you feel with them, and you feel they will still want you and accept you. There's a trust that you can need them, and that they can provide it.

And by those, I did not trust her. It took months before I started to. And it was only after more than half a year or so that I really felt quite close to her.

There are many dynamics of trust, and I can (and will) spend a great deal of time looking at what trust is, how it's gained, and why we're often so scared to do it. But if there's one lesson I can draw from the above example, it's that trust may take a very long time. But once it's gained, it's worth it.

It's worth it because, up til that point, I don't think I'd ever really trusted anyone before. But in forming that trusting relationship with her, I had a model to use in the future *and* the knowledge that such a thing was a possibility at all. Although I still struggle with trusting others, in the very few instances where I have, I've found it easier. Authenticating connecting and reciprocating became easier. I even found that I could need a scant few (with significant limitations, of course). And I've been so much better for it.

My therapist didn't fix me. She didn't save me or cure me. Psychotherapy can't do that; that's something only we, as clients, can do. But counseling and psychotherapy can give us models, give us skills, give us hope. It can show us possibilities for human interaction we never thought possible. And I hope I've come close to articulating how truly significant that gift alone can be.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright for Peanuts

For your Saturday Night Viewing Pleasure (not of the adult film variety), this is a wonderful metaphor of many abusive relationships [and a wonderful parody of forms of psychotherapy that focus upon pathologies and flaws instead of strengths and potential].

 1. Charlie Brown has low self-esteem.

 2. Lucy, under the auspices of "helping," takes obvious pride in pointing out every flaw Charlie Brown may have.

 3. She presents a solution, but she has hurt CB in the past. CB is skeptical, even angry. But she says this time will be different. He really ought to trust her. In fact, it'd be wrong not to.

4. CB wants to believe so much, he decides to give her another shot.

 5. Lucy pulls the football away from him.

 6. She then proceeds to point out every flaw in CB's attempt, without ever mentioning that she's the one who actually pulled out the ball in the first place. (victim blaming to a tee).

 7. CB internalizes the shame, blaming himself for what she's done to him and setting himself up to repeat the entire process again.

 So: Who's your Lucy? What's her football?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Empathy vs. Sympathy

"Empathy" is a strange creature. It's undoubtedly a virtue, but it's largely an underrated one. This is likely because it is so closely associated with femininity, which, as everyone knows, is icky. But even so,  I think empathy is also not as widely lauded because it's a quite difficult concept to pin down. We know (or think we know) what "courage" is. Likewise for "responsibility", "respect," "honesty." We had series about them in elementary school. We hear them preached about by parents, teachers, reverends for most of our formative years. But if you polled most people about what "empathy" means, they'd likely tell you, if they say anything at all, that it's the same as sympathy. And while it is similar, it is vitally and decidedly different.

To figure out the difference, let's start with the dictionary definition of empathy: "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another." Put differently, empathy is a form of "experiencing" what others experience. Or it is the process of ascertaining and perhaps describing those experiences.

To start to grasp what that actually entails, I find it useful to compare empathy to sympathy. Sympathy is "harmony of or agreement in feelings, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another." In other words, sympathy is agreement with the feelings of another, while empathy is experiencing the feelings of another. Sympathy is a cooing "I'm sorry you stubbed your toe." Empathy is a grimacing "God, that must have hurt." Sympathy is "supporting our troops." Empathy is trying to grasp what it is like to be in combat/stationed overseas in a warzone.

I think I differ from most people in that I find empathy a great deal easier than sympathy. The reasons why are fodder for another post, but a lot of it is based upon how they're used. Sympathy is generally used to comfort or agree, while empathy is generally used to understand and validate.

Sympathizing is hard for me because I really don't think it's my place to "agree" with the way someone is feeling. 1So too, if sympathetic comfort means telling someone "it will be alright," I'd consider that shallow, privileged, or ignorant of reality. When sympathetic comfort means "I hope you get better soon," it feels as if a person has nothing left to offer me but prayers. And prayers won't bring my partner back, won't make me not want to kill myself, won't make me appreciate a body and identity that feels fundamentally incongruent with my self. "I hope you get better" is what someone says when they have nothing left to say. And often, that's all one can do. Any one of us can only do or say so much in any given context. "I hope you get better" can be really sweet, it can be a vote of support, it can show that people care when caring is the only option available to them.

But, as a therapist, I don't want to merely wish that someone will get better. I want to help them get there. And so I empathize.

Empathy is one of the most significant reasons people go to psychotherapists. A therapist doesn't just wish you well, they ideally understand you. And, with that understanding, they can validate how you feel by saying "I (mostly) understand what you're feeling and why, and I think you are entirely justified for x, y, z reasons." 2 They can propose solutions or help you come up with your own. They can find where you are and help guide you as you navigate your way through it.

Empathy makes us feel less alien. Empathy makes us feel hope. Empathy makes us feel that someone can understand us. Indeed, it is amazing how much duress comes just from the symptoms of not feeling understood. But it is equally amazing how much potential there is in simple understanding.

And that's part of why I run on empathy.

1 "Agreement:" When I say "agree with how someone is feeling" I mean when someone looks to you to see if they should feel angry or happy or sad. They often want you to say "Yes, feel angry about that football penalty! I, too, am angry about that penalty! Let us gnash our teeth and shout invective at yon official, posthaste!"

2"Validation:" When I say "validate how someone feels," I mean asserting that any given emotion is "ok" to feel. Often, people will experience a lot of self-doubt about their feelings. For instance, they may feel angry or hurt, but try to suppress the feeling for various reasons. Validation doesn't tell someone how to feel, it just tells them that what they're feeling is ok to feel. Validation might look like this: "I can understand how that football penalty would be really frustrating. Coming so close to something and then being held back can be really hard." The one validating doesn't have to have the same emotional reaction to validate, they just have to assert that it's perfectly reasonable/acceptable/appropriate for someone to feel that way.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


For the past few weeks, I have been trying to write a suitable introductory post and mission statement. And it seemed easy enough: just write my goals for the blog. Writing goals? So easy! I want to write shorter posts. I want to focus upon counseling/psychotherapy specific topics. I want to make the blog palatable to a larger audience, which I thought I could do by limiting my emotional introspection and instead focusing upon theories and ideas with greater appeal and wider relevance. Who could ask for anything more?

So I started writing trial content. And although I made progress towards most of my goals, every post was still riddled with personal information. I tried to orient myself towards external postulation, but I invariably reverted to introspection. And the more I chastised myself for writing about "yet another facet of my depression," the more I realized: that is exactly what I should be writing about.

It is who I am. It is what I do. And to try to hide or mitigate it is as counterproductive as it is futile.

I started my Counseling Psychology program three weeks ago. And I, in typical form, did not try to censor or hide parts of myself in the process. I used a syringe for my "get to know me" item (symbolizing not just my gender transition, but that pain and sacrifice in the name of greater progress is a core part of my identity). I said, "I am angry, irritable, and not the person I feel I want to be" for my first weekly check-in. Without blinking in groups of almost-strangers, I talked about being trans, being suicidal, coming from an arguably abusive home, being anorexic, being depressed, etc etc.

And I worried about it. I talked to my therapist about feeling alienated, feeling as if I was over-exposing myself, revealing too much, making others needlessly uncomfortable. And she, playing devil's advocate, asked me: Well, why do I do it?

I do it because what kind of therapist would I be, what kind of world would I promote if I succumb to the societal mental illness stigmas, the transphobia, the emotional repressions I will urge my clients time and time again to subvert and defy? I will tell my clients that their depression is nothing to be ashamed of. But how can I ethically do that when I am ashamed of my own depression? I will tell my clients that their gender identity is what they identify as, regardless of how they're read. So how can I then unquestioningly persist in  defining myself based upon how others read me? I will tell me clients that all people have value. But what impact can that statement have when I feel I, personally have none.

How can I? I can't. Or, at least, I shouldn't if I'm going to be the best psychotherapist and social justice advocate that I can be. And although I should not expect myself to transform overnight (the same patience I should show my clients), I should not, would not ever accept stagnation and preventative fear as alternatives to growth.

So. What *will* you find in this blog? Certainly, I will try to write more focused posts. I will engage in perpetual discussions about the ethics and practice of psychotherapy. I will strive for accessibility to larger audiences.

But you'll also find a lot of unhealthy and problematic cognitions and behaviors. You'll find unrelenting "overshares," incessant challenging of the notion of "overshare," and emotional/philosophical morasses. You'll find not just my ideas, not just my feelings, not just my changes but my ever-evolving perpetually flawed self.

In short, you'll find a transparent personal blog about and by a damaged but empathetic budding counseling psychologist. And perhaps you'll find a bit of yourself too.

And that's what empathy's all about, right?