It Takes a Village

I kicked off this year with a simple resolution. I’m not much of one for resolutions, but sometimes it’s fun to come up with something — generally, of course, focused on self-improvement. In this case, I stole the idea from someone else; I don’t even remember who, or if it was even someone I know personally. I suppose that’s irrelevant to reflect on now, nearing the end of the seventh month of the year. The resolution I made was this: that I wouldn’t take to social media and comment on articles I hadn’t actually read. It seems simple enough, but in the knee-jerk world of Twitter, we’re often tempted to lash out at headlines or synopses that may not tell the whole story. Putting an end to that accomplished two things; first, I’m able to critique things in a more reasoned manner, and second, I’m not getting mired in comments on articles that I dislike the concept of so much that I can’t even read them.

Fast-forward to today, when I read an opinion piece from the New York Times by Nebraska GOP Senator Ben Sasse. In his piece, Sasse does something that’s neither unique nor particularly interesting by dissecting, from his point of view, the way that parents are failing their children in the modern world and falling short in terms of providing them the requisite life skills and experience to succeed in the “real world” — which, it seems, refers to any part of our lives that occur after we’ve moved out of our childhood homes to go and forge our own journey. He asserts several things throughout the article that I disagree with — some so vehemently that I’m scarce able to wrap my head around his presuppositions.

I’ve already taken my feelings on this to Twitter in a long-winded thread (starting here), but I felt like it requires a bit more examining, which brings me here. You see, I don’t think it’s actually possible for anyone to “parent” their child too much; I don’t think that I agree with the ridiculous notions that Sasse seems to rely on as gospel truth with regards to what it means to be a parent, or how we, as parents, are supposed to approach our relationship with our child and their growth into adulthood. I said there’s several things within his article that I disagree with, and I’m going to do my best here to deconstruct the nature of my disagreements and attempt a reasoned response to the approach that Sasse — and, likely, more parents than I’d care to admit — seems to believe is universal.

First, let’s take a small clip from Sasse’s own words:

We’re parenting too much, too long. Our efforts to protect our kids from hurt feelings, tedious chores, money worries and the like are well intentioned. But many of us, perhaps especially middle-class parents, are unwittingly enabling many of our kids to not grow up.

In just this tiny little slice, I find so much contentious nonsense that I struggle to see how this is even a point. The notion that “protecting our kids from hurt feelings” is a parent’s job is not only ridiculous, it’s directly harmful. It’s harmful to new or questioning parents that are looking for answers about how to best raise their children, it’s harmful to the children being raised by anyone that would subscribe to this tripe, and it’s harmful to our entire society. The idea that a Republican senator, no less, is pushing this narrative — that we need to coddle our children and defend them from reality — is laughably insipid. How, exactly, does Sasse believe these “delicate snowflakes” that his party is so against come to be? Does he honestly believe that keeping our children from having their feelings hurt or knowing about “money troubles” is doing anything but establishing the exact sensitive mindset that the GOP fears?

My kids have had their feelings hurt. We try to comfort them, but we don’t “protect” them from this. I think back to a conversation I had with my oldest son about some bullying he’d experienced — not outright violence, not even severe targeted emotional harassment, but the cold-shoulder, mild-teasing sort that just wears away at a child’s confidence. When he told me he was going through this, I didn’t tell him not to feel hurt by it — that’s the worst possible response. I didn’t tell him we could make it stop, either, because we can’t. I told him that I’d experienced it too, that during my school-age days I faced a lot of similar ridicule and social stigma. I told him it sucked, and that it hurt me a lot, and that I cried about it regularly from when I was very young to when I was exiting high school.

Did I want my kid’s feelings to be hurt? Hell no. Was there anything I could actually do to stop it from happening? Nope. So I did the only thing I could think of: I talked to my son about what he was feeling. I talked to him about times I’d felt the same and how I’d managed to get through it, despite years of feeling pretty miserable. I didn’t tell him that what he felt was wrong, and I didn’t create an expectation that his feelings would stop, or that we could truly soothe them. Instead, we discussed the reality of it — that sometimes, our feelings are hurt by other people, and that we can’t control that. We can only control what we choose to do once we’ve been hurt, and we discussed some alternatives that had worked out okay for me when I was the target in my own childhood.

Moving on, let’s look at another critical idea that Sasse holds to in his diatribe: the value of “hard work” as the only way to understand reality. He frames this, mostly, through his own lens as a Nebraskan; that’s a fair bias, I think, because the rural nature of his own youth and the jobs available to his children are certainly more agrarian than, say, those I’ll find here in Northern California. Sasse actually brushes up against a certain self-awareness of this bias in his writing before taking another leap backwards, seen here:

Not everyone lives in a big cattle state, and younger kids require more parental supervision. I also don’t romanticize agrarian life — there’s too much manure around for it to be truly idyllic — but meaningful work for kids is less about any particular task than the habits the hours teach. The effort involved and the struggles, once overcome, become the scar tissue of future character.

Look around your neighborhood and see what ways your kids could serve their community. Even in this digital age, lawns need to be mowed and lemonade stands can break even.

The idea that labor must be physical to be worthwhile, or that it must build “scar tissue” in order to form a functioning adult, falls short of his own assertion. If it’s about the habits more than the work itself, then it stands to reason that even “softer” work can achieve the same effect. Yes, I have my kids do some chores around the house — there’s not much we need done that small hands can help with, but even my five-year-old has learned the ins and outs of scrubbing a toilet. This isn’t about “scarring” them into becoming grown people, but about instructing them in things that they’ll need to learn how to do. I’ve had the kids help with laundry, dishes, cleaning out the cats’ litter boxes — all things that are unpleasant parts of our lives, and which demonstrate that we all have to do things we’re not terribly fond of.

I guess it boils down to the fundamental role that we, as parents, have. Is it our job to “let kids be kids”, or to teach our kids to be prepared for the world at large? Do we define our duty as a role of guardianship, or of guidance? Sasse seems to feel — and pretty strongly so — that the “life lessons” part of childhood is meant to come from outside sources. He discusses sending his own child, at age 14, to work on a farm, and his own time spent doing similar things as a kid. When you pair this with his assertion that parents are meant to protect their children from the harsher parts of reality (hurt feelings, financial woes, et al.) seems to indicate a deeper division between his view of parenting and mine; it’s the same mindset that places the entire onus of a child’s education on their teachers with no accountability for failing to support that education at home. It is, again, a toxic and harmful mindset that allows Sasse and his ilk to blame any shortcomings that his children may display squarely on the shoulders of other people who “didn’t do their job”.

That’s not to say I don’t think teachers are meant to provide a solid education. Far from it. However, I think it’s remarkably important to note that there’s no single solution, there is no entity or institution who can take sole responsibility for a child’s ability to transition from “school life” to “real life” — as if such a distinction truly needs to be made anyway. Rather, my assertion is one that we’ve all heard: it takes a village to raise a child. This was never meant to state that parents have no part in that raising, but rather that we must play an active role in every part of it. School provides a certain kind of education, while chores provide another, and open discussion about everything from finances to sports to sexuality provides yet another. The idea that adolescents need outside voices in order to grow isn’t wrong — but to suggest that those outside voices are the ones who must be held responsible for it is not only bad parenting, it’s an irresponsible way to live your own life. It’s a disservice to your child, and to everyone that they interact with in their life.

 Now, let’s be honest — I’m no saint, nor am I some perfect paragon of parenting skills. I fuck up. I make mistakes and I say things I instantly regret. I sometimes react emotionally rather than rationally. We’re all human, we’re all flawed, and that’s okay. However, I do believe that when we choose to become parents — for those of us who were lucky enough to make that decision as a conscious choice — we accept a huge responsibility. We’re here to help shape the minds of young humans, and we shouldn’t only be thinking about what shape it is we’re helping them achieve, but how we’re helping them achieve it. Is there value in hard work? There can be, absolutely, but I don’t think it’s value that can’t be found anywhere else, nor that “hard work” is solely defined by physically-laborious tasks. Our bodies are only a portion of who we are, and probably not even a remarkably important piece compared to the rest of what defines us.

 I don’t think that any of us, parents or otherwise, has all of the answers — not about how to raise children, nor about anything else in this vast and complex world. I try to do my best, and I think that (by and large) most of us do. Not knowing how to flawlessly do everything that we do isn’t bad; it’s a fundamental part of the human experience. That’s why I feel it’s important to work together and collaborate rather than engage in finger-pointing about how someone else isn’t holding up their part of some imagined bargain. I’ll continue raising my kids this way, and Sasse will raise his another way. From a material standpoint, his will likely have more success in most metrics by which capitalist society measures it; I’d like to think, though, that there’s rather a lot more to life than achieving wealth or social status, and that my kids will grow to be compassionate people who lead fulfilling lives.

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It’s been nearly seven years since I had a stroke. My entire left side was paralyzed, and I spent several days in intensive care before finishing out the week in a hospital bed; from there, I was moved to an inpatient rehabilitation center. That was my home for three weeks. During those three weeks, I basically did not leave the facility grounds. I had a lot of visitors, a lot of physical and occupational therapy, a brief stint of speech therapy until they decided my cognitive abilities had made it through intact. Seven years later, and I remember it all as if it just happened.

One of the things I remember the most, though, was a shifting in perspective. When I first arrived at the rehab center, the focus was on healing. Working my ass off to try and get better, going all-in on tasks that would have once been done without a thought; things that, in those weeks, took every ounce of effort I could muster. I remember when my arm started swinging wildly at my suggestions again. I remember punching my occupational therapist, Stephanie, in the face three times in one day. She took it in stride. I had to learn how to sit up, how to stand, how to use a wheelchair. I had to learn to walk, with varying support devices.

I remember very vividly a shift in perspective, a shift in focus, in the final days before my release. Up until then, my every moment there was spent focusing on the goal of regaining function. It was a dedicated effort, from myself and from the doctors and therapists helping me. I was there for one thing, and one thing only: to get better, to return to my old self piece by piece, to retrain my damaged mind. I was there to fight the things that had struck me down, to push back and find myself again. On not-quite-release day, I remember being told something new and different.

I was told to accept “the new normal”.

It was such a beautiful and grotesque thing to hear. “The new normal”; at once a hopeful recognition of how far I’d come, and a condemnation of how far I’d never go. It was one of the first times I’d been given a message of anything other than pushing myself to repair; this was a message of accepting limitations that could not be overcome by the methods employed at this place. By methods employed at any place. Yes, I was still there to get better, but I was also being told that I had to prepare myself — mentally and physically — for a challenging existence outside of those bleached-white halls and nurses on call. I’d be taking a wheelchair home. I’d be wisely instructed to buy a walker or a cane. My physical therapist strongly urged that my family and I move; we had a two-story townhome, and it was hard to know when I might make it up the stairs to my bed, my shower, my child’s room.

Accept the new normal. Know your limitations, know your boundaries. Manage expectations, and make peace with the barriers that won’t be coming down.

It felt like an impossible task, to simply take at face value that this was as good as it would get. Of course, even after being released from the facility, I was back inside three times a week for outpatient therapy sessions. Exercise bikes, treadmills, weightlifting equipment, electro-stimulation. Still pushing myself, and still being made aware of where the limits were. After a few months of this, the calendar turned to a new year; with that, the medical bills began to pile up again. I’d already been ruined by being unable to work, and simply could not afford to go. I stopped seeing the physical therapist after receiving January’s bill.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and not just in terms of my still-present physical limitations. While I’ve recovered probably 95% of my function, that last 5% is something I’ve had to accept is just gone. My left arm’s dexterity isn’t going to magically return, though I can use it well enough to type, play video games, tie my shoes — all things I had to learn again at 27. My left leg is much the worse for wear; I’ll never run, dance, hike, or jump the way I once did. That’s simply the way it is, and I’ve come to terms with it well enough. It’s the new normal. It’s my reality.

Sometime between the medical bullshit and today, I had enough time and exposure to ideas to piece together that I’m transgender. That, too, is a new normal; it’s as much a part of my as my unresponsive foot, as real as the toes I can see and feel but can’t bend. It’s as much a struggle to grasp as the rings and pegs my therapists had me working with my left hand when I was trying to learn to be me again. It gnaws at me in so many ways — not the least of which is my financial and societal holdups that prevent me from being the me that I see within myself. Unless, of course, these are the convenient lies I tell myself to force myself into acceptance of this new normal. I can’t tell the difference.

The new normal, too, extends far beyond some physical or mental sense of self; it’s not just who I am, it’s the world in which I live. It’s accepting the hate and bigotry that exists around me, that I must accept as real if I’m to stand within this place and ever say or do anything meaningful. It’s the way I cast aside the small joys I used to love when I find myself spiralling, because I begin to feel selfish and undeserving. It’s the whispers in the back of my mind that maybe all the hateful shits in the world that say that being who I am is nothing more than a mental disease, a desperate cry for attention from an entitled child in an adult body. I can’t deny feeling this way a lot, nor can I deny feeling unable to outright reject the feelings. After all, if that was really who I was, wouldn’t I find a way to put that face forward?

Never mind the fact that my job is changing, and I don’t even have anyone to go to right now for scheduling time off to see a doctor. Never mind the fact that it terrifies me to show up to work one day dressed in the clothes I wish I owned. Never mind, of course, the fact that I have no funds to buy those clothes because of the summer crunch of childcare costs. Or how horrible I’d feel if those children faced bullying at the hands of cruel children who saw what I was and used this as ammunition. The confusion my own children would feel seeing their dad all done up, the stares from strangers and coworkers and former friends. I know, of course, that I have support. I have love. I cannot and will not deny it, but I also cannot deny a certain trepidation, a fear that it might slip away if I swing too hard into the person I want to be.

Accepting the new normal. Recognizing limitations. Finding boundaries that will not be crossed. The edges of my own reality are sometimes constraining, even when the logic behind their formation is clear, the reason for their existence recognizable. Not every mountain is meant to be climbed, not every shore is meant to be reached. It’s becoming harder for me to know which ones are which, to tell the difference between where I cannot go and where I am subconsciously holding myself back. The lines between where I cannot go and where I simply will not are blurred and I find myself receding.

Sometimes I want to burn down everything I am to see what rises from the ashes; sometimes I know the dangers of even thinking this. I wish that I could tell the difference between accepting the new normal and placing unnecessary restrictions on my own existence. I wish that I could simply wake up one day and feel like the skin I’m wearing is what I want. I wish that I had the words or the wherewithal to be open and honest about this anywhere but here. I want to push myself, to learn and grow into the person I want to be, but every time I try I find myself plagued with doubt and insufficiency.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I don’t know if these words will help anything, or if it’s just another scream into the void. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

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Media Matters

So, let’s just start this off with a bit of a disclaimer. I spent the first thirty years of my life not feeling like I “fit in”, but ultimately still living as a hetero cis white guy. Media was sculpted to fit me in that mold. I was the audience to which it panders; I saw “myself” in a lot of the characters in the shows, comics, and movies that I gave my time to. As I’ve grown into where I am today, though, this has diminished. Where I once “connected” with these nerdy, pale-skinned, scrawny heroes, their plainness and mediocrity is now laid bare for me. This doesn’t change how I felt growing up, but it changes things now.

So, when not long after I “discovered” my real self, Netflix put together an ambitious show that highlighted a diverse cast of protagonists, it clicked with me in a way that nothing really had before. I’m talking about Sense8; in particular, one of its eight leading roles — Nomi Marks, portrayed by Jamie Clayton. The connection is pretty plain if you know much about me or Nomi, but I’m going to say that not everyone does. So, let’s take a minute to familiarize ourselves with the character and some particular things about her that resonated with me in a way that other characters simply can’t.

See, it’s rare enough to see a transgender character in … well, pretty much any mainstream media. Rarer still are those done well, or those portrayed by actors and actresses who’ve lived that struggle in their own lives. Right off the bat, we’ve got a character that I can connect with if for nothing more than this — but wait! We’re not done yet. Nomi, you see, is in a very committed and pretty awesome relationship with another series regular, Amanita Caplan, as portrayed by Freema Agyeman. This is damn near unheard of for any transgender character — either part of it, really. A transgender woman who is in a happy, well-rounded relationship with a woman? I don’t know that I’m aware of this happening anywhere else.

This, then, marked a first for me in my newfound identity — there was a character, a leading character — who was like me. A person with their own struggles and complications that was still heroic and beautiful, while also dealing with the trials and tribulations that come from being transgender and gay. I don’t know if I can reasonably explain to anyone that’s not a part of a marginalized group what this meant to me, what it felt like to turn the show on and see someone that honestly felt like they shared some of my own confusing, confounding experience. Nomi was a character with depth, and Clayton’s portrayal of her fears and joys was fantastic and affirming.

So, when Netflix formally announced today (the beginning of Pride Month, no less!) that Sense8 would not be returning for a third season, I was … let’s say upset. No, fuck that. I was devastated. Maybe, in the midst of all of what we’re dealing with in the world today, having such strong feelings about a damn TV show is stupid or petty, but I don’t care. It hit me like a ton of bricks, enough that I spent some time at my desk today fighting back tears. Actual tears. It wasn’t an issue of the show’s cliffhanger season two ending — though that’s pretty shitty, too — it was the feeling of having this one thing, this one stupid goddamn thing that made me feel good in the midst of all this, taken away. It was seeing the only character I’ve ever felt this connection with get kicked to the curb. Why?

Well, to hear Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings tell it, the cancellation was for one simple reason. No, it wasn’t ratings, it wasn’t the cost of production, it wasn’t difficulty in the show’s globetrotting filming process — it was that Netflix simply doesn’t cancel enough shows. That’s it. That was his fucking excuse; that “[their] hit ratio is way too high right now” and that they “have to take more risk” because they “should have a higher cancel rate”. This is, perhaps, the most bullshit line I’ve ever heard from any content-creating executive — and that is saying a shit-ton, given the track record of people in such positions. The one goddamn instance of someone like me being represented in mainstream media, given the axe just because something had to be.

Now, this is just my own perspective, of course, but it’s a tale as old as media. The cis/hetero white guys at the top cut the content that speaks to the marginalized; the people of color, the queer, the socially-maligned, for whatever stupid reasons they care to cough up at the time. I’m far from the first to suffer this indignance, and I’m certainly not going to be the last. I’ve tried to speak up, where my voice has any meaning, on these sorts of things, because I knew it had to suck. I knew it was a shitty feeling, to have your heroes stolen away by real-life villains who simply don’t see you as enough of a demographic to keep on making things for you.

I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever see a character like Nomi Marks again. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to turn to my TV and see someone there that I can share that connection with. Honestly? I’m not holding my breath. If Netflix, the “difference maker” in the television-content equation, can cast that aside while making a living out of resurrecting tired old IPs and the cast-offs of more conventional networks, then why would I let myself hold on to that hope? If the one fucking instance of this happening can be kicked to the curb simply because “something needed to be” is insulting and really, really disappointing.

Anyway, if you haven’t watched Sense8 I definitely encourage you to do so. Without going into specifics, there were several times that the show made me cry — and mostly tears of happiness! Seeing a reflection of myself out there, being done well, and getting to live a good life in spite of the struggles was a pure and awesome joy for me, and there’s plenty more to like about the show. Yes, it’s going to end with a bullshit cliffhanger that’ll never be resolved, but trust me when I say the journey to that point still has interesting and good things to say, and a beautiful person that will remain a hero of mine even if her story has been left on the cutting room floor.

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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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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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