Sunday, October 14, 2012

Existence is Value Neutral

Deep down, my father never really wanted kids. He told us, when I was about eleven, as he softly held us captive one long drunken night, that he had married our mother because she said she "really liked having sex." And then, after my sister was born, she stopped. He said he felt used, as if that was all he was good for. As if we were all he was good for.

He's spoken often of how he hated to be "tied down," how he was created to "wander" and explore, how his responsibility to us is what always held him back. And although he felt too much shame to say it, it was obvious that each time we asked something of him, he resented us. He told me four or five years ago that one of the happiest days of his life was when my sister turned 18 and he was no longer legally responsible for her. As if my almost 4.0 GPA, forensic theater champion, Brandeis-bound, self-possessed sister was somehow a hellion who at any moment would crush my father under the immense need of her very existence.  As if simply having children was one of the most significantly damaging components of his incredibly unhappy life.

We knew he didn't want us, even if he didn't say it, even if we couldn't articulate it. It bleeds into you, in the proxy wars, in the aggrieved grimaces, in the perpetual ire. And it doesn't take a psychologist to tell you that that kind of stain doesn't simply wash off after escape.

It leaves you feeling as if your very existence is unwarranted. That you should always be striving to be better not out of an internal desire to self-actualize but because you have to justify your continued presence upon this earth. Part of me authentically feels that if I could just be perfect, in appearance, speech, professional responsibilities, disposition, ... then I could finally be good enough to merit my sustained existence. But until then, that part feels I will forever be that unwanted child, that burden, that leech, that prison.

In short, I feel wrong. On a fundamental level. Being trans obviously exacerbates this feeling, with the unwantedness and fatal imperfection extending to cultural norms as well. But I really think the trans stuff can be a source of strength and resilience in a different, more affirming environment. It's that deep-seated unworthiness that can't be changed with a new zip code.

I asked a speaker at an event today how he had developed the courage to be so open, proud, and out (as a gay, black veteran). And although it took him a few moments, he eventually said that he was fortunate to grow up in an environment that did not demonize him. He was speaking about his homosexuality, significantly, but his external attribution of his self-possession really struck me.

He said the same things I already knew, that you have to grow self-love, that it's a never-ending process. But  he also said this: "At a certain point, you just have look in the mirror and say 'This is who I am' and get on with your life.' "

All my life, I've viewed myself as a negative entity, and it's always been my responsibility to try to make up for my severe deficiencies. I have always felt wrong, I have always been wrong, and only through immense (impossible) work and self-flagellation can I ever change into someone good enough.

But those words made me realize how much effort I am pouring into hating myself, to wishing I was someone different. How limited, how small, how inhibiting an attitude it is. Because although I can change so many of my peripheral parts, I can never change the fundamentals of who I am. I'm never going to be cis. I'm never going to be liked by everyone. I'm never going to save the world. I'm never going to reach a point where there's no more to be done. I'm never going to be perfect, I'm never going to be perfect, I'm never going to be perfect.

But I am going to be empathetic. And I am going to be conscious and critical of power structures. And I am going to be playful and sarcastic. And I am going to keep pushing myself to learn more and do more. And, often, I am going to succeed. And I am going to make a positive impact upon others. And I am going to be cared for. And I am going to be loved. And I am going to love. And I'm going to get really angry and I'm going to write suicidal blog posts and I'm going to let everyone see how blown apart I ever-so-intermittently am. And I'm going to have people see my chaos and know that they're not alone in the violent vagaries of their own. And I'm going to get better. And worse. And still better.

Simply existing as a flawed human in a species of flawed humans is not a crime. I'm not prepared to say that existence, in and of itself, confers worth. But it certainly doesn't mean that we are worthless until proven otherwise. I exist. And I just need to get on with it.

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