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?