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So lest you think that Maryland has been a complete disaster for me, there have been some positive developments– I’ve not just been wallowing in a deep pit of despair. Hopefully this post will contain some small evidence of that.

From the remains of two suicide attempts since November of last year, I realized that I needed to get busy living or get busy dying, if I may borrow a phrase. Dying, since it seems to be so damn hard for me to actually do, gave way quickly to looking at what on earth I was living for. I figured if I couldn’t find a good reason to get out of bed in the morning, I could always go back to the tylenol and the razor blades. Maybe just the razor blades. Or something else.

What I came up with was this: no one gets up each and every day so they can go to some crappy job. In fact, I’d imagine that even a person who loves their job probably rejoices with the weekend just like the rest of us. So, I concluded, I’m definitely not living just so I can work. I do like my job, but just not in that way (I almost feel like I’m giving that break-up speech where I say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”).

The next thing I considered were things– possessions, stuff, crap, junk– whatever you want to call it. That one probably seems pretty obvious– I don’t know anyone who’s ever said, “I live for my awesome flat screen TV.” Sure, we all love a good movie, but if the Wiimote goes flying through said TV, as I’m sure it inevitably will, I wouldn’t kill myself over the loss of either of those things. The things we own, just like our jobs, are replaceable, or at least, not so singular that we are unable to live without them.

I found myself running out of things to consider living for. And then it dawned on me. I had friends. I have friends. There are people I know and love; there are people who know and love me. I may not live for my job, but I certainly enjoy the time I spend with my co-workers, talking, laughing, joking, eying the cute pre-doctoral intern in the next lab over.

My friends, the people who wrote to me while I was in the hospital last year, the people who have either stuck with me through this transition or who have become my friends after and in spite of it, I realized, have become more important to me than family. That foundation is important, especially since the solid base I thought I had in my family disintegrated over two years ago.

What I have realized is that our connections make our lives worthwhile. I’m not talking about those Facebook friends that I added because I wanted to kick ass at Mafia Wars. I’m talking about the ones that got added and I only later realized were cool people, chatted with, maybe cybered with. Those connections, those genuine moments where we can be ourselves and allow others to be authentic at the same time, I believe, are the greatest gifts we have to give and receive.

My connections with most people back in California, sadly, are starting to drift, but I’m also starting to make solid connections out here. One of those new friends I’ve made is a woman who is probably the best amateur therapist I’ve ever met. She’s not just someone who listens, she’s someone who can actually give you decent advice, not by telling you what to do, but by asking you questions and letting you figure out on your own what needs to be done.

As I was talking to her about my transition, I had said to her something that I’ve said here probably a dozen times or more– of course I hate the man that I was, the body that I have. If I didn’t hate those things, I wouldn’t transition. In truth, that was a driving factor in my decision to make those changes in my life.

My friend then asked me whether I wanted surgery. Of course I want surgery, I replied. Wouldn’t I just love to have things the way I imagine them, the way I envision them?, she asked. Of course I would. Won’t I love my body after all is said and done? I imagine so. Do I really want what I will eventually love to be born from flesh, from a life, that I hate so much? Of course. Wait. Maybe not. No.

I want to be beautiful. I just don’t think I can get there from a place of hatred. That’s been a hard thing to admit and a harder thing to put into practice. I wouldn’t say that I love myself, nor would I say that all my discomfort with my body is gone. Those palpable problems still exist, but the form, the experience, is slightly different.

This same friend, interestingly enough, has challenged me on some of my behavior in the midst of my social experiments. I’ve referred to these experiences in the past, but if you’re reading the last post first, let me put it this way– if you’re not used to being treated like a woman, it’s a little hard to know how to respond in any given situation, especially if you identify as a woman and like being treated like a woman. So, in some cases, I act, I perform and I take mental notes on the reactions of people around me.

How do people react if I wear heels? If I wear flats? What draws the least attention? I’ve gotten quite good over the last few years at blending in, at being invisible, at deflecting attention. The guy working in the supermarket will forget me as soon as he tells me where to find the ranch dip powder and I’m out of eyesight.

If I were to try and build an analogy, I’d say I’ve moved past the phase of being in middle school where I’m going to do all I possibly can to make sure that I fit in. I know that I fit in. Now I’m at that point in high school where I can branch out, where I can explore a little bit and determine, stylistically, what I consider cool and where I want to go as me, as an individual. I no longer want to be the forgettable woman in the supermarket.

Since I’ve mastered (more or less) how to be invisible, now I’m trying to learn how to actually hold someone’s attention, to control it through my own behavior and elicit the responses that I want. It may sound manipulative and it is, but it’s also something that every single one of us does every day when we address a customer as “Sir” or apologize for standing on someone’s foot.

While what I’m talking about may sound too deliberate for a behavior to ever appear as anything but a performance or an act, I would argue that all of our interactions are scripted by a social feedback loop from which we’ve been learning since we were children. The information I’ve been working off of for the last twenty years doesn’t hold for a woman, though. So I had to scrap all of it and start over and figure out what kind of behaviors are acceptable for girls. For young women. For older women.

In an effort to accelerate the learning process, I will, on occasion, deliberately throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of the machinery just to see what breaks. It’s not willfully destructive– I’d actually say it’s quite the contrary. I have always believed that one of the best ways to learn how something functions is troubleshooting it when the proverbial smoke is pouring out of the wreckage. But just because something may stop working temporarily doesn’t mean it’s broken.

What I’m talking about above is more theoretical. To put these ideas into practice, I’ve learned that the best way is just to go ahead and try it. I’ve already taken bold steps, done daring (and probably stupid) things. Eventually though, all belief, all theory, must be put into everyday use. Just like with my clothing, my hair, my make-up, I try a bevy of different things. Simply because they get tried, though, doesn’t mean that they’re a permanent part of me. I’ve always discarded the things that don’t suit me (have I ever told my story about blue eyeshadow and red lipstick?) and reinforced the things that do until they become second nature. In fact, once I find those things that suit me, they barely need to be reinforced. At that point, I find myself, I find my style and I find all of it feels incredibly natural.

Another friend recently said something to me that nearly knocked the wind out of me the moment I heard it– the woman I am just is. I like that because it rings true. We are who we are. But I also know that we are all meant to change, to evolve. If that must happen, then I want to learn how to change gracefully. I hope that my stumbling steps at the beginning will give way to something more fluid as I understand myself better.

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I have a feeling that most of my readership (what little there is) must be feeling that I fell off the proverbial map, so here I am, writing the first real post in what must be four months. A lot has happened in that time.

I’m employed. I had to move. I thought about, and tried, killing myself at least two or three times (what else is new, right?). I’ve lost some friends. I’ve made some new ones. Some things have gone horribly wrong for me in the last few months. And some things have actually gone so far awry I think they actually crossed over and ended up working out for the best. I’ve been busy. Hopefully you’ll accept all of that as decent excuse for my absence.

I’m still sorting out what to tell you and maybe as I write I’ll be able make up my mind about those things.

I could explain, in gory details, how my latest BDSM relationship went atomic but that would involve violating the privacy of several people that have not given their permission for such a discussion. I think I can say the following without crossing any lines: I harmed someone, albeit unintentionally, but that harm occurred nevertheless. That it was not physical harm simply means that no one had to go to the ER. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t fuck up. In fact, emotional distress is probably more serious, at least in my mind, and I can do nothing more than offer my apology to the individuals involved.

The problem was trying to figure out how a trans woman who has issues with her own body (namely, me) can relate to the trans body of another woman, and in the end, I blew it– rather than risk alienating this woman from her own body, I ended up alienating her from myself. I was so afraid that I was going to do something wrong, that I was going to set off one of her triggers, or worse, one of my own, that I ended up hardly relating to and interacting with her at all.

The way around this, I’ve discovered, is to openly discuss how each of us relates to her body and how we ought to relate to one another’s bodies. It seems so simple, but I was already afraid myself, feeling so vulnerable and exposed, and I knew (or at least thought) that she must be feeling the same way and I was too scared to just talk through it for fear of setting one or the other of us off. Yet, all that was really needed was a bit of talking. This girl was a friend of mine but still, I was too afraid to relate to her as a friend, to find out what she needed from me, to tell her what I needed from her, and just like a smothered fire, we died.

I suppose the reason I’ve shared what I have of this that I feel like pointing out that I’m just as capable of making bad decisions, that I’m just as capable of doing stupid and hurtful things, that I’m just as capable of making a mess of things as anyone else. I am responsible for the harm I caused another person and there’s nothing I can do at this point to make it right.

I suppose that’s kind of the overarching theme in this post– relationships are– hell, life is– messy. We are never perfect moral agents, not even in our own stories. Even those whom we elevate on pedestals rarely live up to our expectations– the specter of abandonment looms large, even when we are told they’ll never leave.

Which brings me to my best friend. The Domme I met last year– the person I’ve been most reliant upon for stability since I tried to kill myself last July– has removed herself from my life. The rationale isn’t as important as the impact. There’s a huge hole in my heart that she filled and I miss her terribly every day.

I initially felt let down and hurt that someone’s connection to me could be so easily broken. As I’ve gained more distance from her though, I’ve realized that while she had a lot of positive influence on my life, being away from her has been a good thing for me, as well. I learned a lot from her, but being around her was to be in a very controlled environment. While she helped me feel more stable at a time when I was very emotionally not, the atmosphere was a lot like being in the hospital– everything with her was rigidly structured. In a sense, I needed that stability, but at the same time, I didn’t learn how to survive outside that controlled environment.

This may not sound like a bad thing on its face, and it really isn’t, but as I alluded to previously, I recently found a new job. I had to move across the country– I now live in Maryland, about 45 minutes away from Washington, DC and what might as well be light years away from all of my friends back in California, all the people I knew in the lifestyle. I felt like my Domme, like my best friend, was on the other end of the solar system.

So, as I was saying, once I moved, I was completely unprepared for life outside my Domme’s control. Now, I’m not saying that’s her fault and I’m certainly not blaming her for trying to help me when I needed it most last year. I wouldn’t have gotten through that troubled time were it not for her presence, her near constant availability when I needed her.

But once I was outside the sphere of her influence the foundation of everything in my world was shaken. I just didn’t know what to do without her. I would go in the bathroom at work and cry for 30 minutes at a time, feeling completely alone. I felt so disconnected from everyone, that nothing was going right and all I wanted was to go back home and feel the sun on my face again. Not two weeks after I moved out here I swallowed nearly every tablet in a huge bottle of tylenol.

No hospital for me this time, no ambulance rides. I didn’t even get through all the pills before my stomach had hit the proverbial eject button. Aside from being probably the grossest thing I’ve ever personally experienced, I felt miserable for the next three days, physically sick. I did recover and pills are now forever off the suicidal ideation methodology protocol.

My Domme knew all about the suicide attempt and in light of this latest demonstration of despair, decided that she wasn’t going to go down with me. I don’t even remember the last words she ever spoke to me– I tried calling and never got an answer after that. For weeks, I was nearly non-functional and all I felt was alone and abandoned, by myself at a time when I most needed a friend. I cried nearly every day.

But, time passes, and as fall became winter, I started to get settled in the new job and the new surroundings. That vast expanse at the edge of the world which started out as an unknowable and terrifying quantity became just another part of the scenery. I have, through all the negative experiences and ruined relationships that marked my first months here, realized several very important things, themes that seem to get repeated over and over in my life.

For one, this new place is not quite so terrible as I first imagined. To the contrary, I have the freedom and the anonymity to be myself, whoever that really is. There is no dichotomy of Jessica here– no one has ever known Josh. Only a few friends have even seen pictures of what I used to look like. I get the most amusing looks from people when I try to explain that I used to have a beard and mustache and that I shaved my head every few months. The experience is as odd for me as it must be for them, as though part of my past doesn’t equate with the woman in front of both of us.

Aside from feeling disorienting, this new found breathing room is also very liberating, as I’m sure you could guess– it allows me to be myself apart from the known history of being a trans woman to most people. I’m afforded the space to explore myself as a woman, just a woman and not necessarily as a woman who used to be a man. So much of my life has been organized around being trans, by beating it down and then embracing it, that sometimes it feels like all I know is myself as a trans person. Now though, I feel like I can figure out what the rest of me looks like. It’s the temp job from last summer writ large, expanding to encompass every aspect of my life, not just work.

Looking back on the wreckage of my friendships as I talk about finding myself, being more myself, I believe there is a fundamental disconnect that has brought me to this point. Up to now, I have failed to believe that those who love me also care to know what I need. It is a failure of communication, a failure to confront fears within that affect my relationships– specifically, fears of abandonment and fears of body dysphoria. On a larger scale, I think if we applied a simple correction to all of our relationships, if only we believed that our loved ones would want to know what we know about ourselves, then maybe some of our hurts and the hurts we cause others could be avoided.