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.