Clarify

Okay. So, I’ve written a few pretty heavy pieces lately. I’ve talked about the struggles I’m going through on the absurd battlefield of my own mind. While that’s all well and good for getting some of the difficult words out, it also paints a bit of a picture — and not a happy one. I wanted to take some time today and discuss the same topic here, through a different lens that isn’t quite so dire. After all, despite whatever internalized challenges I’m putting myself through, there’s still a pretty great and simple thing I can say: I am happier now than I have ever been.

This isn’t, of course, a way of saying I’d never been happy before now. I’ve had a pretty good life — there’s been times of trouble, sure. There’s been the down-and-out periods of feeling like it wasn’t worth going on. The valleys, though, have their peaks as well. I’ve benefitted, generally, from a good family; we weren’t wealthy by any stretch, but we got by and our home was full of love. I’ve got a divorce in my past, but even that came from a relationship that wasn’t necessarily bad, and taught me the things I’d never have learned about how to be in a relationship and get it “right”.

So when I’m writing about the things that are difficult for me, it can be easy to lose sight of the positives. As I mentioned in my last post, the toughest part of my journey so far has been recognizing the years I spent not having a name for my uncertainty. I have that now. I have a word for this piece of myself that I barely understood until relatively recently. I don’t know if you, fair reader, have ever had that experience; if you haven’t, let me tell you: it’s pretty great. Does it stop the churning thoughts and unease? No, not quite so simply. But that’s not the point. Knowing what something is does not “solve” it, but having the language to describe and examine it is a huge step up from simply having something that gnaws at your soul.

Beyond just having the words, though, I’ve got something even more important — I’ve got support. Friends, both local and otherwise, that are there to encourage me and remind me of the good in our world. My wonderful wife, who’s taken this whole thing in remarkable stride; one of the things I’ve read a lot about with regards to people who “come into” transgender identities later in life is that it often destroys their existing relationships. That didn’t happen to me. Hell, I didn’t even give her a “heads up” when I came out — she just got to read the piece in which I did so before anyone else. Since that moment, she’s been nothing short of amazing (not that she wasn’t already, mind).

So, sure, I’ve got times where my own identity seems to be chewing up my brain and making life more difficult. I won’t deny that, but hell – it’s always been there, anyway. Now I have a grasp on why. That’s no small thing, to get a handle on the root of severe insecurities. It’s no small thing to have wonderful people backing me up, to have a wife that helps me find my center in this maelstrom of introspection. To have someone who married me for the man I was and yet still continues to love me for the woman I am, willing to help me with makeup or trying on new clothes or any of the other trappings that would easily trip up many others.

Maybe I don’t know how to be myself in the ways I want to just yet. That’s fine; these things are often referred to as a “journey” for a damn good reason. It’s not like I can wake up one day, hop in the shower, and wash off thirty-plus years of assumed male-ness. I can’t see my own face in the mirror and ignore the years I’ve spent with it, or the baggage that not having a name for myself brings with it. What I can do, though, is recognize that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been, and that I owe a lot of that to the amazing and supportive people around me.

Life isn’t meant to be easy, but it’s also not meant to be a constant uphill battle. While I still have plenty to work through, and a lot of progress to make before I’ll be able to say I’m really comfortable with myself, I know I’m on the right path now and that I’ve got the company that’ll make it so I can get there. Even on my darkest and most dysphoria-riddled days, I can take some solace in the fact that, whatever I feel about this stupid hairy meat-bag I’m inhabiting, there’s someone beside me who loves it and loves the person inside of it.

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Being

I’ve talked a lot — a LOT — recently about my being transgender. For quite a while, this was just a thing I’d talk about on the internet; my Twitter pals, some Facebook friends, the occasional blog post. I’ve been mentioning it more and more in “real life” lately, and talking about it more through the lens of what impact this has on my life; admittedly, right now, it’s not a whole lot. That’s what brings me here today, because the reason I’ve been talking about it more is that I’ve been thinking about it more. And when I’m thinking, I’ve gotta get some thoughts out from time to time.

One of the effects I’ve noticed from being more centered on these thoughts is that I seem to be feeling more and more dysphoric. Every day, I’m getting a little bit less comfortable in my own skin. More aware of all the ways I’m still “presenting” as my assigned sex rather than my gender. More acutely disdainful of my own lack of convictions and methods for changing this. My body hasn’t changed, but my mind keeps pushing forward to the next thing while the meat-sack it inhabits lags behind.

I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to cope with feeling like I’m not really being myself out in the world, or how to approach changing it. I’m struggling and wrestling my own thoughts in circles. I can see it happening, feel my own mental health degrading as I focus more and more on the flaws I feel in every inch of my own flesh and skin and bone; it weighs on me during every day, like a shoulder-slung sack of stones I’m dragging along with me. It’s staring back at me in every mirror, a twisted visage that’s the same face I’ve always known but wish wouldn’t greet me with its sneering, saccharine grin.

I’m objectively aware that it’s not something that I can tackle alone, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to turn or who I can open up to, I don’t know what I can do to try and start doing something about it. It’s chewing away from the inside, consuming my mind’s idle time and distracting me from other things I should be focusing on, things I should enjoy. And somehow, still, underneath all of that, I’ve still got that gnawing doubt that refuses to let go. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m making up this feeling to give myself something to stress about, since life’s been pretty good to me. Maybe I’m just trying to be someone else because I don’t like me very much; maybe I won’t even like who I find on the other side once I get there.

Of couse, the more likely reality here is that because it took me so damn long to piece together my own identity that I’m just getting to the awkward teenage phase of it all. I think most transgender people deal with times of intense dysphoria; that’s pretty well the case from most stories I’ve read. It’s something that pulls at them from an early age — I didn’t have this experience. Not really; not in the way I always read about it or see it in media portrayals. Maybe that means I’m doing it wrong, or maybe it means the media’s full of shit. Maybe both of those are true.

What kept me from discovering this aspect of myself for the first thirty years of my life is something small, simple, and not even sinister. My own worldview was narrow; I wasn’t raised to be intolerant of other views, mind you. Just sheltered from them. I didn’t know that “transgender” was even an option; I didn’t really understand the idea of gender being something separated from biological sex. I wasn’t told that these feelings had a name, so I didn’t have any label to apply to them. In retrospect, the signs were there. There were small things I did, looking back, that paint a picture of a me that I didn’t even know I was trying to become. I hate myself for this ignorance, not because I think I should have come up with a name for it myself, but because I was so goddamn blind that it was only in the rear-view that the pieces of the puzzle made a coherent picture.

I remember having my mother paint my nails. I remember trying on skirts, and being drawn to silky fabrics, and never ever not even once feeling like “one of the boys”. Of course, I never really felt like “one of the girls” either — was that because I was clinging to some sort of half-baked bio-essentialist view, or because I wasn’t really any of these? I’d like to think it’s the former. I want to tell myself that it took me so long to know myself because I was just in the dark, that I was blind to the possibility, that I was so unaware of what it meant that I couldn’t possibly be expected to see it in myself. I want to believe that, because it helps to validate my current view. I want to believe it because it means I’m not a fraud.

And, of course, this is damn near impossible to really articulate. Even here, I don’t know that I’m capturing my thoughts in a way that makes even a lick of sense. I don’t know if I’m finding the words to express the way I want to express myself. It feels stifled, somehow, like even the person writing this is still working through the fog of doubt and uncertainty and just choking out cliche after cliche instead of making any useful headway. Like this is just another piece of the cycle; I’ve got to write to get the thoughts down, but they’re not changing, not moving towards any particular end. I don’t know what else to do, but I can’t stand to simply do nothing. Even if what I’m doing right now is nothing; just a pat on my own back to say, “nice work, friend, you’re taking care of yourself”. It’s like I’m trying to convince myself that any of it has meaning while the chorus of subconscious thought chants over and over that it’s all meaningless.

Maybe I am just spinning my wheels, but I honestly do not know what else to do. They say that people who’re in the midst of a mental health crisis don’t often reach out — usually because the nature of such crises is the prevailing sense that it’s not worth it. Nobody cares; we’ve all got struggles, and we’re all trying to work through them as best we can. Maybe we just don’t know where to reach out to in order to get anywhere; maybe sometimes, all we’ve got is self-depricating evaluations of our own psyche in the midst of whatever storm we’re weathering.

I just want to be me.

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Word Therapy

This is going to be one of those things that I write for myself. It’s being put here because, quite frankly, keeping my journal open to the world is part of why it works for me. It lets me vent my thoughts and put some pieces together in a way that helps me make sense of myself. It presents an opportunity for conversation with people who want to engage in it. It allows me the chance to just get things off of my chest and try to find some sense of solace, despite the raging sea of enormous confusion that our world has become (or always has been, or always will be — I’m not so sure). It’s a method for me to resolve some self-turmoil and find out things about myself through exploration of my own psyche; like a one-way conversation with a digital counselor. Here we go.

It’s been a few years now since I came out as transgender. I didn’t even use the term at the time, because I was still trying to find out where my place in the whole miasma of gender-identity was; I knew that I felt feminine. I knew that I wanted to let that be a part of who I was known as. I knew that I wanted to say, “Hey, this is me,” and hope for the best — because, quite frankly, it was a gamble. It was a shot in the dark, to see if the people around me could even deal with the idea that I’d been living some kind of lie and just decided to up and tell them about it. It was like a secret that I’d kept from even myself.

So I said “fuck it” and let that secret out, and you know what? It went over pretty well. In fact, it’s become such an intrinsic part of myself that most of my (online) friends couldn’t imagine me without it. And that’s what brings me here, today, right now. I’m still living a lie, holding secrets from myself, being something that I’m not. It’s a cycle that pulls at my head every single day and makes me feel distracted, worthless, and inadequate. This isn’t quite the same kind of lie, though; it’s ultimately one that’s probably more sinister.

So here’s the deal. If you’re reading this — and especially if you’ve read my other posts or follow me on Twitter — then you know I’m transgender. Great! Did you know, though, that since my coming-out, I haven’t really … done anything about it? I started shaving more of myself, and doing so more regularly. I sit down when I pee, because it is something I can do that is small and entirely for myself and makes me feel “feminine”. I got some pictures of me, face all done up in some pretty makeup, to plaster on my social media profiles. It feels performative in contrast to the rest of my life.

Maybe it’s stupid to think that I’m being “performatively” msyelf, but that’s just it — my life, day in and day out, remains largely unchanged. I haven’t updated my wardrobe or learned to do my own makeup. I haven’t found a way to really express the person that I am, and I can’t bring myself to do much about it for a number of reasons. The biggest one, or what I tell myself is biggest, is the cost. Buying new clothes, gathering lipstick or other things — these aren’t inexpensive endeavors. I don’t even know what would look good on me, and I’ve got no frame of reference to try and figure it out. So I just don’t bother.

The apathy in that is probably the biggest problem. Maybe I’ve just become comfortable plodding through life in the body I was given, draped in the half-thought outfits that society expects to see it in. Maybe I’m scared of being attacked or harrassed if I step outside of that norm; more likely, I’m using an imaginary fear as an easy excuse to keep on seeming like a somewhat-effeminate guy that’s otherwise pretty normal. Maybe I’m ashamed of the idea that wanting to be who I am would require these sacrifices. Maybe I’m just twisting myself in knots because, deep down, I still struggle with the fact that I feel like an imposter.

I feel like I’m treading water. I feel like I’m co-opting the struggles of people who, far braver than I, have not only found their identity, but embraced it openly and been persecuted for it. I feel like I don’t deserve the happiness of knowing who I am if I’m not going to put in the work of making sure others know it, too. And that’s probably an incredilby asinine statement — after all, being myself isn’t about doing anything for anyone other than me, right? Yet still, every day, I see myself in the mirror in the men’s room, feeling out of place and wrapped up in the wrong skin and the wrong clothes and the everything is just … wrong.

So I retreat to my online space, the place where my physical trappings aren’t important. The place where I’m known by my words and a single prettied-up picture that I wish was really me. The place where I know I’m safe to shout long and loud about the person I feel is me, and still feel welcomed. The internet has always been where I belonged; it was this when I was young, finding people around the world in Yahoo chat rooms and just talking about whatever. It was there when I was playing online RPGs, hiding behind characters I created — most of them female, of course. It was there in the persona I created as my “player”-self in those same games, another assumed identity that was just a performance I played for the sake of expressing things I wouldn’t grasp about myself for fifteen years.

And so it comes around in circles, looping back around on itself — which of these two faces is actually me? Am I the person that I put forward in the spaces where I feel secure and supported? Am I the face that walks around my city in poorly-picked clothing, much of which is older than my ten-year-old son? I’d like to think I’ve changed and grown and, dare I say, found out who I really am — but if that’s me, then why the hell is it so hard for me to want to do anything to show it? I twist back and forth between feeling like maybe I’ve just invented some persona to play online, and feeling like the persona I play is the one that walks into work every day with poorly-shaved stubble and ragged-edged t-shirts that long to be replaced by something new.

And hell, let’s be real — sometimes I feel like this internal “struggle” is a bunch of bullshit all around, and that I’m just making up problems to obsess over because I’m looking for excuses to explain away why I’m not constantly content. My life is pretty damn good, after all, and while I’ve got my share of the standard problems that most people deal with, it’s not an overwhelming heap of issues to slog through. I am, for the most part, doing well and able to help provide for my family, but we’ve all got that swirling discontent that lives within us and sometimes I feel like I’m clinging to something that makes that feel justified — which is, perhaps, ridiculous, since there’s literally no reason that I should have to find something to “justify” my own emotions to myself.

I guess the point of this is that I really want everyone to know that, sometimes, I feel like a giant fraud. In fact, most of the time. I don’t quite know what to do with it, and it’s been a huge knot in my stomach for months or maybe years as I’ve searched to find new ways to try and actually be who I am. Putting all of this into words, I think, is helping me find a way that I can try to address some of my own insecurities, but the end result is going to be the same: I’ll keep being these two people, keep digging at myself for failing to reconcile them, and then eventually I’ll wind up back here throwing a thousand words of self-pity together in some vain attempt to collect myself and soothe the disquiet that I keep dredging out of the corners of my own mind.

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Inspiration

One of the things I love the most about writing is that it can basically happen at any time. The downside to this, of course, is that you don’t always know what it is you want to say. Lately I’ve had an incredible desire to start stringing words together, and I’ve been trying to chip away at a stale draft sitting by my other fiction. That story, for whatever reason, isn’t able to be told right now. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but that’s not important. What’s important is that it leaves me wanting to write something — anything — to get the energy out of my system and let my brain decompress some of the thoughts that have been piling up recently.

That, in turn, brings us here.

Life in 2017 isn’t turning out to be anything like I expected any time prior to 2017. The sudden shift in the mood everywhere was a palpable force; of course, things change all the time — but this was different. Yes, this is probably a US-centric feeling, but I’m in the US so that’s the only real perspective I’m able to directly consider. That said, plenty of folks I know from all around the world all seem to agree that it’s not entirely confined. Anyway, the real point here is that this wasn’t like any shift before it. The world, and my role in it, have changed plenty of times during my time here. Most of them, though, were just things that happened, and then they were done. There’s a completeness to that repeated storyline that resonates with the way our minds conceive reality, time, and our own existence.

Once something is done, it’s done. There are ways, of course, to repair damage to many things, to repay debts or adapt to the changes that come from these moments. What you can’t do is continue living in a world where that, whatever it is, hasn’t happened. Now, though, we have an ongoing nonstop flood of change that’s impacting no small number of people I know, and large numbers of those I don’t. It’s not a single event that snaps a piece of the world we knew and is gone, but an onslaught of new rules to play by that are redefining the game of life in America and elsewhere.

Back to our point, though; all of this activity and the flood of information keeps my brain busy. There’s always something happening, and a whole lot of it is stuff that I think it’s relatively important to keep aware of. The things happening in this country demand, if nothing else, the attentions of its citizens, and in more cases than not, their actions. That means my thoughts have a lot less idle time throughout the day — which cuts into all the time I’d normally be planning out possible story arcs to myself, trying to find out where the tale I plan to tell is headed.

There’s a measure of doubt, too; doubt that anyone even wants to read what I’d be writing, doubt that it’s worth putting any of my time into. Yet still, there’s that urge that wells up. That’s the whole reason I got a blog to begin with; it wasn’t about writing fanciful stories or even trying to make any sort of pseudo-intellectual dive into politics, philosophy, or whatever else I’ve stumbled across in that time. It wasn’t about digging out my own gender identity and revealing it to the world, or about trying to convince anyone that I had anything intelligent to say. It was about relieving the pressure that builds up in my thoughts.

So, of course, when I’m trying to direct that energy into a coherent narrative of any kind, it’s best to let the thoughts run free and find their own paths. That’s how I’ve always done my writing; whether it was poetry, short stories, essays for classes, or the meandering musings here on the blog. When all of my mental focus is devoted to my job (which does require a certain portion, if I plan on succeeding) and the rampant goings-on that are shaping the world around me, it’s hard to find time to allow for those free-floating thoughts.

I do hope to, at some point, get back to working on some kind of story. I’ve even played around with the idea of simply taking the first story that I posted here and doing a complete rewrite of it. Maybe that’s lazy, but maybe it’s just real-time open-access editing; I could change some pieces of the story, adjust the tone of my writing. Or I can just turn back here and just word-vomit something like this, a stopgap measure to keep my creative skills alive in the midst of the world seeming to crumble around me.

I’m not used to feeling this worried all the time.

That’s a privilege, I know, and it’s one that I’ll admit I’d taken for granted. Whatever things I’ve thought were struggles in the past — well, they were struggles, but not on a scale that was important to very many people on a community-level scale. I’ve never been a wildly social person, or one who had a profound impact on much of anything. But I was always relatively sure that, barring my own idiotic choices at certain times, I was going to be generally okay. Life would go on. Now, so much is changing about me and the world that I’m not always so sure, and it’s exhausting.

But I still want to do it. I want to write stories and create worlds where not everything seems so screwed up all over the place. I want to create optimistic characters and build narratives of hope and good things. I’ll get to it, at some point, but right now I just needed to get things moving again by coming back to the only reason I’ve ever really had for writing before. I hope that I’ll be back to the other things soon.

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Video Game Feels

So, it’s time for a fun post. Taking a break from the pain, outrage, and all that. I’m going to unpack some feelings I’ve got about a character from a video game. No, not those kinds of feelings. See, a while back, there was a Twitter list-meme floating around that asked for specific opinions from a list of thirty numbered items. Early in the list, one of the entries was something to the effect of ‘A character from a video game that you idenitify with, or wish you were more like’. My mind flipped through a variety of options before landing on a characater from my favorite game of all time — Squaresoft’s 1995 RPG, Chrono Trigger.

Specifically, I chose princess Nadia of Guardia, perhaps better known as Marle — the fake name she presents to hide her royal heritage from the game’s primary protagonist, Crono. She’s one of only two playable characters in Chrono Trigger who uses a false name as a means of deception; the other is the wizard Janus, who’s framed as a villain under the moniker Magus. There’s probably some symbolic takeaway in the deception about her true identity when she first enters the story, but while it’s probably a piece of it, there’s a lot of other factors that go into it.

First and foremost, there’s Nadia’s role in the party. While she’s not a particularly skilled combatant, she’s far and away the best healer in the group. It might sound chesesy, but that’s basically the role I’ve always seen myself in. It manifests very differently, of course, since I don’t have the benefit of magic bestowed by some strange-looking creature that exists in the space outside of time. Maybe someday. Until then, I’m doing what I can here in the real world by supporting my friends, offering an ear to vent to, and doing my best to ensure that the ones closest to me are as healthy and happy as I can make them. Maybe it’s a stretch of an analogy, but it’s still a piece of how I’ve long seen myself as the result of whatever lenses it is I view that through.

I also feel there’s plenty within Nadia’s story that’s worth examining. She’s a princess in a video game, but — even back in 1995 — she breaks many of the established rules and expectations that typically carries. Now, it’s not as if she never needs saving — but who doesn’t? Moreover, the one time she needs to be “rescued” isn’t about her being overpowered by a villain or otherwise caputred. Rather, Nadia simply ceases existing when the time travel goes a little sideways and her ancestor is in peril. Once the timeline is patched up, though, she returns with a great and fierce personality that not only keeps her interesting, but drives the story of the game.

When the crew who saved her ancestor, Queen Leene, return to their own time period, Crono is arrested for kidnapping and sent to prison. He escapes soon enough, and finds himself fleeing from the castle pursued by guards. Nadia enters the scene, attempting to call off the pursuit. Obidient to her royal authority, the guards stop and kneel; that’s when Nadia’s father enters and rescinds her order. She pleads briefly, but he doesn’t budge. Nadia, without hesitation, throws her fancy dress to the ground — her preferred jumpsuit already on underneath — and tells her father, the king, that a title doesn’t mean she’s not also human, and that she refuses to accept the so-called societal norm and behave a “proper” princess. As they flee together, the party soon finds themselves in the distant future.

Nadia’s next important piece comes after the party has just learned of the end of the civilized world. As Crono and his scientifically-minded friend Lucca stare in stunned silence, Nadia immediately reacts to the footage of their world being scorched and nearly all life destroyed. She collapses to the ground briefly, then stands up and begins yelling in defiance and demanding that the others step up with her and prevent the disaster by using their newfound ability to travel through time. Insisting there must be something that they can do stop the coming apocalypse, she essentially creates the game’s central story.

It’s all of these things, really, that come together to create this character, and to create the connection that I’ve managed to form. You’ve got a strong-willed healer who rejects society’s rules, stands up to the leader of her country (who, again, is also her father) and plays a vital role in Chrono Trigger‘s story. She’s a pivotal and important piece of the entire game, and offers a set of skills that easily support any other two party members and can turn the tide in the toughest battles. She’s unafraid to be who she is, whatever other costs that may bring — and, in the end, may even reconcile with her father in an optional side story that brings her back to the castle, and ends with both of them learning to accept each other more completely.

Maybe it’s silly to have a connection with a video game character, but I don’t really care. Games, like books or films or many other things, are designed to do a lot of things beyond just entertaining us. These worlds, when well crafted, are meant to make us feel things. Rage, sadness, happiness, a full range of emotion can be constructed from a story done right. Yes, it’s important to maintain a fantasy/reality separation, but there’s aboslutely no way you’ll convince me that emotions matter less, or are less important, just because they’re influenced by fiction. That’s nonsense, and these experiences still shape the people that we are the same as any other emotional event.

I guess what I’m really saying here is that, even though it was some dumb throw-away meme from social media, I’ve ended up thinking a whole lot about this. I think that says enough about the subject as is, but I really wanted to use this space to just sort of chronicle my mental journey. I started this blog as a place for me to just dump whatever things were stirring up my brain at the moment; lately, that’s been a lot harder since there’s just so much. But I can still use writing as a way to slow myself down, focus in on one thing, and unload a bit of the burden. Like I said, I like to think of myself as a healer, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I know you can’t take care of anyone if you’re not tending to yourself as well.

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