I know I always start these things by saying it’s likely to be disjointed, but in this case I don’t even have a coherent roadmap in my mind at all; I’ve had a lot of things just bouncing back and forth across the confines of my skull over the last few days, and some of them just need to get out and I’ve got no better mechanism than to throw them here. Maybe someone will read it and enjoy it; maybe it’ll be another unread post out in the aether of the internet. Either way, I’m here battering myself over nothingness – and it’s especially burdensome, given that most of the thoughts are a decade old, some more, and they’ve gone largely unsaid and unresolved and- well, here’s things from my mind.
I used to have a lot of acquaintances. Not really friends, not really not-friends; people I knew and spent lots of time with or around and share fun times with. These connections were mimicry of the friendships I’d forged in years past on the internet — much the same, in that I didn’t really connect with these people, despite a lot of serious time investment and even a fair amount of conversation that dealt with serious things. I could never really pin down how I differentiated my close friends from these people; sometimes, a person would drift in and out of those designations, sliding along the path of my life with various levels of personal importance. Whatever the case, I didn’t hold back being who I thought I was, but in many ways, this period of life held me back from learning who I actually was, because I was so caught up in maintaining the identity that I thought belonged to me that I didn’t even notice that it was a mask anymore. I didn’t lie to these people, per se, but neither did I really allow them to experience the truth of myself — or, maybe, they didn’t allow me to experience it.
I remember that we used to hold parties a lot. We’d get a bunch of people together, a bunch of alcohol, and a good time. Music and video games and card games and whatever else; social situations that were the crux of who we were amongst ourselves, and yet, I always felt just a little bit outside of these. Like somehow, everyone had these connecting inner circles that drew the group as a whole together, and which I existed on the periphery of in every case. Sometimes, I’d sit silently in the party and just observe. Stand back in a corner and take in the ebb and flow of the scenes in front of me, drawing imaginary lines between the people around me; intimate relationships, unrequited loves, years-long bonds of friendship; intense, secret lines connecting everyone that wasn’t me.
I live in a small town. Within a certain age-range, everyone knows everyone not by six degrees of separation, but more by two or three perhaps. There’s a single train track running through a part of the city, and during this time, I lived near it; spots near the tracks – and near the college campus – aren’t prime real estate, and the closer to the tracks you get, the lower the rent (and quality of life) tend to become. I was a poor, self-alienating divorcee at a young age, since my first marriage began and ended before my 20th birthday arrived. Maybe this played a part in the self-perception. Maybe it didn’t, and I held on to it for nothing; whatever the case, that was a crucial part of my identity. I was the one who’d been cast aside, who’d seen friendships come and go in the time that people forged these seemingly-unending bonds with each other. I was the outsider in my own existence. I wondered a lot if I was mentally damaged — either because of the relationship I’d been in, or perhaps that went the other way, and my instabilities could be blamed for its failure.
I’d slink off sometimes to test the limits of my ability to do so. I’d get convinced, watching from my corner, that the party wouldn’t noticed my absence. That my participation was so irrelevant to the overall experience that I could vanish, and nobody would be the wiser. I’d wander off, sometimes half-drunk or more, and just get lost in my thoughts and insecurities. I found myself more than once – for a while, it was maybe a couple of times a month – sitting on the rail of the nearby tracks; I think the illusion of some kind of control, that I could simply sit there and be forgotten, possibly erased from existence, gave me a strange comfort. I’d sit and fume about the lack of a search party or the sounds of the music drifting out through an open door. I’d sit and stare at rocks and broken glass at my feet and let my gaze drift until I was staring down the tracks for miles of empty nothingness.
Every time I went, the result was the same. I’d sit and think and wallow in whatever ennui it was; I don’t think I’d say I was feeling honestly suicidal, because it wasn’t so much a fixation on seeing myself removed from life as it was one of wondering if I was connected to it in the first place. Then, starting gently, the rail would begin to hum underneath me. Small rocks would start to hop at my feet, and a distant whistle would echo through the cool night air. I’d allow my eyes to wander off down whichever stretch of tracks the sound seemed to come from, and I’d continue to think and simply drift in and out of whatever I thought I was feeling until, as the vibrations would intensify and the sound draw ever closer, a light would emerge around the bend of the rails.
In these moments, I probably should have felt fear. I was sitting in the path of something unstoppable and undeniably lethal; and yet, what I’d feel was clarity. The doubts in my acquaintances would melt away, and my concern over not being missed at some ultimately-meaningless drunken writhing mass of twentysomething tension would unravel at my feet. The faces of my few true friends, of my family, of the people I knew did care deeply about me, no matter how long I’d wandered astray, would flash through my mind. I’d stand and step back and slide into some bushes so as not to alarm a conductor to my presence; I’d wait for the lead cars to pass and I’d stand, arms outstretched, eyes closed, enveloped in rushing wind and deafening roars and the shaking ground and know that, for all of whatever I’d been musing on to no end, I was alive and experiencing something that was entirely mine.
I’d find my way back home and the party and the faces and the alcohol; people would ask where I’d been, and I’d say “just taking a walk” and the ones who knew me well would give a knowing glance and that was that. I did talk, at times, with certain people, about specific aspects of these wanderings, but never the reasons. Never the boiling thoughts and likely depression, never the way I felt like I was outside whatever it was we all shared. It took me years to open up about the truth of any of this to anyone, and this is the first time that I’ve even really gone into depth about it, and I’m not sure why I’m doing it still, other than to relieve the pressure of these memories that sometimes dance behind my eyes in moments of similar feelings. I don’t feel disconnected from everyone anymore, but I do still feel like I’m on the outside of a lot of things.
I grow distant. I know I do, and I don’t know if I can stop it or if I want to. Even now, with my loving and wonderful wife — with whom, let me be clear, I always feel deeply connected, even when we’re apart — I see myself drift in and out of other casual friendships and I don’t even know if they’re something I care to maintain. I am happy with my life, and with my wife and wonderful sons. I don’t feel a need to really, truly connect beyond that, most of the time. I do find myself wondering what it’s like to do so, what it’s like to be one of those people with scores of good friends with whom to swap stories and share time and simply be human together, but – as I did once before – I supplant the physical human connection of these with internet relationships, though the medium changes over the years. I feel more connected to some folks I’ve never met in person, and may never meet in person. I connect more with written words than spoken, with emoticons than body language.
I sometimes wonder, still, if there’s something wrong with me. If there’s some underlying mental something-or-other — disease, disorder, quirk — that makes me this way, or if it’s simply another piece of the larger human puzzle, that some of us are really, truly introverted to a degree that gets painted as diseased. But, I know that I am happy, and that there are people – more than I can count, probably – that care about me and that I care deeply about, so spinning my gears about it, as inevitable as it is, becomes an exercise that drives nothing. An exercise that doesn’t need to drive anything, because whether some doctor would label this a disease or not, I’ve found a place that I’m happy. And that’s what matters.
This is probably going to be a bit scattered and possibly a bit of a rant; the subject here is formed of a million thoughts screaming in my mind, hard to articulate but needing the release that I only get by putting words to a page. It’s sparked by some things I read today, like this excellent piece by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, which put some perspective on my own experience, as well as the relative ease with which I, as a biological male, float through the experience of life. It’s worth a read, and upsetting, and sticking with me in a way that’s haunting and resonating and bold.
I read a lot — like, seriously a lot — of feminism on the internet. I interact on social media with some really great, well-spoken women with strong, vocal opinions and multitudinous experiences that have forged them. I’ve come to find a place for myself, but it’s a difficult one, coloured by my own extremely different journey. I read a lot about the trials and tribulations of simply being a woman in our – or any – society; the unique challenges that permeate everyday life of women past and present and, by all indications, future. From disgusting and downright disturbing passes from total strangers to poisonous ‘jokes’ and attitudes from coworkers, friends, lovers; from other women, set on making themselves “one of the guys” for a leg-up in social or professional environments; from depraved, malignant men seeking to enforce their superiority in the world. These women endure things EVERY DAY that boggle my mind, and remind me of my privilege, and remind me that I am, ultimately, an outsider to the very essences of womanhood.
I have, for whatever purpose it serves, done what I can to set my privilege aside. I’ve reminded men around me – even when it’s “just the guys” – that some behaviours and jokes and goings-on are just unacceptable in any company. I’ve screamed in prior blog posts about my own identity as a female, regardless of my appearance and biology. I’ve tried to be a voice for equality, for sanity, for decency; I’ve spread articles to make people think, spoken up when I thought my voice could help, and done anything I find to be within my power and my right to make a difference. Yet, behind all of that, I’m still walking around in the body of a man. I’m not being cat-called on the street or disregarded at my office or leered at in public for the act of being present. I don’t endure these things, and it gives me pause when I’d like to speak up and be more active because, whatever I feel, however I identify, whoever I am, I do not have to go through the same trials and tribulations of other women.
My wife was on the job-hunt and found a local graphics company in need of a secretary; she applied for the position, and interviewed. She had experience and skills not only for that position, but for other positions for which they were seeking new talent; she was ultimately denied, but promised a shot at a job working in the back, doing design work. This faded out over time, amidst promises that “we could use more girls around here, it’s a sausage-fest” and “we’ll find you some work and get you out of that house, mama.” Ultimately, the company chose instead to hire two friends – both male – and filled their needs this way, without ever really telling her anything else. They lost out on a great, hard-working, dedicated employee to their own blind stupidity and sexism. She’s now working as a lead at a great company that appreciates her talents, and moved her to a position of leadership for her knowledge, friendliness, and people skills — within three weeks of hire. That’s the employee that this local rinkadink company passed on, simply because they couldn’t see beyond her gender long enough to seriously consider her (they even tried to offer her part-time work, covering the hours that the guys they’d hired were in class — they’d started out looking for full-timers).
So, I’m hesitant to speak up. I’m hesitant because my privilege is almost crippling; not on its own, but because it’s something that I feel invalidates who I am. I’m not a real woman because, well, my biology brings with it the societal preconceptions of who I am. I don’t feel like I have any place or right to speak as a woman, and this grates on me in unusual ways. When I see a coworker with a fantastic dress or new hairstyle, I keep quiet because I’m not one of the girls; these people, by all rights, have no idea who I am beyond what’s apparent or filed away in the employee directory, and I’m sure as shit not going to be one of those guys making weird, presumptive comments at the office. Even though all I want is to tell someone, “you look amazing today!” I am too aware of the perceptions behind my being the one saying it, and how undesirable it is to hear this kind of thing day in and day out from near-strangers with whom an employer is the only common bond.
I also think that my hesitation, my pulling back and tearing my hair out and feeling awful, is ridiculous and stupid and nowhere near the level of real issues that plague the lives of women around me. It’s such a petty issue in comparison that I feel like I’ve no right to even complain about it — which, I suppose, is why it’s reached the point of this screeching cacophony in my brain, this unavoidable drumbeat of pounding thuds pressing against my mind. I love that skirt, I scream inside, passing someone on the way to the coffee machine with a faint smile, possibly a slight nod. Your hair looks great, did you colour it, echoing behind my downturned eyes as I grab some fruit from the break room. It’s infuriating and defeaning and oh so very mild standing against the regular abuses hurled at my friends and family and, yes, even those same people I wish to compliment, I’m sure.
So I’ve come here. I’m burying my thoughts in a barely-noticed website, simply to carve them out of myself and put them somewhere, ANYWHERE else. I’ll share this and some of these wonderful women will read it and probably offer words of encouragement and support and, hopefully, I feel much better, but ultimately, like my reprimanding my male friends, the change on the real-world level will be minimal or none, and I’ll go on with the same stupid internalized struggles and vaporous emotions and probably continue feeling left out of the better parts of both my biology and my identity. But, at least I’ll have tried to pour some of it somewhere and done something with myself and with all of this. So, there’s my rant, and that’s where I am today. I welcome any thoughts or insights or words that anyone can offer as I continue this weird, twisting journey of being me beneath the veneer presented.
Today, it was announced that Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks was suspended for three games for his hit on San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl — the same length as Brad Stuart of the Sharks was given for his hit on Rick Nash in the team’s prior game against the New York Rangers.
This is, of course, exactly what any rational hockey fan expected would occur, and is yet another example of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety delivering consistent, clearly explained suspensions that relay a level message and precise, easily-understood penalties for similar player actions. I think I speak for all NHL fans, players, and staff when I say that we’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy the ease with which we can rest on the night after any incident in our teams’ games, knowing full well what will come on the following day as Brendan, along with Rob Blake and the other members of the Department of Player Safety, deliver their clear, concise videos explaining the actions of the players involved and delivering what are, by now, obvious and anticipated fair rulings regarding not only the rules in play, but the lengths of suspensions — or dollar amounts of fines — handed down.
While the prior Department head, Colin Campbell, often left fans, coaches, and players alike scratching their heads, Shanahan has cleared up all sense of mystery and guesswork through tireless devotion to explicit, to-the-letter rules interpretations and detailed examinations of the Department’s final decision. For this, and for his future dedicated to continuing this impeccable track record, I commend Brendan and his colleagues. Again, I believe I speak not only for myself, but for all of those who love the sport of hockey, when I say that June 1, 2011 will be remembered not only as the day that a new era in player safety began, but that it was an era of applaudable consistency and near-perfect clarity that forever changed the game for the better. Thank you, Brendan Shanahan, for all that you bring to us.
In light of some questions, comments, and the like, I’ve decided to do a more analytical / explanatory post on this subject. I’ll preface this by saying that, while this is intended to serve the purpose of explaining what gender identity means, it’s also still one based on MY experience and internal dialogue. This is my perspective and nobody else’s, and I do not claim that it is shared by others in similar situations — everyone is unique, and I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, or for a community or anyone but myself.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll start with some basics. Most people are familiar by now with the more common / public expressions of sexual identity – namely, heterosexuality and homosexuality. Both of these are constructed from a position of “gender-normative” existence — the (quite prevalent) feeling like one is attuned internally with their biological gender; these are sexual identities within that gender identity. For me, though, the heart of the issue is one of a divergent gender identity – a feeling at-odds with one’s assigned biological gender. This is sometimes called ‘gender dysphoria’ or, in psychology manuals, ‘gender identity disorder’ (which, frankly, I think is a crock – I don’t feel as though it’s a disorder, but I’d rather not digress). A commonly-used term to describe this concept in public media is “transexual” or “transgender”. More on this can easily be researched on Wikipedia and the like, so I’ll spare the encyclopedic rambling; suffice it to say, it’s a state of existing reliant on not “feeling” like the gender of your body is aligned with who you are beneath the meat.
I talked a bit in my last post that I always felt more … in my element, I guess, with other females than with males; from the early days of my childhood, where my only long-standing neighbour-friends were sisters that lived down the street, on through high school where I was brought into a close-knit group of girlfriends, it was simply where I was able to feel, I guess, truly welcome and accepted. We could sit and chat for hours about nothing in particular. I could freely share my poetry – most of which was never opened up to what male friends I did have; when I did share with them was created for such purposes – I’d go out of my way to make things with some sort of ‘edge’ or violent, masculine-focused content. Most of this occurred without quite so much direct thought as all of this, but looking back, it’s very clear to me that I’d create this content so that, when ‘the guys’ asked, I had something to show for all that time I spent scribbling in notebooks.
When I was in high school, I was also an active member of my church’s youth group. We had a few organised trips each year, and I participated in a number of these, including twice traveling to Mexico to build a house (the first year) and a church (the second). The more relevant journey here, though, is one of the two times I went with a group of fellow students and youth leaders on a summer houseboat trip on the delta. This was a much, much smaller group (for obvious reasons), in which a group of us lived together on a houseboat for a week, while nearby, other boats with similar groups from other churches around the state floated and swam and engaged in bible-study groups and so forth. This is where I learned to play guitar initially, picking up the basic chords for some worship songs from one of the leaders. It’s also another clear-in-hindsight (like, WAY beyond obvious, how-didn’t-I-see-it) example of my femininity shining through.
You see, in the middle of this delta area was an island of sorts, which we called ‘sheep island’, for the wild, long-haired sheep that lived there — tagged animals, I think, in some kind of long-term scientific observation. One day, the boys of the group, along with most of the youth leaders decided on an expedition out to sheep island in an adventurous quest to attempt to ride the beasts. I, in the meantime, stayed back with the girls. Now, at the time, I simply passed off that I wasn’t really the “physical activity” type (and, really, what teenage boy thinks, “Man, I wanna get off this boat of bikini-clad teenage girls, and go ride sheep?” I mean, really?) So there I was, relaxing on deck with the girls, when a few of them approached me with the idea of a ‘makeover’, to which I gladly agreed. So I laid back on a chair in the warm sun, enjoying the breeze off the waters as a group of other girls doted over me, trimming and filing my nails (fingers AND toes), plucking at my eyebrows, and just idly gabbing away the time talking about what fun the trip was, which of the boys was most likely to catch a sheep, when they’d return, and so forth. It’s the most enjoyable part of the entire trip on the delta that I can recall.
As nice as anecdotal story-time is, though, what that time really ended up being for me is a fond memory of a time – however brief – that I felt truly in a place of welcoming comfort. I reflect on it now, and it’s plain that what I enjoyed wasn’t just some idea of laying back and being waited on by nice young women – as I convinced myself at the time, and, frankly, sure didn’t hurt – but that I really, truly loved being one of the girls that afternoon, doing our thing while the boys went off together for theirs. It was a nice time of bonding with the people I really felt like I could be myself with, even if I didn’t really “get it” at the time that it was going on.
Really, the point of stories like this is that I don’t know any better way to really relate my perspective to people who haven’t experienced it; I think, at this point, most people have known someone who’s struggled with a gender/sexual identity issue — it’s a common tale, the guy in the family that everyone “knew” was gay before he came out, or other similar tales. It’s an internal struggle that, while it’s going on, fights against the mantra of societal norm telling us who or what it is we’re supposed to be based upon the equipment we’re assigned at birth. For me, the signs were probably there even earlier, and in smaller ways, than what I’ve had the chance to examine in these posts, but often, it’s nothing so obvious as some of the pieces I’ve been able to relay. I think the closest I can relate it — and, really, this is a horrible comparison that I hate making, but I can’t find another way to get there that’s appropriately descriptive from an outside-looking-in way — is when the first signs of a cold or flu start to show up; when you know that there’s something off, but it’s not obvious what; just thagt weird, nagging feeling of not-quite-right that crawls under your skin, that small voice telling you that things are not as they’re meant to be.
I could likely keep going on and on here, and fill in more stories demonstrating “female-typical” behaviour from my life, but really, the long and short of it is that it’s one of those strange, nagging things that’s only discernable with experience, meaningful introspection – which, really, is another motivation for these posts – to figure yourself out. Most people, I imagine, are pretty well comfortable with their biologically-assigned selves, whether or not they’re so comfortable with the social roles that go with them. For me, though, it’s more than societal views and the like; it’s a nagging feeling within me, it’s the way my emotions react to situations and the way my mind and heart play against each other. It’s the way my moods twist and turn and a million more near-imperceptible, difficult-to-define factors swirling beneath the body I’ve been given, that define the identity that exists beneath it.
If anyone who reads this has any questions, any curiosity, any story they’d want to share – or even one they’d like told, but lack the confidence or words to do so – email me. My inbox is always open, and I will always do what I can to help bolster understanding of the topic, of oneself, of MY self, or anything else — xarexerax at gmail dot com. Seriously, anything you want to know or say, I’m here.
I wrote a post last night that many of you – many, many more than I ever could have expected – have read. As I always do, I posted the link to this story to my Twitter account and, later, to Facebook. Starting from then, and on through all of today, I’ve seen that post – in which I discussed gender identity and sexuality – spread across not only my friends and family, but far beyond that. I shared intensely personal details about myself, my life, and my own gender identity. Putting those thoughts into words was one of the most nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing things I’ve ever done, and I bared more of myself than many close friends who’ve known me for years had ever seen.
When I set out to do this, it was because I felt strongly that the subject is one that I feel needs to be discussed; it needs to be an open, free, public conversation. I had immense, nearly irreconcilable reservations about writing it, but some good friends of mine provided a necessary push, and helped me to see that, if I want this conversation to exist, there was only one possible action – to take it on personally, to start the conversation and be to give a voice to the subject myself. To sit back and say, “This needs to happen” is a wonderful sentiment, but if I – if any of us – wish to see change happen, then the burden lies not in some imagined stranger who might say something close to what we feel, but with ourselves, to stand up and be bold and take the chance that we wish someone would take. It’s terrifying, but now, as I bask in the overwhelming positive response I’ve received, I am so, so glad that I did what I did.
To all of you who have supported me, whether over the years or in these last twenty-four hours, I offer my sincerest gratitude. It is because of you that I am not only able to share my story, but to feel comfortable having done so, and to feel comfortable with the person I became by living it. My wonderful wife, Erika, has done more for this than I can ever hope to put into words, but at the same time, the outpouring of love, support, and gratitude I’ve received over the last day from near (and complete) strangers has bolstered my faith in humans, in all of these wonderful creatures with whom I am lucky enough to share this wide, fantastic world. Too often, we see so much ugliness, so much focus on the unimaginable evil springing forth from just a few malignant souls poisoning the whole of the world that we forget that, in general, the people we share our experience with are good, open-minded, and full of insight and love.
To explain just how amazing this experience has been, I’m going to share some information about this website. A friend and I started this site in April of 2008, a continuation of a solo project I’d started on Blogger. Since that time,3,944 people – or, more correctly, “instances” of people – have seen this site (an “instance” is a viewing by a non-author member on a given day). Before today, the most visitors in a day I’d ever seen was 68. I don’t put any stock in these numbers, but WordPress makes them available, so I often look out of sheer curiosity. It’s a fun way to gauge how many readers I’ve got, and it’s a fun way of seeing which things I write gain more traction with people.
As of my writing this, 409 people have visited the site today. That’s a truly staggering number; this site has existed for over five years, and more than 10% of the total combined traffic came today. Came to that post, to my discussion about gender identity and the story of who I am. That’s more than the number of followers I have on Twitter. It’s more than I could ever claim to hope my message, my story, would ever reach. And within this, I have had family, friends, and strangers reach out to me to respond to what I had to say.
I’ve received countless thanks. Countless claims of my bravery in putting myself out there. I’ve received praise for my writing, supportive internet-”high fives”, and more love and acceptance and support than I think I’ve ever felt in my life. People I don’t know at all reached out to me to thank me, to ask me questions, and to relate pieces of my story to their own. Friends and strangers alike have told me they relate, either personally or through others close to them. They’ve called me brave, bold, and, most importantly – they’ve called me friend. Ally. Inspiration.
That last one, every time I’ve seen it today, has made tears well up. To think that I, a simple human telling a story of my journey through life, could inspire others, could light a fire within people I have never interacted with — it is the most incredible, uplifting, and rewarding compliment I can even imagine receiving. I’ve always wondered where I fit in the world, what purpose my apparent gift for words could possibly serve. From scrawling adolescent poetry into dirty notebooks in high school, searching for a human connection I thought I’d never know, to the launch of this site and telling of pieces of my story here, I’ve always been left to think back on it, and wonder if it was worth anything at all. I’ve given up, I’ve thrown away piles upon piles of my words, I’ve set fire to poems that didn’t express who I had become, even if they held pieces of who I once was.
And today, from one simple, honest truth-telling; one nerve-splitting, gut-wrenching admission of myself put into words, every single thing I’ve ever written, every time I’ve put pen to paper or fingers to keys, is worth it. Every thing I’ve discarded or shared or held to myself has become a beautiful, incredible experience surpassing even the wildest dreams of childhood. When my children were born, I found purpose in myself and my continuing to be. But today, this word-child of myself has matured before my eyes, and everything I’ve been through to reach the person I am has been given meaning.
Today, from one simple, honest truth-telling, I have found a manner of purpose and worth that I never allowed myself to hope for.
And it is because of you.