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.

No comments:

Post a Comment