Friday, November 29, 2013

What Change Is

For all my doubts and fears, I do firmly believe in this: change is possible. It can be hard, and there is always a limit to what you can and can't change. But we can change ourselves. We can change our patterns. We can even change patterns that have been entrenched in our families for decades, for generations. Change is possible.

I've believed this so devoutly for so long because I need it to be true. It's why I started blogging, actually, over a decade ago: I wanted to explore myself, understand myself so I could find a way to change and avoid the endlessly repeating patterns of destruction my father seemed trapped in all his life.

And slowly but surely, I've been changing. I have some honest-to-god friendships with people I trust not to leave me. I have some confidence in myself. I can, increasingly, not only identify my feelings but vulnerably express them to others. And, perhaps most difficult but most important, I can separate my responsibility to others from how they are responsible for their own reactions and own choices.

I have changed. So very much. I'm still changing. And today I decided to truly test it.

I've not talked to my father in a few years. I have had very brief, very superficial conversations. But I've not said anything of substance to him in three years. It's been really good for me. To remove such an omnipresent source of fear and guilt, to free myself from constantly feeling responsible for him; it's been really really good. But I also felt really guilty about it. Not because I wasn't talking to him, but because I didn't tell him why, didn't at least give him a chance to respond. So finally, I felt like I'd grown enough to meet with him and talk to him.

So, today, I did.

We walked for a little awhile, easing back in, catching up. And then we sat down and I told him.

I told him that there were many reasons I'd distanced from him. The main one, though, was what happened the last time we'd really talked, three years ago, about me coming out to his parents. He felt that me telling them would kill them, and he made it clear that if I did against his wishes he would really, truly hurt me. Back then, I did what I knew: got really quiet, felt really guilty and scared, and gave up. But today, I was able to tell him that that conversation was not only terrifying but immensely hurtful because it felt like he felt as if I really wanted to hurt him and he had to do whatever it took to stop me.

He agreed with me, and said he still feels that way. He still feels like my mother, my sister, and I do want to hurt him. He said he's felt at least since we were in high school that we didn't care about him, that if he was across the street bleeding to death in a ditch we wouldn't do a thing to help him.

In the past, I would have been wracked with guilt and stayed silent. I would have felt like I couldn't do anything to change his mind, and I would have been paralyzed.

But because I've changed, I didn't do that. I knew I couldn't convince him of anything. But what I could do was tell him how I feel and then let him do with that as he would. So I told him that it hasn't felt like that just since high school. That I could remember telling him that I loved him when I was six years old and that he would still tell me "No, you don't." That I tried for years and years even as an adult, despite his furious drunken rampages, despite being called a traitor and harangued for hours during his divorce, despite being terrified of him all my life, that I had tried and tried to keep caring for him and not give up. But that when he threatened me, it became apparent that nothing I could do would ever be good enough to convince him that I cared about him. So I stopped trying.

And then, astonishingly, he said that I was right. He said that he's felt this way in all his relationships, that he can't trust anyone and that everyone wants to hurt him. It didn't really affect me that much, not at first. He's apologized before, and he's really good at saying what a "bad, terrible person" he is. I've always known he hates himself, and he's so filled with guilt and shame that it's not uncommon.

So I didn't trust it. I still don't. He's tortured and has so many years of dealing with his demons that I'm not going to jump for joy and say "Oh Daddy, I love you so!" and believe everything's going to be ok in the end. But, as we kept talking, I started to let myself listen. I let myself hear him say "It wasn't right for me to transfer my suffering to you as a child." I let myself hear "I made my own choices and it wasn't your fault." It wasn't my fault. It wasn't that I wasn't good enough to prove I loved him, it was that he was not in a place to believe that love. He decided, influenced by so many of his past experiences, to reject me. It was his choice, not a defect of mine. And he said this. Over and over. And even if it was a statement made from guilt, a statement made to convince himself he was A Good Person, a statement he will forget, a statement disconnected from his emotional core, it was also a statement I think part of him really believed.

In a movie, this might have been an epic turning point. Or it might have been vindication or a momentous event for me. But it wasn't. I keep wanting change to be A Huge Moment where things "click" and I am the optimal, self-actualized person I feel I can be. I keep wanting The Answer or The Experience which makes everything different. Yet change, as I've experienced it, has never been about Big Moments. It's a bunch of small, but significant moments. It's slow, inching growth.

Today, I grew. Instead of responding with fear, self-blame, or guilt, I responded with vulnerable honesty from a hard-earned place of compassion and self-worth. Instead of disbelieving or not trusting the affirming things someone else (my father, of all people!) said, I let myself listen to them. Instead of taking responsibility for his self-hatred, for his guilt, for his anger, I was better able to let those be his own choices and reactions and to let authentically expressing myself Be Enough. I was not in a place to do any of these things three years ago. I don't think I could have even imagined them. But today, I did.

Again, it's small. I don't know if my father will change or how our relationship will look in the future. But it feels good to put myself in a situation that used to completely overwhelm and defeat me and come out the other side intact. There is some guilt. There is some doubt. My heart is still hard with mistrust. But not as much guilt, not as much doubt, not as hard. And I think that's what change really is.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All Things Will Pass (even the good ones)

You know what's frustrating? That when I feel good, like I do right now, everything goes better. I'm more compassionate, I'm kinder, I'm more open, I laugh more. I teach better, I therapize better, I connect better. And I feel so great doing it! It's like all the win.

So if I know this is the case, why do I keep on insisting on hating myself anyway? I mean, I know why [decades of conditioning and adapting to an environment I am no longer in, blah blah], but still! It's like a universal losing proposition. And yet!

I know I'm growing and changing in an overall positive direction and my poor neural pathways can't alter themselves overnight. But it sucks to feel good and to recognize that, in an hour, a day, a week, I'll most likely be back to my self-loathing suicidal self. It's valuable to recognize, of course, because the flip of "temporary state" can also help when I feel down and feel like *that's* going to last forever. But there are times, when I feel good in a stable "I bet this is what most people feel like much of the time" kind of way, when I never want it to end and feel frustrated that Future Juliet will find some way to make it happen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Struggling with Acceptance

It's not just feeling bad that's hard. Self-recrimination, doubt, failure, these things seem like natural responses to the inevitable times when we bump up against our limitations. What makes it stick, though, what snares me like a fishhook and keeps tearing tearing tearing is this sense that this is forever. That there was some window, long ago, when I "could have been good." But that window has long since closed, leaving me to forever flounder, futilely trying to 'make good' even as I'm destined to fail.

That's where the belief goes from painful to insidious. "Forever." It's tempting, sometimes, to feel like I can 'atone' for what I've done. If I'm good enough, if I push myself enough, if I'm perfect then maybe, just maybe I can atone. And, in that atonement, I can finally be rid of this agonizing guilt. It's tempting. But invariably, my humanity raises its ugly head and, yet again, I fall back to forever.

And it's in these moments where the strongest feelings are not sadness or guilt or shame. Those are there, of course. But what really aches are the desire and the loss. The throbbing, unquenchable desire to find something that will soothe this pain and this persistent feeling that once there was a time when I could have found that cure, could have been that cure. But now I never will.

*Wanting.* I feel so wanting. It's the perfect word. Filled with a savage hunger. Lacking. Empty. And devastated by the so real fear that I will never, never be whole.

Fuck it, let's go with how I feel as plainly as possible: I just feel bad. I feel like a failure. I feel like I can't do anything right. I feel like that won't ever change. I feel hopeless. I feel unlovable. I feel like I'm wasting my life. I want more. I want so much more. And I am terrified I won't get it. I wish I was better. I wish I was so much better. I wish I knew more, worked harder, was more persistent, was more patient. I wish I didn't make so many stupid fucking mistakes. Hell, I'm not even making mistakes a lot of the time: I just honestly don't know what I'm doing and I'm desperately making it up as I go along. And I want to make up for what I've failed at. I so desperately want to go back in time and undo all the bad things I've done. I want to erase myself from the past-present-future. I want want want.

And it is so hard to accept that I just can't. That I have done so many things imperfectly. That I am so flawed. And that I will always be flawed. That I will have good days and bad days. That I am learning and growing but that I will never be Learned and Grown. That there are things I have done in the past which cannot be undone. That I may be alone for the rest of my life. That I may not get everything I want. And that that might all be fucking ok. It's hard to even type that. It's hard to type that maybe all of that is ok. That it is what it is. And all I can do is live and love and keep learning and growing. And that I will keep being imperfect, keep flailing. But that even as I do that, I can do good. I can be valuable. I can be loved. It is so fucking hard to accept that. That I can be imperfect and fuck up time and time again and still be loved. I don't want to accept it.

But it's true. It is true.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reckless

I made a reckless decision last night. I was driving back from Dallas after yet another expensive, painful, exhausting electrolysis session. Already beaten up, I planned on driving for a few hours and then finding a motel before making the rest of the 800 mile trip back the next day. But when I got to the motel I was planning on staying at, I told myself "just drive a little further." This repeated multiple times; me seeing a motel at an exit, coming up with some excuse not to pull over, and continuing driving. At 8p, I'd been driving for about 5 hours. And as I continued to postpone stopping, it occurred to me that I didn't *have* to stop. I was tired, certainly; but it was a pleasant sleepiness and I felt I could stay awake. So even though I was irresponsibly tired at 8p, I decided I could keep driving for 7 more hours because... I wanted to.

That was the strange part. It wasn't that I felt guilty about spending money on the hotel or that I thought I'd use the time from getting back early the next day. I just wanted to keep driving. I didn't want to stop, didn't want to rest, didn't want my body's needs to dictate what my mind and heart wanted to do. I was alert enough to focus on driving in one lane on the interstate, but not alert enough to notice much of the world around me. Not aware enough to feel much of anything. I was numb. Doing a task, making progress, not stopping. I didn't feel any sadness, any loneliness, any anxiety. The only feeling I felt was a content satisfaction that I could just keep going. When I really thought about my motivations, I realized that I didn't want to stop because if I stopped that numbness would go away. And, replacing it, would be my familiar loneliness, my familiar anxiety, my familiar depression. If I kept driving, I wouldn't have to feel anything.

It reminded me of addiction. "Just a little more, just a little more" leading to "fuck it, let's get wasted and make bad choices." I was aware as I was making that decision. And I acknowledged that this was a very unnecessary risk to myself and others. But I just didn't care. If anything, I told myself that if I died, great, and if I got hurt maybe it would teach me a lesson that would finally stick.  I even thought, as I was doing it, "This is the sort of small stupid thing, sitting in the hospital bed a day later, that you struggle to explain to the quizzical faces wondering 'why,' the small stupid thing you wish you could take back for years."

So sure, risk to myself. But part of me knew I was a risk to others as well. Yet I didn't care. I just didn't care. Part "young invincible," but also part "it's just not conceivable that I matter enough to have that kind of impact on someone else." I just didn't care.

It's one data point. I was fortunate. But it's another sign that my lack of self-care is dangerous. Perhaps more sinisterly, it's just... nihilistic. That level of apathy really frightens me. I feel so alone, so adrift, so empty that I'll just knowingly make poor decisions which put others at risk and not give a damn.

I would say it's a cry for help, if I thought there was any "help" to be had.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wanting an End

I have been fighting a losing battle for my life for ten years. Well, maybe not. "Fighting" is a strong word. "Fighting" implies I have been resisting the side of "death," but I have not. There has never been a moment in these past ten years where I have said with conviction "I want to live." There have only been periods, in the past few years, where things have not been so bad and periods when they have.

Some would call this "depression," that my poisoned mind is whispering lies to me. But I don't believe that. I don't believe that there is some foreign voice within me with which I do battle. It is only I who wants to self-destruct. I who wants to give up. I who wants to be punished over and over and over again until I am finally a battered broken husk wrung clean of wrongness.

I want those things. That is real and true. I am doing this to myself.

So why am I still alive? Because part of me has always wondered "What if?" What if things change? What if there are other answers? What if?

"What if?" has kept me alive for a very long time. A tortured living, but alive nonetheless. But I am gradually coming to realize that I am the only thing that can change. I am the only other answer. And I am stubborn, I am exhausting. If I am the only other answer, I am not a good one.

And so I have that old familiar feeling. And so now there is a voice in the back of my brain telling me, in the most seductive of persistent whispers, to kill myself. And so I don't think I'll do it. But I also don't want to spend another ten years making this decision. I need to decide to live or to die. If not forever, then at least for now. I want to end this agonizing debate. But then, if I knew how to do that, it would already be over.

So the voice whispers on. And I go through the motions of my life just in case. And I am making myself so unhappy. And I just want it to end.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Brief Reprieve During the Apocalypse

“I’m scared, Juliet.”

“Oh darling. I’m scared, too.”

“We’re alone. Completely alone. Completely, irrevocably, utterly alone. Everyone else is dead. And it’s only us. And, in a few hours, we’ll be gone too. Everything will be gone with us. And that is tragic. But also sexy. Let’s make out!”

“You’re not taking this seriously.”

“I know, I know! I’m sorry. It’s just… this is really dark, ya know?”

“It is! But that’s what I like about it. There’s no anxiety, there’s no banal, there’s nothing except the moment and the acute knowledge that the moment will end. It feels real.”

“I don’t know. Why can’t you be into feet or school girl fantasies or something? I can be a stern taskmistress, teaching a particularly penetrating lesson. I know how much you love experiential learning.”

“As fun as that sounds, it’s just not the same. It’s not real.”

“I could make it feel pretty real!”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s just… Sure, we’re all going to die someday, everything ends, etc etc. I won’t deny that it’ll happen, but I don’t really want to think about it either.”

“I don’t really want to think about it, necessarily. But I feel it a lot. I- I find myself wanting forever. Like, every relationship I’ve been in, my head can say ‘this, too, will end’ but my heart wants forever so badly it dives in, latches on, and won’t let go. The apocalypses help with that.”

“Well, I’m glad they’re good for something.”

“No, seriously. I am so terrified of endings. Of losing something that will never return. And the apocalypse fantasies help me sit with that fear. But they let me sit with it with someone I deeply care about, so there’s fear but there’s also love and life and now. And since I know forever’s impossible, that’s the next best thing.”

“I mean, I get that. I think. I guess it feels… inauthentic. Like, we have this intense, long night sitting with the ‘knowledge’ that tomorrow, for us, will never come… but then it does. And we’ll say tearful, heartfelt farewells, mime agonizing deaths in a fiery inferno, and then, I don’t know, do brunch.”

“We could do brunch. And while we sit, I can softly gaze across the table into your shining eyes wanting nothing more in that moment than to be with you, and I can be thankful that it was just a fantasy and that I am fortunate enough to have another day with you. And I never want to take that for granted.”

“That’s so sweet. And almost convincing. I still think it’s all kind of ridiculous.”

“Could you try it anyway?”

“Yeah. For you, I can try it anyway. But you’re buying brunch.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Turning Twenty Seven: A Year of Connection

[Each year, around my birthday, I review the previous year. e.g. 2425, 26, etc. Here's 27.]

It’s hard to describe what it’s like not to have your own body for most of your life. I’ve used various metaphors (“wearing a sheet instead of clothes” “feeling like a shadow instead of a self” “a thing that only exists because a mind can’t exist alone”), but they’re all inadequate. For at least 24 of my 27 years, I have felt like a mind without a body. And even in years 25 and 26, as I’ve started to find myself, the constant fear and anxiety have kept me profoundly alienated.

But, without question, this past year has been a year of connection. I have discovered so much of myself and gotten so much closer to others. It has been immensely difficult, but it’s also felt very healing too. My dry existential cynicism aside, I am fundamentally a hopeful person. And this year is further proof that though so many days (and weeks and months) are so hard, my life as a whole keeps getting better.

You guys, I have cried so.much. this past year. And not just on my own: I have cried in front of other people. I have cried in front of groups, in front of strangers, with friends and peers and supervisors. In classes, in offices, over the phone, in bedrooms. And it has been wonderful.

Well, that’s probably poor word choice. It’s been painful, but it’s been a real, connected pain, not the grinding, isolating pain I’m used to. Crying, for me, is a sign that I am connected with myself. And crying in front of others is a sign that I can trust and be vulnerable and let others in in a way I have never been able to do before.

And it’s not just crying. I’m learning to be angry, learning to beaffectionate, learning to be present. I’m gradually developing the ability to “listen” to my anxiety, to hear what it says, and to answer it in ways that are affirming and kind (where, not so many years ago, I would have been violent and cruel). I can take a walk and just admire the colors of the sunset. I can, rarely but sometimes, really taste food. I can connect with others, not just cognitively but emotionally.

Perhaps all of that sounds odd. But I have lived inside of my head for so long that it’s all I’ve known. The physical, embodied world is just so new to me. And although I still feel like I’m stumbling more often than not, the increasing moments when I feel connected are truly revelatory.

More on that later. For now, here are some example of positive growth in the past year:
-          I’ve taken a lot more emotional risks with my friends, and as a result I’ve gotten much closer to many of them. Building my capacity for platonic intimacy has been a really significant part of my growth this past year.
-          I’ve become a lot more ok with being single. There’s still a huge part of me that wants a relationship so badly, but I’m learning to make life good and meaningful without it. I’m learning not to wait for my life to get better but to, instead, find ways to make it better now.
-          I’m learning how to identify and manage stress. Sometimes, I can actually relax and let some of it go. I held on too tightly in Spring13 and it blew up on me, so I’m learning to pace myself and take care of myself better.
-          I feel more confident in my counseling. It’s still quite often a trial, but I’m beginning to see some of the value I can offer my clients. I’m also getting much better at just being present with them instead of trying to fix them.
-          There are multiple people at the Counseling Center who I feel are challenging me and supporting me. Working with our “Diversity Committee” has been a huge source of community, esteem, and inspiration. It’s probably been the best non-friend thing that’s happened to me this past year. I feel part of a supportive team that gets shit done in a way I’ve never felt before.
-          I’m developing a bit more sense of my “style.” Growing into myself helps. It’s nascent, but it feels a lot less amorphous and confusing than it did a year ago.
-          I started a short story reading group and have been involved with a few feminist discussion groups, helping to challenge my mind and connect more with friends new and old alike.
-          I got more involved in psychology professional organizations, giving me a pathway to stay involved and grow post-graduate school.
-          I’ve traveled a fair amount and actually gotten a feeling for different places (which is new for me). In the past year, I’ve gone to Austin, Nashville, Asheville, Honolulu, Houston, and Dallas (4 times). Most of my travels have been alone, which has been intimidating but has also helped me feel like I can handle myself in new situations.
-          I was able to make some progress with my procrastination habits, getting work done on self-determined schedules. Significant emphasis on some.
-    I did a lot of processing with one of my exes which was really painful but really healing, too.

Continuing challenges/areas for growth [it’s interested to read how many of these I’ve actually addressed from last year’s post; better make these count!]
-          I eat really poorly. I exercise by walking some, but I definitely need to take care of my body better.
-          My cleaning habits are pretty bad. I need to set aside more time for taking care of things instead of escaping into my computer so often.
-          I’m getting better, but I still have lots of anxiety and avoidant coping strategies. I’d like to move through those more instead of running away from them.
-          I would like to practice being kind more. I hate being kind to myself, but I am continually learning that it’s really difficult to be kind and love others if you’re not kind to and love yourself.
- I want to keep practicing being “present” and not stuck in my anxiety, isolated from myself and others.

Finally, there are two themes developing which I most want to nurture: I want to continually strive to become more connected to myself, to others, and to the now; and I want to continue discovering and becoming “my self.”

Becoming the person I want to be and becoming more and more connected feel like the core of my life’s work. It’s work that will never be done, but I’m learning that’s the only kind of work that brings enduring satisfaction. I’m sure what these things look like will change with time, and I know I will always struggle in reaching them. But I want to live authentically, to live each moment so that if I die in the next I will not regret it. And I feel like this the path to get there.


So much of twenty-six was so hard. And yet, given how far I’ve come, I must admit I’m a bit eager to look back at this post a year later and see how much more I’ve grown. Here’s to getting older.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Discovering Myself in Paradise: A Trip to Honolulu

Late Friday night, I was invited with some other Counseling Psychologists to an informal party in the division's Presidential Hotel Suite. My exhaustion told me to say no, but I decided that going would be a good exercise in spontaneity. When I arrived, I found maybe two dozen people chatting in the beautiful rooms, perched atop the hotel overlooking the churning darkness of the ocean against the Waikiki Beach. I could not bring myself to join in their conversations; the small talk far too draining for this point in the night. So I gravitated towards the balcony and stared off into infinity.

It was beautiful. And haunting. Throughout my trip, it was the ocean's vastness and solemn, persistent rhythm that arrested me. How large it was, stretching towards the horizon as if literally the edge of the earth. It made me feel so small, so full with wonder. In the night, the black waves had the feeling of an endless army throwing itself against a stolid foe; a war of attrition that slowly but surely the waves would win, even if it took millions upon millions of softly violent iterations.

I was afraid of the height, afraid to stand at the edge and look over the railing. I was wryly amused at this fear, given the countless number of times I've given so much careful thought to killing myself. And it occurred to me, in that moment, how easy it would be. All I need do was quickly put one leg over the other to escape the rail, and I would crash lifelessly below. I considered it. I thought of the risk to those I might land upon, thought of the grizzly scene everyone would see. Thought of how many others might be dead and dying in the vast hotel hives of the city. How impactful to some and yet ultimately small my death would be in the scope of the thing; a curiosity, a grotesque, maybe a trauma for a small few. How ironic it would be, to dive at a party of Psychologists trained in mitigating distress. Would someone see me in the 2 seconds of my movement, yell "No!," throw a "no suicide" contract like a shuriken to strike me on the spot, wonder for the rest of their lives what they could have done to stop me?

Then I looked again at the sprawling ocean. And in its movement and its immensity, I found some solace. Drawing upon its beauty, I asked myself "What are the voices saying, those small piercing cries that push you towards this task?" They are screaming "YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. YOU ARE WASTE. YOU HAVE NO VALUE. YOU OFFER NOTHING." And I sat with their sharp sounds. And as I sat, I felt a kindness bubble from inside me. It flowed through me and in the soft insistence of the waves, it overcame the voices. Softly, truly, I whispered "I *do* have value." I began to cry. And I decided, at least for the moment, to live. To live, and so deciding, to step away from my thoughts and go about the joyous task of absorbing the beauty of the moment. The waves crashed on, and so did I.

***

Hawai'i was lonely. I met no other trans women at the conference (out, at least). Five or six trans men, but no trans women. Indeed, one trans man who had long been active in APA was heartened that I, as a trans woman, existed. "We've been waiting four years for a trans woman to show up." And veiled behind that assertion lie a million questions as to why there aren't other trans women. What barriers have kept my sisters away? What forces have crushed them as they've approached? Likely, I assume, the same ones that weigh upon me now.

I am the only one of me in every space. In some ways, I know, this is true of all of us. But I feel it poignantly. No space was explicitly welcoming of me; few knew of the unique challenges trans women encounter in the world. There were many good intentions, of course; when I came out, most people were pleasantly surprised. It was clear that many were more than willing for spaces to be better (if someone else would do the work). Yet I think part of me hoped for more, hoped that even more of the work would have already been done. It does feel good to feel special and unique, to have one's very existence spur change. But it is lonely all the same.

I hoped for more on a smaller scale, too. There were some women who I tried to flirt with, but it was faltering, platonic. I think one has to believe one is desirable to create that dialectic of desire, and neither I nor my culture believe that of me. Even on a broader interpersonal level, everyone else seemed to know someone else, to have come with family or friends; most did not seem as if they really wanted to make new friends. They were there to network, to get professional contacts, to have fun with those they already knew. Our needs were different; I did not fit in the spaces they provided. I realized that perhaps I am unusual, to be so often alone. I felt no small amount of envy for their intimacies, for their companionships. As with most everywhere else, here too I felt alien.

***

On Saturday, I woke up sick. I had tried to do too much, and my body was rebelling. I insisted on going to some conference activities, but by midday I gave in and returned to my hotel room to sleep. I let myself feel my exhaustion, and it flooded into me, the force draining me even as the release nourished. I woke off and on, eventually deciding to forgo my planned evening activities in the hope of rebuilding myself.

As evening approached, I went downstairs to check my email and get a sandwich. I decided that eating in the hotel would be a waste, so I ate on the beach. The sun was already outside my view, setting someplace else, but I always enjoy the vibrant pinks of dusk. I sat on a small wall, watching the people and the waves, eating. As I sat, I acknowledged that I hadn't physically touched the Pacific since my arrival, hadn't felt those waters since a high school trip to San Diego more than a decade ago. I realized it might be now or never. So I put down my things, took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my jeans, and started walking.

Surrounded by tourists, I felt cushioned and safe. I appreciated the feel of the sand on my feet, the ocean lapping in and out, tasting the land before retreating. I liked the way the waves softly buried my feet in sand, briefly taking hold of me. I liked how impermanent my footprints were. How impermanent everything was. How small I felt. And yet, how cohesive too. I was alone and yet surrounded by people, alien and yet organic. I thought of how I had felt so little in my 27 years, thought of my recurring fear of a life lived without feeling alive.

But the same force that prompted me to touch the ocean sprang to life, saying "If not now, when?" I was in a beautiful space, dipping my feet in infinity, safe and secure and tasked with nothing but the necessary mechanics of existence. Why not live now?

So I did. I practiced letting go of my thoughts and seeing the ocean. I smiled at children playing in the surf. I let myself feel a fierce, gracious joy. I let myself live.

Not only did I live, I embraced myself. Certainly, I found myself envying the couples on the beach, walking hand in hand, and I wanted that. I wanted it so very much. I wanted to share my experiences, to find meaning in the presence of others. I acknowledged these thoughts, and they felt true. But beyond wishing was the now, and the now was that I was with me. I could share the beauty with myself, I could converse with myself, I could tease and play and love myself. I could spend a lifetime waiting for another to unlock my heart or I could open it myself. So I did.

When I finally returned to my hotel room, I sat on my balcony for a long while, overlooking Honolulu. In the past, it would have been madness for me to simply sit and be, but now I cultivated the feeling. I loved the city. I loved myself. I playfully chided myself that 24 hours before, I had seriously been considering denying myself this moment, denying myself all future moments. And when I blew the city a kiss goodnight, it was like the end of a loveletter to it and all and me.

***

On Monday, I ate alone at a small vegan restaurant and then walked to downtown Honolulu. I passed numerous parks, and the trash and the homeless people in them seemed a metaphor for a paradise still scarred by colonialism and inequity. Closer to the Capitol, the parks became cleaner. Eventually, I reached 'Iolani Palace, "the only royal palace in the United States used as an official residence by a reigning monarch."

I didn't go inside the Palace. But just being on the grounds and visiting its statues of Queen Liliuokalani and Kamehameha the Great had a solemn, resilient power that nourished me. The lawn had large trees interspersed, and I sat underneath one for awhile. I felt breezes warm and cool, watched the tourists take their pictures, stared up into the sky through leafy filters. There was nowhere to go, nothing to be but here and myself.

Like the Saturday evening balcony, the calm was new for me. It was not "relaxed," not exactly. It was connected. With the space, but also with myself.

I have spent my whole life hating myself. Wishing I was different, wishing I was more, thinking of all the things I should be doing that I have not will not can not. But on the beach, on the balconies, at the palace, I let go of my regret and resentment, set aside my anxiety, and I let myself live. I felt strong and I felt beautiful and I let myself live.

***

I'll write more in a few weeks about the changes I've made in the past year. Hawaii was not so much the answer as it was a catalyst for processes that have been in motion for many years. And it is an ongoing process. There is an ebb and flow, still; I felt the terror return anew the moment I reentered work on Wednesday. As the stress of the new school year builds, I will retreat into more anxiety and be enveloped in more fear.

But more than ever, I will have the strength to set those feelings aside. A quiet confidence is growing inside me, a fierce joy spreads its leaves. I am maturing into the vision of myself I saw when transition was more a question for the future not a description of the past. I am becoming that tall, willowy woman with the strong sad eyes and small fierce smile, who is passionate and compassionate, wryly playful and empathetic, driven by a vision of a world that includes, affirms, and empowers everyone. I am, as I have been doing for the past four years, becoming myself. And the more of her I discover, the more of her I love.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Giving and Receiving

For the past year or so, I've been making a concerted effort to connect with my emotions. I've been in this damned cognitive space for so long, and it feels exhausted; I need to feel the core of myself and heal the source of the poisons leaking out. One such poison is my difficulty accepting what others give me. And I can think of few better concrete examples of this than sex.

Sex has always been hard for me. I don't think that's surprising: feeling intensely alienated from your body makes anything that intimate and physical an incredibly fraught experience. But that disconnect was primarily evident when it came to *my* body. When focusing upon others' bodies, sex was wonderful. I love giving oral sex. I love it so much that it's still almost inconceivable to me that anyone doesn't like it. I love making people I care about feel good. I love the fluidity, I love the taste, the smell, the muscles tensing, the waves coursing through the body, the lovely release. I just love it.

But having someone reciprocate has always been a maddening exercise in futility. I have had women who so strongly wanted me to orgasm, who truly genuinely sweetly care about me and wanted to make me feel as good as I made them feel. And I just couldn't do it.

Not only could I not orgasm, though, I could rarely even enjoy the process. The arousal that I felt was more terror than pleasure; constant worrying, constant concern, constant guilt. I felt disgusting, as if I was punishing them by making them focus upon my repulsive form. As if I was degrading them. And I felt afraid, too. Afraid that I would never orgasm, afraid that they would spend forever trying and it might not be enough. Afraid that they would give me *so much more* than I could ever give them, and that they would hate and resent me for the irreconcilable imbalance. I was afraid that if I took more than I gave them, they would leave.

Sex felt weirdly transactional. I insisted upon giving as much or more than I received, and when I couldn't I felt terrified and out of control. One of my partners once said "we're not keeping score," but in my mind we were. If I took more than I gave, she would leave. And her leaving was the last thing that I wanted.

That's been a fear all my life. My father had deep trauma inside him that he never shared. This pain, that no one ever reached but impacted him so, made him fiercely protective of his emotional resources. He made it clear to us that if we asked too much of him, he would leave. Our need would drive him from our lives, and with his exit it felt like our family, our world would end. To prevent that, we always gave him what he wanted and tried to ask for as little as possible from him. And if we did that, he would stay.

So I developed this sense of transactional love. I, of course, could and should give as much as I was able. But receiving care was always a delicate calculus, something I had earned or a loan I must soon repay. If there was an imbalance, it *must* be in favor of me giving more.

This, of course, was not sustainable. Most people who care about you like to give you things. Food, hugs, places to stay, space to screw up. Compassion, empathy. And, yes, sometimes even sex. And when you resist these things, it feels like you're rejecting them. My father's inability to feel my love made me feel like my love simply wasn't good enough, like *I* wasn't good enough. My mother's inability to feel my love made me feel distant and helpless. And I know, on a smaller scale, I've replicated those dynamics.

Because people have given me things. There are numerous people in just the past week who have deeply, sincerely offered me beautiful affirmations of the good they see in me. And each time, when I feel so close to forgetting my guilty calculations and just authentically accepting what they offer me, I pull away. It's felt so reminiscent of my trials with orgasm: so close to just giving in and accepting someone's care, but inevitably pulling away each time.

I had one such experience in a workshop on Sunday, when I was surrounded with a literal chorus of voices raised in support as I faced some of my deepest fears. And yet afterward, I found myself feeling a sickish nausea. A nasty feeling, like violation, like loss of control. I felt raw. And guilty. How could I ever repay these people? How could they have given this me-creature so much, and how I could withstand never being able to reciprocate. Surely they hate me. Surely they resent me, resent not having *their* needs met. Surely, they will leave me.

But in therapy Monday morning, I came upon a question I had never before considered: What is so wrong about me receiving more than others? Why do I cling to this model of fierce karmic equality? What of equity? What of giving what I can and taking what is offered, regardless of the disparity between the two?

I have a friend with a disability. It impedes her movement, it makes her tired. When I am with her, I constantly restrain my long quick stride to a pace that accommodates her. I wait at elevators, I drive when I could walk, I slow when I could fast. When she is too tired to go to something we'd planned to do, I celebrate her self-care instead of resenting the change of plans. And all of this time, I do not keep a tally of "what she owes." I do not expect to someday be repaid. I give because I can, because she matters more than my convenience, because giving brings me closer to her. I give because I love her, and she loves me. I give because I like giving.

And so does she! Not out of obligation or to "repay me." She's just a loving, giving person. And, of course, as I've grown to accept her love more and more, I continually find that when I *do* accept people's care and love, I'm able to give so much more. When I take care of myself, I'm better able to take care of others. When I let others take care of me, I'm better able to take care of them.

Love is not a finite, trade-able commodity. We can't hide it under our mattresses. It doesn't accrue interest. To keep it alive, we have to let it out and accept it back in. It feeds upon itself or it starves. And the more I concern myself with counting and analyzing and weighing, the further I get from authentically giving what I can and accepting what is offered. The further I get from loving and being loved.

So it is my hope that, as I continue to grow, I'll be more and more able to accept care from others and offer the care I have to give without worrying about whether the values in those columns come out even in the end.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

On Believing in Better

At the core of this malaise I'm in seem to be two core questions:

- Do I want to feel better?
- Do I believe I can feel better?

For the first, I think I'm increasingly accepting that I have to feel better if I'm going to be able to best be of value to others. Hell, I have to be of value to myself if I'm to most effectively be of value to others. Much of me doesn't want to, doesn't feel I deserve to, feels the prospect is terrifying and threatening, and it feels audacious to even say "It's ok for me to feel ok with myself." But deep down, I know this is the only path to everything I want in life.

However, the second question is more difficult. I've not directly engaged it here; I tend to focus upon "how to get better" as opposed to "do I believe better is possible?" Yet I think that second question is having a direct impact upon my ability to live the first question.

In short, emotionally, I don't believe I can feel better. I feel that no matter what I do/say/think, I will always fundamentally and irreparably flawed. In a word, I am "deficient." I mentioned this two posts ago, how this sense of inefficacy and hopelessness springs from my conviction that I simply cannot succeed. That's why it was such a victory to persist and overcome: it's just not something I typically do.

I'm sure an outsider observer might object, citing my transition as a particularly strong counterpoint. But I honestly don't think I've "overcome" anything. My most recent post is about how deeply ingrained my belief is that I'm not female. That I can never be female. That I shall always be a wretched impostor, incapable of being desired or loved. Or rather, if someone does desire me they are repressing their revulsion out of benevolent altruism and that my only ethical course of action would be for me to dissuade them from this charity.

I don't believe in myself. I don't believe I have what it takes, on an elemental level, to avoid the fate of my father: alone and miserable. I can devise all kinds of stratagems and theories, but ultimately I will fail. And when I fail, I will be abandoned or drive everyone away in the process.

If I really am going to get better, I have to believe it's possible. I have a few ideas about how to do that, but I want to sit with this for awhile. I've rushed into conviction far too much to know that I need to be patient with this.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Sir"

I'm fairly certain a cashier just called me "sir."

I don't think this should feel as painful and devastating as it does. I don't know if it was intentional or not; I was wearing glasses and a t-shirt. I'm not entirely certain it's what he said, but I'm pretty sure. And it's not like he said anything else that was mean or cruel.

But this, combined with going into "boy mode" when I went to see my grandmother earlier this week, is just so fucking hard for me. And I think what makes it so hard is that it illustrates how tenuous my passing is. If all it takes is glasses and a t-shirt...

It just feels incredibly discouraging. I know it shouldn't invalidate me; the validity of my identity should not be subject to the perceptions of ideas of others. And, practically speaking, it's only something to truly fear if it leads to harassment or danger. I know I pass most of the time, or at least more people don't tell me otherwise.

But it contributes to my constant anxiety about being around others, because I never know (or trust) what they see me as. Again, I know it shouldn't be so integrally important that others see me as female, but... it does. And I think a lot of that is internalized transphobia. I know how the vast majority of the world believes trans women are repulsive and sickening. I know that even people who are intellectually ok with trans women still have a difficult time emotionally accepting us as women. I know that there are *so* many people, even people who desperately wish it were not true for them, that just find us viscerally uncomfortable. Especially when it comes to attraction.

That's really what this is about. It is almost impossible for me to imagine myself as desirable. I just can't imagine anyone ever wanting me. That's already really difficult for me to do without considering my transness, but when I include it... how *could* anyone want me? Like, authentically, holistically want me? It just defies belief. And the further I am from the "cis ideal," the more I feel that my fundamental sense of deficiency is confirmed.

Intellectually, I can argue with this. If I was listening to someone else, I would never believe it and probably actively dispute it. But for myself, emotionally... it's just so omnipresent and encompassing. And it's destroying me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Small Steps

Change is hard. It requires a lot more practice than I'd like to think. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.

I had another electrolysis appointment today in Dallas. I've kind of liked going to Dallas; it's given me an excuse to leave Knoxville and, for a person who's so rarely traveled, it's been a good way to practice going out into the world alone.

But it's been expensive. The actual cost isn't a huge problem; one of the (few) benefits of going to the University of Tennessee is that I ended up leaving college with a fair amount more than I entered (I had a full ride and my grandparents/mother let me keep the money they'd been saving for me; plus I worked part time pretty consistently. And I'm fortunate enough to come from a middle class family so I had my mom's insurance and phone plan through college.). But much of the reason I still have the money is that I've felt so guilty spending it.

Transition related costs are pretty justifiable for me; the permanency makes it seem more like an investment. But it's still terribly discouraging to spend so many thousands of dollars and weeks of my life painfully getting facial hair removed that the vast majority of cis women never have to think about. And even if it is an investment, it's still solely spent on *me*.... ugh.

That guilt hit me square in my already beaten face today when the electrolysis tech said "8-10" more treatments. I guess I'd hoped my lazer treatments would mitigate some of the time, and they have in terms of intensity (5hr treatments vs. 16hrs). But 8-10 more is not only really expensive, it's also pretty much impossible for me to do with school (the hair grows in cycle so I'm supposed to return every 7-8 weeks).

Given the five hours of electrified needles and not having eaten today, this left me thoroughly discouraged.

I tried scanning Dallas for a grocery store so I could get some fucking bananas, but the closest I could come was a Wal-Mart which had paltry fare. I bought a bag of animal crackers, drove back to my hotel, and cried.

I felt so thoroughly hopeless and deficient. It was as if the integrity of my existence was fractured; I felt so weak and inadequate in handling the simple tasks of human existence it was as if I was just going to shatter at any moment. Simply because things that should be so easy felt so so hard.

A few hours after sitting in the dark in my hotel room, I set out to get a veggie sub because I would be damned if I didn't eat something that had some remote nutritious value. But I overestimated my ability to memorize the directions and, since I had no smart phone, I ended up going the wrong way.

It confirmed all my horrible suspicions. I'm already settling for fast food instead of something approximating what Real People Eat and I can't even navigate simple areas of Dallas to find it. I end up near a suburb with a lovely trail, but I'm so tired and hungry I can only think about how lost and pathetic I am.

This is the thing about change. I can write strong, emphatic posts about anger and resilience that seems to imply I am determined to do things differently. But fundamentally, part of me still feels as if I'm flawed on an essential level. And even as my brain tells me that this is fatigue, that this is hunger, that this is those fucking electrified needles, that this is isolation and loneliness and fear, that I am more than this, my heart feels familiar fissures forming and I despair.

That's the pattern: get discouraged, succumb to the stultifying embrace of my inadequacy, give up hope.

But for whatever reason, I don't give up. I don't even know why. But I keep going, keep persevering, and somehow I find the damn thing. And, as pathetic as it is, I feel like it's a little victory.

And I realize that my lost detour is actually a blessing. I drive back to the trail and eat my sandwich staring up at the Texas sky, smiling at bicyclists and watching the water fowl of the little cove as the sun sets in tranquility. And when I walk closer to the water, two beautiful White Herons fly out from around the corner and perch upon a tree. So I stand for a few minutes, watching them, and feeling as if I'm uncovering some beautiful part of myself.

If I had written down my directions like a Real Competent Adult, I would have driven to Subway, gotten a sandwich, and driven back to my hotel to eat alone in my small dark room away from the world. Instead, I had an opportunity to make mistakes, prove resilient, and turn those mistakes into joyful little detours.

It wasn't a "fireworks in the sky," "lifechanging epiphany" moment. But it was a moment, however small, where a younger me would have repeated an old, destructive pattern. Instead, I had something new. Something small, something modest, but something different. A small step, but in the right direction nonetheless. It felt like change.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Grate Depression

After a very long hiatus, the wonderful Allie from the webcomic "Hyperbole and a Half" has returned with "Depression, Part Two," a follow up to "Adventures in Depression." Before I go further, I cannot stress enough: I really like these posts. Anything that helps to normalize and destigmatize depression is wonderful, and Allie does it with authenticity, vulnerability and humor in fantastic ways.

The part that elicited the strongest reaction from me, though, was the pervasive sense of powerlessness throughout. Specifically, the sense that depression is just something that "happens" to a person, like one's own personal black rain cloud that follows you around for no reason.
Eyeore and a black rain cloud.
"The Hundred Acre Wood's drought was finally over. BUT AT WHAT COST?!"
I realize that this is the way it feels. That no matter how hard you try, you cannot care. That all of your actions are shrouded in this persistent feeling of incompetency and meaninglessness. That you are alone and your attempts to reach out to other people are met by misunderstanding and incessant problem solving. Everyone encourages you to be "happy" or to "fix it" in some way or another and each time you think "Fuck you! If this was just about choosing to be happy I probably would have done that by now don't you think?" Allie's metaphor of the "dead fish" is beautiful because it so aptly illustrates how people really do want to help, but they're trying to help with the problem they think is there not the one you're actually grappling with.

Indeed, often times you try so hard and hate yourself so much (as wonderfully illustrated [haaah] in Allie's first depression comic), and you find yourself simply incapable of feeling better and hating yourself for your failure to do what "should" be so very easy. Someone at the Counseling Center yesterday said she's been trying to live by a quote to the effect of "Don't let your best days always be in the future," meaning that one should try to find a way to make now be the best. And I love that idea and hate it because I so desperately want now to feel good. However, as you have probably noticed if you've been reading any of me for the past ever, despite trying so very hard I have yet to find a way how to make it so.

Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise!
I'm trying, goddamn it!

And this is where my reservations come in. It feels like it's happening for no reason and no matter how hard I try I can't shake it. But I also firmly believe that, at their core, depression and anxiety are adaptive. Biology/brain chemistry may predispose us to them or exacerbate them when they arise, but these conditions are not solely the creation of brain chemistry. Brain chemistry may open a gate wider than those found in other brains and brain chemistry may make what we find on the other side more difficult to endure, but we still on some level decide to walk through.

It's important here to be clear: I don't think people choose to be depressed or to be overly anxious. Those things suck, unambiguously. But I do think people choose to stay in situations where they are unfulfilled. I do think people choose to not express their anger towards others. I do think people choose to direct disproportionate anger towards themselves. I do think people choose to remain constantly vigilant for threats to themselves and their loved ones. I do think people choose to be incredibly afraid of the judgment of others. Etc. And I do think those choices have negative consequences which often manifest as depression and anxiety.

The important distinction here, again, is that it's not necessarily that a person wants these bad consequences. But they choose to engage in behaviors that elicit them because the alternative, in their minds (and usually heavily informed by their experiences), is worse. Living in fear gives them some sense of control that they can prevent something terrible from happening. Not expressing anger allows for less conflict with others (avoiding the punishment expressing anger brings). Fearing judgment of others helps keep you from doing things that incur that judgment and its consequences. Etc.

All of these choices are valid. They are not arbitrary or stupid: they make sense and we get something from them. For instance, it was "better" for me to direct my anger at myself than express it to my father because doing so would only end up with me hurt more. I felt miserable, self-loathing, and guilty, but I also gained some control and safety. At the time, those were more important.

So too, it's not someone's "fault" they are depressed. This is not about blame. I made that choice (although it felt less like a "choice" and more like a "necessary adaptation") when I was younger, and even though it did immense damage to me, at the time I really think that was better than the alternative. No one else can judge what is an acceptable risk or the "best" course of action for you to take regarding decisions that affect only you. Hypervigilance to protect against risks may be what you need to feel like you can exist in the world and even as it's incredibly stressful and scary, it might be what you need to feel like you can stop horrible things from happening (usually again). It's not anyone else's place to say whether the stress is worse than giving up that sense of control.

However, I also know that as I have gotten older and my circumstances have changed, the consequences have increasingly been outweighing the benefits. I'm still really afraid of the consequences because I know so painfully what they can be, so change is coming really hard. Yet I've increasingly learned that change is the only way for me to get what I want from life (to wit: close, meaningful relationships and to be a good therapist). That's more important to me than the benefits of this pattern, so I'm trying to do the very hard work of changing.

Sometimes change happens when we explicitly decide to give something up in order to get something different. For instance by giving up the pursuit of perfectionism, we risk and likely endure some disappointment in exchange for less anxiety and guilt.

Sometimes circumstances change and we don't have to make the choice, such as when your partner in a toxic relationship breaks up with you and after initially mourning you feel better without them.

Or sometimes something happens to make the choice easier, such as "My therapist listened to me and supported me; I feel safer because someone is on my side, making the potential consequences of taking this new action less hurtful so I can choose to take it now."

But, at the core, I think we are still making choices, even if the results hurt a whole fucking lot. And deciding that some actions, consequences and risks are better than what we currently have is often how change happens.

I don't know Allie, and I don't know what's happened to her or why she's depressed. I know that not feeling things sucks. That it's frustrating and confusing and feels so damned hopeless. That it feels like it has no reason. But I also know that not feeling often feels better than being hurt (like you were when you did feel, whether you did that damage to yourself or someone else did it to you). I know that it often inoculates from fear, from disappointment, from rejection, from anger. I know that it's a way to protect one's self from fully engaging difficult questions about the purpose and meaning of one's life. Etc.

I don't know if any of those things are happening for Allie. It would be presumptive to guess. And I fully believe that it feels beyond her control. But as a therapist and as someone who's had decades of depression for herself and her family, the brain chemistry black cloud model is just intolerable for me to accept. I have to believe there's a reason. I have to believe there's hope, that change is possible. That Allie can change.

It may not matter that we find the reason; there are options for change that happen when we get certain things we've been lacking that make change seem almost inexplicable. Maybe medication may help. Maybe she'll make an epic pilgrimmage to the corn palace and she'll experience a moment of existential transcendence that will prove to her that though she is but one kernel in the great cob of life, it is the kernels that make corn possible.

I don't know. And maybe this is more about what I want to be true than what actually is. But I really do believe there is a place for hope in depression. And this is how I've found mine.
ALL HAIL THE CORN PALACE
Kernels of wisdom, cobbled together throughout the ages
as humanity stumbles through this maze we call life.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Finding Love in Anger

For as long as I can remember, I have been ashamed of my gender identity. I’ve tried to write and speak so much about that space, but in many ways it defies description. I was not a whole person, I was not “real,” I was a shadow of myself. And even as, in my core, I felt I knew who I “really” was, my culture and the people composing it made it abundantly clear that such a sense of self was not only a deviant perversion to be ashamed of but a literally impossible fantasy.

                Yet as I emerged into young adulthood, I discovered that this part of myself was not something I could ignore.  Although I tried to resist it, without being true to myself I found I would never be able to authentically connect to another. Through the help of a wonderful therapist, I was at least able to accept that it was possible for me to “aspire” to be female. I was still ashamed, still terrified of the potential fallout, still so incredibly afraid that I would never be considered “female enough” to count. But eventually I reached a point where transition was the only viable solution that even held the possibility of me keeping myself alive for the foreseeable future.

But when I finally did start transitioning, that shame turned to guilt. If shame is “I am bad” and guilt is “I do bad,” then I felt it was with world destroying audacity that I dared call myself woman. I felt guilty even being in a room with someone my identity was making uncomfortable, acutely aware of their feelings all the time. I felt even guiltier “correcting” people about pronouns and names, which they slipped between without even noticing. Indeed, I felt guilty for the constant act of being myself.

                However, to my surprise I also discovered that most people would be pretty nice, if you approached them right. If I was small, polite, apologetic, people might be awkward or confused, but few were intentionally rude. 1 If I swallowed my hurt and made the fears my fault, if I forgave them everything and blamed myself for the discomfort, if my only challenge to them was my existence, people were usually pretty decent. And it was this way that I survived. Intellectualized, self-loathing, wracked with guilt, never vulnerable, never letting the rage and hurt and immense alienation I felt out, I survived.

                I changed minds, too. I was the first (out) trans person most people I knew had met. Most people didn’t know anything about trans people, even in “LGBT” spaces, so I started doing classes to try to provide some basic information. And many responded really well. I felt alone and afraid, but I knew they wanted a narrative of me feeling better (in order to make my arduous transition “worthwhile”), so that’s what I showed them. They gained knowledge, saw the me they wanted to see, and felt good doing it.

                What’s more, I was so very well-behaved. Someone told me that, too. A person in one of the other programs in our department, saying “I wish the others were more like you.” When ze said it, it was like I’d been slapped. Suddenly my restraint had become a weapon to invalidate “the others’” hurt and “the others’” anger. I was “the good one.” The one who showed that it was possible to be better, that they were just not trying hard enough. They want to be angry, they want to be hurt, they want to be sensitive. Juliet isn’t, so why do they have to be? I filed it away; I was still ok with being “nice,” because I knew it meant people would be nice back. But I didn’t forget.

                I kept doing more presentations. I began getting invitations to go to classes. The presentations kept going well. But I was also angry. I didn’t know how angry I was, but I was angry. Some came out in classes, me steeling myself in intellectualized assertion, never emotional but so strong, so active in my comments. I was a social justicar, and I had to comment, I always had to comment, because I didn’t trust anyone else to speak. I was so used to commenting, so used to confrontation-that-wasn’t-confrontation that it didn’t feel like it should be an issue. I do this all the time, every day. I choke it down every time someone says “LGBT” and means “gay,” every time someone talks about gay marriage as if it’s the end all be all of queer activism, every misgendering, every misnaming, every time someone takes for granted that someone is like them, is advocating for them, is sympathetic to them, knows who and what they are. I’m “brave” and “honest” all the fucking time. And as I fell even moreso into that role, I just kept taking on more.

Just so, when my responsibilities increased, I found I just couldn’t handle things as well. When I got to my Trans series during Fall of last year, I started getting sick. I had the constant stress of grad school while still pushing myself to keep on presenting, keep on educating, keep on trying to play nice because when you’re nice others are nice. All while I was being consumed with feelings of guilt and shame and failure.

This semester, I broke. Like a toxic waste barrel filling up to the brim with poison, it started spilling out more and more. I started doing too much, saying too much, feeling too much responsibility and pressure in far too many places and trying to do it all. It felt great to be so busy, to be doing so many things, but when I stopped I found myself aching. I started being more vulnerable in my classes, sobbing in confrontations or when trying to express how thoroughly I felt I wasn’t doing enough. At first this was  welcome, but it kept escalating. I was just too much. I was dominating, I was audibly impatient with sighs and eyerolls, I didn’t trust anyone to do anything because no one ever seemed to do the things or say the things unless I did and how could I trust otherwise now? I was so used to it all. And when I started imploding as a therapist, taking on too much and having it be too much for my clients (failing where it really hurt)… I started falling apart.

Suicide, my constant fallback, became a persistent thought. That's nothing new. But what really concerned me was when I seriously considered dropping out of the program. Mind you, being a psychotherapist as Juliet is literally what I have wanted more than anything else in my life. And because I didn’t feel I could do it adequately, I’d rather drop out, fade into obscurity, and wither away than keep on failing so much all the time. Then I started doing my Trans series for the Spring semester. And I got the flu. And my voice left. And I kept pushing, kept going because I wanted to do good so very very badly.

And the harder I pushed, the more the toxins kept spilling over the brim and splashing on others. I realized that I couldn’t keep this up. Something had to give. And that something was the source of all the relentless pressure, of that constant grinding pressure to “do more:” the guilt.

But that’s the thing, right? The guilt’s adaptive. It’s a way of turning all that pain and anger inward, of making me “the good one.” And now that I’m challenging it? I have a hell of a lot of pain and a hell of a lot of anger that I honestly don’t know what to do with.

Surprisingly enough, that anger crystallized in our intergroup dialogue. 2 We’d been having “success,” creating an environment where the Christians (dominant group) felt safe enough to openly grapple with the ways their beliefs about the superiority/universal Truth of their religion conflicted with their desires to be loving, accepting people. I’d probably been too involved as a facilitator-participant, but it was still non-blaming, non-confrontational. We had an intense session about Christian superiority and attitudes towards LGBT folks, but it was challenging in a productive way.

And then we started processing it. When we were processing it, the Christians owned that they were struggling with divergent values, and I really appreciated that. I appreciated their honesty and openness about grappling with “Christian supremacy.” They started talking about how they were “growing” and that this was “part of a process of change” and who could ask for anything more? Wasn’t this the goal of the intergroup dialogues, to have the dominant group ask themselves hard questions about their privilege and role in oppression of others? Weren’t they actively and honestly engaging in it? I mean, it would be unreasonable to honestly expect them to change their minds then and there. That’s a long, difficult process. They were trying, they really really were.

But then they started to accept that “process.” Their views were evolving and they just needed to be patient with that growth. And while that’s, like, exactly right because you can’t rush that shit, they’re only human, these things are deep-seated… it really, really bothered me. It really, really bothered me because it really hit me in that moment that I was literally waiting on them to give me the rights they already have. Was I supposed to be ok with that? Really, really ok with that? Was I supposed to say “Thank you, oh open-minded Christians, for considering granting me access to the privileges you already have!” That’s what this entire process has been about, right? Right?

That’s certainly the political reality. Nothing in this country happens without the Christians’ permission. They’re 70% of the population: they control every position of government power in the country.  I literally have to wait on them to decide to grant me my rights, rights they already have and take for granted.
And it’s not just “Christians,” as a group. Christians are 70% of the population, but cis people are 99%. This very dynamic of waiting on people to grant me rights they already have is what I’m engaged in constantly, all the time. It was only in that moment that I realized it.

And you know what? That fucking sucks. That infuriates me. And it infuriates me all the more that I have to swallow that infuriation. That I have to choke down every incessant microaggression, every feeling of discomfort, every single comment (countless every single day) and I have to smile and calmly, politely say something which still makes me feel like the bad guy. Or I could not say anything, and sit there in my shame and hurt and discomfort because I don’t want to be the bad guy again. Or, I can cry. And while I cry, I can try to validate their fears because I don’t want to be attacking, don’t want to make them feel like they make me feel all the fucking time, but I can put my vulnerability on display so they can get a glimpse as to what this shit is really like and when I’m done they can say “oh. You’re really brave.” The courageous audacity of me being myself.

Because you know what would happen if I don’t do those things? If, instead, I honestly and without reserve express how hurt and angry I am at having to put up with this shit all the time, every day? I will be all the more alone. One more angry tranny, angry feminazi, angry queer, angry man in a dress who if I was just “logical and reasonable” like I used to be before I transitioned (or so I have literally been told) I might actually be able to get shit accomplished and have people listen and wait patiently for them to let me have some of the things they never question not having.

So when one of the Christians in the class says “I mean, we’re fundamentally all broken just in different ways. So how can I judge your [queerness] when I’m just as sinful?” I don’t stand up and scream “If you want to see yourself as sinful and broken I will be sad for you but give you the space to self-determine for yourself. Just don’t fucking craft an entire culture, government, and society undergirded by the assumption that I and everyone else are broken and inherently, irreparably damaged because of your beliefs.” Because saying that would be cruel and make her feel terrible. 3 Hell, it’s not even her fault: she didn’t make the system, she just benefits from it. But even if I did that, it wouldn’t be a teaspoon compared to the constant ramifications for myself and all of us who suffer because of that system (and others like it) I’d describe.

I don’t say it, though. I know who has the power and ability to make changes in this country. A self-identified queer student asked me after a presentation how I responded to folks who wanted to be allies, saying “I get pissed off when straight people want to be good liberals by being allies because I don’t fucking want or need their approval.” And I said, “I do need cis people. Perhaps LGB folks have a critical mass in our culture and the wind at their backs, but I still can’t even get my birth certificate to say ‘female.’ Only cis people can make it so I can do that.”

So yeah, there’s a realist inside of me. I want to go all Malcolm X and turn my guilt into anger, consistently and accurately putting the blame of my oppression where it belongs. I want to embrace “self-defense” and respond with the anger and pain I feel when people say hurtful things, not attacking them but simply returning the pain they make me feel. Malcolm X feels so good when you’re an oppressed person. But Martin Luther King Jr. got results from the dominant group. He sacrificed himself and his followers, persistently and consistently, putting his suffering on display while turning the other loving cheek. But he did get results.

So that’s where I’ve been and where I’m at. I am angry, I am discouraged, and I am honestly burnt out. But I am also learning what I need to do to keep doing this work. I have to stop fighting this anger and turning it into guilt. It is not my fault that my identity makes others uncomfortable. It is not fault that my body does not meet cisgender ideals of beauty or validity, and I am not required to hate myself for not meeting them. It is not my responsibility to make cisgender people accept me, understand me, or feel comfortable about me. I may choose to do those things, but I have no obligation to. And when I choke back my anger because it is more “effective” to respond with the patience and kindness I am expected to have an infinite supply of, I can choose to do it. But I don’t have to.

I want to be a loving, patient person, but to do that I need to love myself too. And loving myself means accepting that I am not responsible for creating or ending my own oppression. Loving myself means acknowledging my anger and sharing it with others, because my hurt is not just my problem but our problem. Loving myself means, if I choose, to not feel guilty for telling you that you benefit from systems of socially constructed oppression centered around identity and it hurts me. Just as loving you means challenging myself to acknowledge and destroy those same systems I benefit from that hurt you.

                So I’m not giving up on this work. I’m not giving up on dialogue. But if I am to keep doing it, I simply must do it differently. I have to be kinder to myself. I have to be more validating to myself, even when those feelings may be difficult for myself and, worst of all, other people. I have to be better about acknowledging shared responsibility for hurt instead of making it all my own. I have to find a way to love myself. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that loving myself is the only way I’ll ever be able to truly love others.



1. Being white, being middle class, and passing well helped.

2. For those who don’t know, this semester I participated in an “intergroup dialogue” (IGD) as a cofacilitator-participant. The idea in IGDs is to identify dominant/oppressed social identity categories and create “dialogue” groups with half dominant members, half oppressed members to explore privilege, raise consciousness, form relationships, and ultimately empower individuals to pursue social change. So there are IGDs on race with half White, half non-White, on sexuality with half heterosexual half LGBQ, etc. I was in the “religion/spirituality” group composed of Christians and non-Christians as the non-Christian participant-facilitator. This is partially a reflection upon that dialogue as well as a reflection on my evolution as a social justice advocate and trans woman.
3. It would also be an abuse of power in the context of IGDs, but I think the feeling is applicable for contexts where I'm not in a "facilitator" role as well as a "participant" role. It just so happens I realized it here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

On Poison


Some online friends were discussing video games we played as kids. This prompted me to start looking up some of the games I played, and one of them was Final Fight 2 (because it had a female playable character). As I was wikiing the game, I started reading about the character “Poison” from the original Final Fight.
I’d heard of Poison before, but I’d never read anything about her history. So I eventually ended up here and read this:
“However—and while the exacts of the decision are still a little hazy—before Final Fight was released in the West, Capcom decided that players outside of their home territory wouldn’t take too kindly to beating up a girl. So, a decision was made: The character of Poison would now be considered transgender. Though the logic seems rather unfortunate, it’s said that the idea was that punching a woman wouldn’t be acceptable, but punch a woman who used to be a man would be.”


That about says it all, doesn’t it? It would be too “beyond the pale” to have the hero commit violence against a "real" woman (that's the villain's job), but if we turn the character into a trans woman then go right ahead!

The rest of the article is somewhat sympathetic to trans women, although it continually persists throughout with a dichotomy of "real women" vs. "transvestite/trans woman/whatever." The question of whether the character could be "a real woman" and trans simply doesn't occur to anyone involved.

Ultimately, though, the specific instance is immaterial. This kind of thing happens all the time in all kinds of spaces. What's noteworthy to me is how I respond to it.

It's just so... defeating. It feels like an immense effort just to keep writing this because I want to stop and either hide or go and feel miserable instead of engaging this idea more. It's terrifying, significantly because no one hardly ever has these conversations to my face (so I can never tell what people are really thinking), but I'm also quite positive that they occur all the time. That there's this constant refrain of "real woman" vs "trans woman" and I'm always on the "losing side."

And it hurts that I even feel like being "trans" is the "losing side." It hurts that I have internalized this bullshit so much that my primary response whenever I read this shit is to feel so incredibly bad because I'm reminded of how I can never be "real." And I'll look at the angles on my face and I'll reflect on the male reverberations still in my voice and I'll think about how so often I still just feel like an impostor pretending to be a girl who honestly doesn't know what the hell "she's" doing. And I start to find myself reminding myself that no matter what I do, say, think, feel, identify, I will always be "marked as male" like a stain I can't scrub out. A stain that even people who are "accepting" and "open-minded" will reinforce and reapply, intentionally or unintentionally. That I am fundamentally wrong and repugnant and quintessentially undesirable on a genetic level.

"Poison" indeed.

And I wonder why am I not angry? Why am I letting the dominant group win? Why am I buying into their transmisogynistic bullshit?

And I think it's because I fear they're right. Or, if they're not right, then at least I fear they're so ingrained that there's nothing I can do to escape. They'll always resurface, always return. Again and again and again. I simply can't escape. And I just can't fight them off myself. I can't do it. I just can't do it. I can't.

I'll write more soon. This isn't the end. But goddamn if it doesn't feel like defeat all the same.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Audio Log #1

I keep writing parts of post, but the effort feels like it crumbles upon itself (which is kind of how I'm feeling in general, actually). I feel like I'm in dialogue with myself, which doesn't work well as a "post:" writing seems to need some concrete direction or purpose, but I believe/feel so many contradictory things that internal consistency is impossible. So I made an audio log in order to have that conversation with myself.

It actually ended up capturing where I'm at fairly well. Go figure.



Check this out on Chirbit

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Update


I usually only post when I have enough negative energy to propel me, so I don't know if I'll finish this. But I thought I'd give it a shot.

- One of my clients talked about deficiency today, saying eerily similar things to my own suspicions that I am fundamentally flawed and will never be able to consistently break out of the patterns I find myself falling into. It's always interesting to hear someone else say the things in your heart without knowing.

- In my training class today, we did a Gestalt activity where we had mock clients/therapists in the middle of the room. You'd think (or I would, anyway) that we'd do more of this because so much of the therapist affects the way therapy goes. But anyway, something new for us.

I was the client for our second go round, and I volunteered because I wanted to process a really strong emotional reaction I was having. The details aren't salient, but I discussed my fears of saying how I "really" felt and how I felt as if I would be setting off a bomb that would incinerate everyone around me. [It was interesting listening to the reactions of my peers afterwards; I think I really overestimate other people understanding me. It seems so clear in my head, but it just doesn't often translate to others well. And I'm almost surprised at my surprise of that.]

We explored what that was like, feeling as if I'd set off a bomb, and I went to a postapocalyptic landscape, ruined and dead with myself the only survivor. It was interesting because I love postapocalypses and this helped me understand why more, but also because I've been to that city before. I did a hypnosis/meditation thing with a previous therapist, and I ended up in a ruined city filled with zombie rat/dog creatures that were chasing me. When alone, I just wanted to let them overwhelm and consume me. When with the young woman I was madly in love with, I wanted to survive and keep moving.

She's gone, of course, but the city (and the fear) is still there. I still feel desolate, I still feel ruined and derelict. But at least this city was... hollow instead of filled with terror. I still want to populate it with survivors, though. [pun intended]

-Most of my weekdays now involve at least 10-12 hours of work. And that's actually working, not just procrastinating. I feel exhausted, but it feels like an earned exhaustion. I like a lot of my work, and that helps too. I can see the appeal of workaholism: I feel better during the week when I can't stop moving and have to keep on getting things done; it's only when I stop on the weekends (unless I particularly fail at something during the week) that I really start to sink back into depression. The feelings catch back up. It does, however, make me want to push myself to do this much work for at least the next two years. If it means I can get out of Knoxville, it'll be worth it.

-I slipped back under 130lbs this week. I resented myself about how glad I was of this. It's funny to me how whenever I go over 130, I always think "I'll never be thinner again" because it's already a bizarre weight considering how haphazard my eating it.

It's not a cause for alarm psychologically; I'm not intentionally restricting, and I haven't thought about my stomach being fat in awhile (although "thin" still feels egregious). I've just been working so much that I don't eat "meals" anymore [mostly just snacks and discrete items]. I guess it's not so bad, as long as I don't pass out. I kind of like punishing my body anyway. [Ok, maybe it's a small cause for concern. We'll add it to the list.]