Endure

Like most people in America, I’ve got a whole lot of thoughts following the recent election. I’ll spare you all the storm of stories freely circulating on Twitter, on Facebook, on everywhere I look online recently. I’m not here to be angry or burn the motherfucker down, even though that’s a part of what I’m feeling. More than anything, though, I’m feeling sad. Tears have welled up in my eyes more times this week than I even know how to count. I’m hurting and this is where I come to relieve the pressure churning under my passive demeanor.

Our country has elected a president who has repeatedly stated that Mexicans are criminals. That black people are lazy. That Muslims are terrorists. We have elected a vice president who believes that my gender identity is something to be cured with violent “conversion therapy” that pushes people to the point of caving in to the pressure and becoming something other than what they are. We have elected men who empower the racists, the xenophobes, the white supremacist disease festering in the so-called heart of America. We have elected hate.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week locked in a sort of mental shutdown. I go through the motions of daily life. I shower, I work, I eat. I tend to the needs of my children and my wife as best I’m able. It’s harder than it used to be. I don’t even have a good explanation as to why. Under the veneer of continuing life as it has been and will be, there’s a dull ache in my chest and a throbbing in my mind. I watch a flood of fear and pain wash over my social media, and I watch backlash against it play out; it’s like watching a movie, but the actors are my friends and the villains slink behind a white-toothed grin that asks for unity while prying the country into pieces.

At the same time, I’m starkly faced with my own decisive privilege. I’m white. While I’m a trans woman, I still seem the same as any other cis male on the outside. I don’t bear the markers of the oppressed. I don’t feel the lash of hatred when I walk the streets. To those who don’t know me, and many of those who do, I’m still just some 30-something white guy whose allegiance in the divided state of our country is largely unknown. It sounds stupid, probably, but I hate that; I hate that I, for my declarations of thick skin, can’t bear the burden more. I hate that bigots, homophobes, and transphobes don’t see who I am. I want to grab them by the shoulders and scream it into their faces, to grab their attention and draw it away from the more apparent recipients among us. I want to be a lightning rod to draw the hate from people whose “otherness” is more plainly visible.

Before the election played out the way it did, I started doing small things to feel more feminine. Invisible things like shaving the legs I keep hidden behind full-length pants, using scented lotions. These are tiny insurrections of myself; small steps that are only for me, and keep my true self just as hidden as it would be without them. Lately, I’ve been thinking about doing more, but I’m still struggling to imagine what to do, who to be without crossing a line that’s going to get my family hurt. That’s a stronger concern than it ever was before; normalized hate stalks the sidewalks and alleys, and I’m terrified of bringing that down upon my children in some vain attempt to force the world to know who I am.

More than anything, though, I’m struggling because I want to help. I want to reach out and comfort my brothers and sisters who are literally bleeding; I want to stand up to the rejection of our humanity. I want to tear down hate and replace it with something brighter. I want to shout from mountaintops that our nation needs diversity. I want to break the hold that racism and hatred are taking in our schools, in our cities, in our communities. I want to be a force for positive change and I don’t know how to do it. I want to show people that the sun will rise, but I’m struggling to see the light on the horizon myself. I want to tell every single marginalized person that they matter. That their existence isn’t just valid, but it is important. I want to do so many things that I don’t even know what they are or where to look to begin.

So I do the same thing I’ve always done when my own thoughts elude me. I write. I put form to them and try to find the string that will show me a path to travel, even when I know in some capacity that there is no path. There’s no trodden ground to follow, there’s no signpost to point me on my way. There are only these words, these thoughts, these struggles amplified in my own selfish introspection. As we prepare for the coming changing of our government, I sit and wallow in thoughts about how much I’d like to do, with no idea how to do it because I’ve spent my entire life staying separate from our entire process. I can say, now, that I’ve voted in a presidential election; this was my first, though I’ve voted on state and local matters in the past, though not as often as I likely should have.

And now, faced with the horror that the people I’ve called myself an ally to saw coming and sounded the alarms for, I find that I’m crushed by the weight of my own inaction. I’ve been stupid, I’ve been lazy, and I’ve failed to be the person I project. I haven’t lived the values I speak. I’m a shitty ally, and I’m incredibly sorry that it’s taken this drastic an event for me to even notice how bad it’s become. Sure, I’ve signal-boosted. I’ve told friends and coworkers that sexist comments, racist comments, homophobic comments have no place in our society. It has been, quite literally, the least that I could do and now that I want to do more, it’s too late to right the wrongs I’ve done. So I do the same thing I’ve always done; I write. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission. It’s not enough.

I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. I don’t know how to be the person I want to be and I don’t want to ask for help, not because I’m proud, but because I’m privileged. I don’t want to ask for help because I want to be the one helping, and I’ve been so inert in my own existence and so wrapped up in my own affairs that I’ve already failed the people who needed me. I don’t know how to help, and I don’t know how to address the glaring mistakes of my past. I guess all I can do is try to move forward and listen more closely when the warnings sound around me. I have to be better, because if I can’t do that then I don’t deserve to say a damn thing anymore. I have to be better because I have to hope that the world will be better, or I will drown.

To all the people I’ve failed: I’m sorry. I know it’s too late to say it, and I don’t expect you to accept my apology. That’s on me, and it never will be on anyone else. I hope that I can help. I promise to try.

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Thrown for a Loop

Okay, so, let’s talk about Vine. I was never really “into” Vine as a platform because, first, I grew up on the internet of text, so I’m much more in my element when I’m here in the blogosphere, or trawling Twitter, Facebook, et al. I also never really had anything funny or poignant to say that worked well in Vine’s short-clip video format. That said, I did my fair share of checking out some of the stuff there, and there was a lot that was pretty great.

There was also a lot of content on Vine that I just didn’t get. It took me a bit to really put together why, but the primary reason is that it literally wasn’t for me. As a white American on the internet, spaces that aren’t dominated by content directed at me are not particularly common. If you don’t think that white Americans — in particular, white American men — dominate the online space, then you’re likely not paying much attention.

Now, this isn’t a knock against the content that’s not for me. Far from it, seeing a space where creative people of color could freely express themselves, showcase their culture, poke fun at the Internet as a whole — that’s a great thing. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s not for anyone, and I’ll be the first to admit that it took me some time to realize this.

The missing piece, for me, I think was the fact that many of the ways Vine was presented cultivated a space where, by my reckoning, the more abusive and gross sections of White American Internet folks just didn’t tread, or tread more lightly. This is largely a guess I’m putting together by cobbling together things I’ve heard and read, but it seemed to have been a space with less racist garbage shitting on the content-creators who were doing their thing.

Fast forward to today, a bit over four years after Vine was acquired by Twitter, who has announced that they’re shutting the service down. To many, including myself, it seemed innocuous at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to see just how menacing this really is. In order to get to the bottom of that, though, you’ve got to look at a few other facts that build up to today’s “reveal”.

Let’s take a step backwards a few weeks, when major investors were looking at putting up some serious cash for Twitter. Salesforce, Inc., The Walt Disney Company, and other potential suitors backed off for a variety of reasons. Among the ones that have bubbled to the surface in the wake of these non-deals is the declining user base and serious, endemic problem that Twitter has with harassment and abuse, particularly of women and — surprise! — people of color.

This abuse problem has plagued Twitter for quite some time, and always seems to circle back to one thing: Twitter is too afraid, or too unsure, to approach the problem without alienating the (white American) group that they see as their core. This unwillingness to address their own systemic flaws has been talked about at length by plenty of folks more intelligent and eloquent than myself, so I won’t dive into it, but rest assured: Twitter has a problem, they know it, and they wilfully avoid attempting to address it because they’re scared of frightening off the abusers; this, in turn, frightened off investors. Weird how that works.

So, what’s that got to do with Vine? Well, Twitter has to address the fact that, as their user base thins, they’re bleeding money. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to cut out the pieces that they don’t see as vital to their “core” operation. The things that the abusive heart of their twisting online empire don’t see as necessary. The spaces where the abusers aren’t as bold and vocal, and the oppressed are more free to express themselves.

In summary, Twitter is responding to a financial threat that they’ve created for themselves by fostering a protection of abusers. They’re shutting down one of the largest online spaces for creative people of color in response to being told by potential buyers that they’re not doing enough to cultivate spaces for these people. They are responding to criticism by doubling down on their own awful history of enabling and supporting abuse. It’s that simple.

It’s easy for me to write off Vine. It really is — like I said, it wasn’t really for me, and it didn’t need to be. Writing off what it was to the people who grew there, though, is something I refuse to do. I won’t claim that it was a useless service simply because I wasn’t in its demographic; hell, if the only useful services are ones I’m the target audience for, then there’s not much of this world worth exploring. That’s bullshit.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, now. I’m angry about the two-faced crap that Twitter has decided to double down on. I’m sad for the folks who created awesome expressions of themselves in a place that’s now being shut down. I’m baffled that Vine is being forced to close up shop for being something that Twitter isn’t, and that Twitter doesn’t understand what that means. I hope something new, something else, moves into the same spot, but who knows?

All I know is that if it weren’t for the friends I’ve made on Twitter, the people with voices I’d have never heard without it, I’d be among those jumping ship. By fostering these friendships, I’ve become somehow entangled in the same platform that gives more power to those that would silence those voices than to the ones being silenced, and it feels terrible — but I don’t want to give up on those people, even if we’re only able to connect there.

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I Used to Be

So, it’s time again for a wild assortment of half-formed thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change, growth, and the things that we, as people, hold onto or let go of in our quest to become the idyllic self that we wish to be. Whether it’s changing your attitude, learning new perspectives, or finding new approaches to everyday life, we always seem to feel like we’re on the cusp of something great, but often forget to look back on the things we’ve already accomplished on our journey.

I used to be someone who got deeply upset when new slang words were added to the dictionary. It boggled my mind that these “made up” words could be inscribed into what was, in many ways, like a holy text to me. I’ve let this go in several ways; the first and easiest was to remind myself that a dictionary isn’t supposed to be a guide book, but a chronicle. On a long enough timeline, every word we know was “made up” at some point. Dictionaries exist to keep record of language and its use, not to dictate it to us. Changing this part of myself has allowed me to be happier, as silly as it seems, because there’s one less perceived slight pulling at me.

I used to be someone who couldn’t stand it when people didn’t like the things I did, or when they cared deeply about things that just seemed stupid to me. It made me angry to think that people could be so obsessed with what seemed like trivial things, when there were “better” alternatives. This was one of the easiest to learn to let go of as my circle of friends widened and I began to have a broader, more varied group of opinions to pull from. The biggest portion of this, though, wasn’t about anyone else; it was about allowing myself to accept that other people find their happiness in different places. It’s pretty simple, looking back.

I used to be someone who didn’t believe in much, and found those who did to be baffling and, at times, infuriating. When you’re struggling yourself, and you see people coping by clinging to things that bring you no comfort, it’s easy to end up feeling an animosity; it’s easy to want to sever those ties that they have, and help them “open their eyes” to the reality. This is one I still struggle with, from time to time, but that I’ve largely been able to let go. It ties in to the same concept as allowing others to do what makes them happy. Something that doesn’t help me can certainly help others, and learning to allow those around me to bear their burdens in their own way has gone a long way in allowing me to more easily carry my own, and help to share the load when any of us are struggling.

I used to be someone who thought their best days were behind. I thought that I’d had my chance at something good, and missed it, and that was it. Now, I’ve got a great, loving family and I’ve never been happier. Yes, we still struggle. Finances, raising kids, learning to take on the world together; these aren’t simple tasks. It’s not supposed to be easy, but I’ve stopped hoping for things to go right and learned to appreciate that, even at the lowest points of this, I’ve got the people by my side who matter the most to me, and there’s no reason we won’t rise again each time we feel ourselves fall. Maybe the best days are behind me, but I don’t really think so, and even if they are, the ones ahead are still good enough that I can hardly wait to get there.

I used to be someone who laughed at jokes rooted in racism, sexism, and other not-so-funny subject matter. It was a shock-value thing, I’d tell myself, and the humor came from how blatantly obvious the untruth behind it was. Now, though, I’m much more aware of the impact these sorts of things have on us all; not just the way they can hurt those that are the “butt” of the jokes, but the way they warp our own perspective. Telling a joke that relies on racism to be funny may seem harmless when you’re sure of yourself and your position, but it’s still an unnecessary poison. That’s not to say that I think these aren’t things that can still have a place in comedy, but I do feel that it’s important to be aware of it in a way that I previously wasn’t, and “for laughs” is a piss-poor justification for putting certain concepts to speech.

I used to be someone who felt able to express femininity because I was “secure in my own masculinity”. This is, perhaps, the most drastic lie I’ve ever told myself, but it took a good thirty years of telling it to find the falsehood. Looking back on this one, I was a hot mess of internalized misogyny and self-repression, and it took a ton of learning, reading, listening, and thinking to get to where I am now. I won’t say I’ve resolved this one, because there’s still a lot of mental struggle on a daily basis on this one; that said, I’ve at least become aware of and more comfortable with myself and my womanhood. Suffice it to say, the learning process continues and I don’t think it ever really stops.

I used to be someone who probably wasn’t a very good person, really. I’ve always considered myself to be decent, but on the path to where I am, I’ve learned more than I even knew there was to learn about. Maybe I’m still not a very good person, but the least we can do is to try, to learn, and to focus on the things within ourselves that we can change. I’ll never be perfect, but I can certainly strive to be better than I am. I’ve already made it this far, and I’m proud of the progress. The road that lies ahead will be all that much easier to walk when I can remind myself how far I’ve come since I began.

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Ugly Crying

Before last night, I couldn’t tell you the last time that I properly broke down in a good, old-fashioned ugly sobbing cry. Thanks to the alcohol that bolstered already-high emotions, I’m considering myself fortunate that I can even remember last night’s, to be honest. Still, though, I think that letting loose and allowing yourself to simply unleash from time to time is important. Whether it’s bottled-up negativity and pain or, like mine, a well of overwhelming gratitude that spills out over everything, being in touch with and true to your own feelings is something that I think all humans could stand to do a bit more often.

I’m terrible at this, myself. I keep nearly everything inside, choosing only a few people and a few moments to really put emotion on display in any meaningful way. It’s something I’ve meant to work on, but struggle still to do. Much of this, likely, stems from the fact that so many of my internal struggles are ones of self-doubt and introspective arguments. Of course, there’s a likely chance that many of these could be pretty easily resolved if, rather than twisting myself silently in knots over them, I’d actually open up and talk to those close to me about them; that’s neither here nor there, though, and is something that I’ll just have to continue trying to get a handle on. Maybe I’m just not used to being in a place where my emotions are actually relevant to others, or meaningful enough to share.

The root of much of my ineffective turmoil should come as no surprise to those who’ve known me for any length of time, or have followed along my musings here on the blog. In case it’s unclear, I’ll recap. Some years ago, without having discussed the topic with anyone, I used this platform to announce to the world at large that, despite the biological equipment that life felt fit to give me, I identify as female. The outpouring of support I got from close friends, total strangers, family, and – most importantly – from my wife was incredible, and is something I’ll never forget. Since then, though, I’ve continued to struggle on a near-daily basis with my own identity and where I see a fit for myself within it.

While the world we live in now is decidedly more open and honest on these sorts of topics, my gender identity is still something I don’t talk about much outside of this space. While a certain degree of this is my own trepidation regarding society’s take on the idea, it’s really my own self-doubt and internally-restrictive reasoning that holds me back. I often struggle with wondering just how feminine I’m really allowed to be, how much of that identity I’m truly free to embrace. Complicating this, of course, are the two wonderful children who call me “daddy”, and all of the various considerations that I make on their behalf. I am overwhelming concerned about doing anything that would make life difficult for them, and I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon, if ever.

On the other side of this same struggle is the amazing woman that I am dumbfoundedly fortunate enough to call my wife. Her unconditional love and support for me through this turbulent journey is probably the only reason I was ever able to put voice to my own identity at all, and the fact that she knows me more than I could ever hope to know myself brings us to the aforementioned outpouring of emotional backlog that sparked this post. You see, it turns out that while I’ve been silently stewing over these things in my own mind, she has also been stewing about many of the same things — but not from a perspective of confusion or struggle, but wondering when I would truly open up on the subject and address it in a way that’s perhaps a little more practical than screaming into the void of the internet.

While I’ve been turning my own thoughts over and inward and around themselves to ask just how “me” I’m allowed to be, she’s been waiting for me to simply start doing it. While I’ve been hesitating about whether this is even anything that I should ever really discuss in the open, she’s been wondering what name I’d take for myself when I allowed my identity to shine through. While I’ve been trying to puzzle out what it means for me, she’s been talking to her own coworkers about her wife, and explaining me in words that I probably wouldn’t ever really find on my own when they ask questions or want to understand. I’ve been tearing myself up, over and over, wondering if I’m truly able to exist as the person that I see myself as, and all the while there’s been someone standing by my side just waiting patiently for her partner to emerge from herself.

And that, I suppose, was the root of my emotional outpouring. After a highly-emotional day surrounded by a family wedding and fueled by the inhibition-releasing powers of alcohol, this is why I found myself collapsing into a heaving mess of tears; it was not a breakdown over my own self-inflicted doubts and fears, but an overwhelming relief and thankfulness. It was realizing that, while I may still beat myself up over trying to really find the best way to be and express who I am, that there is someone simply waiting for me to do it. More to the point, though, was the simple revelation that this wasn’t my struggle to go through alone. It had honestly not occurred to me that this was something that anyone else was thinking about regularly, that someone else was living through my own struggle and ready to help me with it.

Anyway, I guess the point of all of this is that it’s good to open up. While, of course, not everyone is likely to find such support so close at hand, it’s impossible to know unless you’re willing to take the initial step. I think society still trains most of us to keep our thoughts on many things to ourselves, and we forget that there is still a world out there simply waiting in the wings for us to come and live in it; not just exist in it by whatever path is the easiest, but to become unabashedly who we are and to truly embrace what we, as these people we keep hidden under our many masks, can bring to it. I’m still not through my own struggle, and I still have a great number of questions about my own future course, but at least now I know that as I find more of myself and new ways to express who I am, there’s someone who’ll be beside me and helping me when I stumble along the way.

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Compassion

There’s been quite a bit of talk on my social media lately about kindness, humanity, activism, and how these things play off of — and against — each other. I’ve seen a number of people who I love and respect be hurt by the words and actions of others, and this isn’t an easy thing for me. I went to bed last night ruminating on some of this, and the word that kept ringing in my head above all else was simply ‘compassion’. This word, this concept, has become central to many aspects of my life recently, though it’s always been a part of it in a pretty significant way.

I was raised in the church. While there’s a lot of churches out there that focus on other aspects of their religion, most of the leaders I looked up to during my youth focused on a singular interpretation of what Christianity truly meant, and how best to reflect its ideals in our daily lives. Youth pastors, church elders, and my own parents instilled in me one great concept: that being a Christian is not about reading the Bible, it’s not about praying, it’s not about keeping yourself surrounded with those of the faith. The way I heard this phrased that stuck with me most was simply this: to lead a Christ-like life.

I’m not a part of the church anymore, having slowly separated from it during my late teens. I think the last time I attended a service was probably 15 years ago. Still, this concept was so ingrained in my upbringing that I don’t think I could ever really carve it out of myself. So, what was it that it meant to lead a Christ-like life? To me, it meant to model my very existence after this fellow described in the Bible by the name of Jesus. I don’t hold to many of the precepts of my religious beginning, but I still think this man — whoever you believe he may have been, or whatever else you think about those who claim to follow him — is a pretty good model for shaping a life worth living. At the core of that existence, if we strip away all but the lessons tied to his name in that book, is compassion.

A lot of people, I think, mistake compassion for saccharine kindness. Compassion can absolutely be this; it can be the softening of an impossibly hard blow, the mincing of words to make harsh realities more palatable. Doing this all the time, though, is far from compassionate. Covering up an ugly truth is not a kindness, but an almost-sinister deception. To lie in order to preserve feelings is not compassion. Being truly compassionate means that, sometimes, you’ll have to rip off the bandage and allow a wound to breathe. It means that you’re willing to help others confront ugliness, even when that ugliness is within themselves. Sometimes, it means being blunt.

This isn’t to say that there’s no room in a compassionate life for handling things gently. There are, of course, times where tact is needed in order to be kind. This, though, isn’t the same as just being “nice”. Being nice is often a byproduct of selfishness or narrow scope; we can adjust our frame to fit the world that we wish to see, and keep our words within a limited spectrum to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Being compassionate does not mean that you will never hurt someone that you care about; it means that you will be there to help them tend the wounds. It means being willing to set aside the comfortable existence of pretending that those wounds don’t exist, or should not be examined, in order to facilitate progress towards a more healthy whole.

Even in my work life, the theme of compassion has been at the core of my recent experience. The company I work for doesn’t just put the word on posters, but truly tries to get its employees to embrace it. I’ve had training sessions and meetings focused on examining the role of compassion within our lives, both at work and at home. The simple truth is that my job sometimes requires delivering news that can be devastating to others; we’re taught not just how to do this tactfully, but how to help people cope with the life impact of what we’re saying. Honestly, it’s been the easiest part of adapting to my “new” company culture since I began just over a year ago, and it’s the part that I try my best to carry home with me when I leave. I can’t allow myself to bear the burdens I’ve seen throughout the day, but I can reflect on the way that I’ve helped others bear them, and think about how to best ensure I continue to do this moving forward.

I awoke this morning to a private message on Twitter. A friend, someone who I deeply respect and feel is an example of the strength that I wish I saw in myself, felt the need to go out of her way to thank me for being who I am. This was an incredibly wonderful and moving thing to wake up to on its own, but it was her choice of words that drove it home in a way that made me feel like I’ve been doing a good job of being the person that I wish to be. I hope that she doesn’t mind my sharing a piece, not because I feel like being self-congratulatory, but because when someone reaches out to simply tell me that I show ‘ level of compassion that very few people have’, it truly and deeply moves me and is a big part of the reason that my late-night introspection became this behemoth of text today.

I suppose the point of this, and why I felt I should say it, is this: I want to believe that I am holding myself to the highest standards of compassionate conduct. I want to put this forward, because I want anyone who’s read it to call me out when I fall short. That’s what compassion is, after all; a willingness to take the uncomfortable step and tell someone that they aren’t being the person that they say they wish to be. It’s the act of helping each other grow as humans, and to accept the help that others offer us even when we’re unable to see the need in ourselves, and it is the act of setting aside yourself in order to listen, learn, and grow.

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