Tag Archives: relationships

Lasciate ogne speranza

In this post, as the Klingons’ Second Rite of Ascension calls for one to say, tIqwIj Sa’angnIS I must show you my heart. I both warn you all and apologise in advance; I’m unloading a lot of stuff here in order to help me push it out of the unhealthy residence it’s been taking up in my head. One of my best friends has suggested I write more #weirdthingsivedone posts, especially since she claims I somehow manage to scale new heights of Peak Nerd in her eyes every time we talk. (I’m not sure I’ve ever been complimented so wonderfully in my entire life.) And I will do that in future posts, I promise. But for now, here, I need to wax maudlin for a short while, so I ask for your indulgence while I do.

I read this small chunk of prose by a poetically-inclined denizen of Facebook a couple of nights ago – the ancient historians call these prose fragments gobbets when set as stimulus fragments for essay exams, and that term I’ve been utterly unable to get out of my head for every single one of the fourteen years since I last did an ancient history essay exam – on the news feed of a friend, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind for a couple of days (a wonderfully pleasant Friday evening notwithstanding, spent picking out new glasses and having dinner with the same dear friend who accused me of perpetual apex geekery – that was a perfect distraction that I desperately needed and am grateful for). I don’t know if it qualifies as prose-poetry as such, but certainly the style isn’t typical of standard prose; far more highly emotive, a cry of empathy with the deeply wounded. Because of the psychological place I was in, reading this piece was like a shout into a vast canyon with perfect acoustic balance, echoing countless times within the vaults of my mind and the power to silence it or call it back utterly out of my control.

I know what it feels like to live on the edge of loneliness
to have every hope crushed and everything you touch die
and to try so damn hard only to realize
nothing is going to change anytime soon
so you deal with the pain the best you can.
Reggie Nulan

I’ve been entrapped by this proselet largely because it feels almost like this Reggie Nulan has looked straight through – perhaps past – my eyes to see directly into the darkest, grimmest walls of my mind, and has unhesitatingly read the spidery scrawled inscriptions of my worst fears, shallow glyphs scratched weakly into prison walls of piled grey stone by the most anguished part of my psyche. My October was exactly like this verse says. It was a period during the start of which which I did feel occasional snatches of something like motivation, a feeling I hadn’t had in some time: motivation to work, to write, to move forward with my life in aspects that had previously been stagnant and beginning to grow heavy on my shoulders. It was a time during which I didn’t just make plans, but also took steps to – as the revolting business jargon would phrase it – action those plans. (As the great philosopher Calvin – no, not that one – puts it, verbing weirds language.)

Eek. I just wandered off searching for that link, got distracted, and fell into the Internet for about half an hour. I can’t even think about this for long enough to get through the writing of a full post on it. I’m sorry. Where was I? October. That’s right. Much as I’d have liked to forget. September came to an end on quite a high, with notifications via email that one of my academic articles had just been published and two further articles had been accepted for publication in the professional journals. This is probably, I’m pretty sure, what gave me the motivation to start building on the momentum I was experiencing: to keep it rolling forward while it was there, and try to avoid falling back into the lethargic inertia I’m prone to. (I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Newton’s first law of motion has relevance to more abstract forms of progress, too – that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and conversely, an object at rest will tend to stay at rest.) I was getting my medication régime back under control with the assistance of a good psychiatrist, some academic success had come my way in the form of these three papers, there was promise of upcoming paid contract work at my alma mater, I’d had an offer from a friend to move out of the living situation I’m in that’s contributing to my worsening health, and I was feeling ready to step back out into the world of romance by asking out someone who in recent months I’d been both getting to know better, and growing to fancy, roughly in lockstep with each other.

None of these things have really worked out, though. It brings clouds to my eyes just to type that, but it remains true nonetheless. The romantic thing didn’t work out, which isn’t a problem in and of itself (particularly since the person I fancied had the immense integrity and wondrous grace to sit down with me and talk honestly and openly about why it would be best if we not date, at least for now) – it just feeds into a long, long history of romantic missed opportunities, missteps, and failures to act (more than forty in all; I counted once, in a particularly deep fit of despondency) that always, always make me criticise and harshly judge every aspect of myself to see in which ways I don’t measure up. In addition, my friend’s offer of moving out of my problematic living situation had to be cancelled entirely at the last minute because of the breakup of her relationship (that week was not a good one for relationships – another couple I know also had their civil partnership come to a screeching halt at that time). And I feel doubly awful for that because I know my friend and her partner were both themselves struggling with serious mental health issues, issues that ultimately contributed to their breakup but that must have caused them extraordinary hurt during that process and that make me feel really guilty for feeling upset about the situation for my own (and utterly selfish) reasons. The offer of work I’d had has also had to be postponed several times for a variety of reasons mostly revolving around people being in the field or caught up with other commitments that couldn’t be broken, taking me past the end of my third full year without full-time employment and making me feel even worse about my prospects for beginning to build a life that I can in any way take joy in. As a consequence of these three situations – romance, habitation, employment – I’ve taken a solid backslide even under the increased dosage of the medication my psychiatrist has been working with me on (no doubt situational rather than fundamentally biochemical, which at least does give me a tiny but mathematically non-zero degree of consolation), which has subsequently impacted upon my ability to focus on the writing of further academic papers, on the writing of job applications, and on the continuing effective conductance of my life on a day-to-day basis.

Ultimately, all this is why I feel so keenly the sting of the wound that propelled Reggie Nulan to write his lovely but heart-wrenching prose-poem. Living on the edge of loneliness feels like my reality at the moment; I feel lonely at virtually every moment, even as I try to push myself to address it, to connect with friends, to remain in contact with people I care about. And all that I hoped would come to fruition during October shrivelled on the vine. Life is as stagnant now – moreso, perhaps – as it was at the end of September. At moments like this, I almost fear that my depression and my anxiety are the correct and true way of experience, slyly and underhandedly suggesting that optimism is abhorrent and hope to be shunned. On one level, I’m used to feeling that in my own head. I suppose it just causes a rather deeper ache to feel that the universe around me should be nodding its head so vigorously in agreement.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
(Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.)
– Dante Alighieri, Inferno III.9

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22 Days of Musing: 10

10. The Big Bad Tale.

Two days ago I noted that often, those who need help most desperately are those least able to see any way out of their own private hell. Sometimes, though, the crash to the bottom of the pit can be so rapid, so deep and severe, that it becomes easier to see the necessity for assistance. So following on from yesterday’s scene-setting, tonight I’d like to – well, not like to, but I will – reflect upon the darkest single time in my entire life: the time when I first realised that I needed psychological help. (I speak this way only in the interest of candour; I apologise in advance for parts of this that will no doubt come across as melodramatic.) Yesterday I talked about first recognising depression in myself in 2008, and that many (though by no means all) of my subsequent experiences with depression would, like this first one, have at least something to do with the emotions surrounding romantic attraction. Let me explain: when I fall for someone romantically, I have a habit of letting those feelings grow more deeply than I should, meaning that when those feelings are removed they don’t slide out neatly like a cork from a bottle; it’s rather more like the uprooting of a tree, tearing away not only the feelings’ roots, but also taking little pieces of my heart with them and leaving raw and gaping wounds behind. It’s happened more times than I care to count, and isn’t helped by the fact that I find it difficult to perceive the subtle cues that most people use to signal romantic interest, so often I think someone might be interested romantically when they’re in fact just very friendly, or have particularly extroverted personalities, or whatever else. Because my dysfunctional romantic sense has sought out those connections and been disappointed so many times, I suppose it’s logical that eventually my subconscious would come to use depression as a means to seal off those psychic wounds: perhaps helping to prevent me from feeling the pain associated with sorrow, loss, grief, rejection.

And so it goes, and so it went also in late 2010, at a conference where I met a fellow archaeologist (I swore an oath to commit her name to damnatio memoriae both for my mental health and for her privacy, an oath I’ve broken only on specific request from previous partners), just finishing her honours. We’d spent the last night of the conference lying on the grass under the stars, talking and holding hands. When we had to leave the next morning, we exchanged contact details, and within a week she was already talking about flying to Brisbane to see me. Over the course of six weeks leading into early January, we exchanged hundreds of messages, chatted or spoke on the phone every single day, and she spoke of her intentions and hopes for us in a manner loud and clear that even my incompetent romantic antennae received. But the day she arrived here, she and I and some mutual friends had a barbeque and an overnight stay at a friend’s place, and after I left the following morning, it was as though extraterrestrials had abducted her, leaving behind a doppelgänger. She stopped responding to messages, she claimed she was feeling ill, she put off us spending one-on-one time, she reneged on coming to stay at my house, she wouldn’t engage with me while we were on a group trip to Dreamworld with our friends, and within a week she finally sent a message with the tired, sickening old saws that turn up on Internet listicles of breakup clichés (and all at once, into the bargain): saying how much I reminded her of her brother (excuse number 3 – bing!), that it was her and not me (excuse number 2 – bing!), that we both needed to focus on uni (excuse number 1 – bing!), and she just wasn’t ready for a relationship at all at that point (excuse number 9 – bing!); she also assured me she’d answer any questions I had about the breakup. Because she subsequently didn’t respond to any of my questions, though, I soon sought advice from a mutual friend to determine whether I’d done something wrong. And suddenly, I did get a response: a page of enraged text lashing out at me about how I’d betrayed her trust and how I’d mistreated her by going behind her back. It was through this period of about a week that I fell headlong into a pit the likes of which I’d never experienced. Cast downwards at first by her sudden cooling towards me and the anxiety, confusion, sadness and disappointment they caused – just before she arrived I had decided to summon the strength to tell her about my feelings of gender variance (at least such as I understood them at the time), something that at that point I had shared with no-one – her angry message ignited a rocket rushing me swiftly down through a blackness into which light shone not at all, the very pit of Apollyon. I had just enough emotional strength left to send a single email to her to respond to her anger, speak in my own defence, and tell her I thought it would be best if we didn’t speak for a while. And for two weeks I lay on a futon, picking myself up only to use the toilet; while awake I stared at the television, not really watching it at all, as all 256 episodes of M*A*S*H (120-odd hours of television) played back-to-back from my hard drive. The only emotion that touched me was utter despair. Except when a family dinner had been prepared, I drank only water and ate nothing. I lost five kilos over those two weeks and by the end of the second week I could clearly see – intellectually, at least – that this was in practice coming close to a depressive catatonia and that I wouldn’t be able to climb out of this pit on my own. That was when I realised I needed help, and I’ll tell you more tomorrow about how I began to act in seeking it.

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.'”
– Charles M. Schulz

Once, twice, six months a lady

On Sunday of this week, the 11th of September, I realised that I had passed six months of being publicly out as a trans woman. My post to Facebook on the 11th of March was not the first time I’d told somebody I was transgender, of course; by that time I’d already been undergoing hormonal therapy for about ten months, and had told perhaps thirty or thirty-five people in total. Basically my close friends first, then my family, after having worked on the issue for some time with my psychologist and two doctors. (It goes beyond having “a doctor” these days for me; I seem to have accumulated a medical team instead. A GP who specialises in treating gender-variant people, an ordinary GP who I see for other issues, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a laser technician. Coo.) Six months is not very long, to be fair – I know trans people who have been out forty years or more – but still, this forms a milestone in my own journey, and a milestone that this time last year I was still terrified by and thought I would never have the courage to achieve.

On the whole, I’ve been far more lucky than most in my transition. Focused as my life is upon the academy, and of a fairly large city to boot, the people around me tend to have a fairly broad perspective, and are generally much more liberal (in the small-ell sense; my friends overseas no doubt find it a peculiar irony that the major Australian politically-conservative party are named the Liberals) than might be expected from the members of an “average” community. Moreover, we as anthropologists and archæologists spend our lives investigating the structures of and systems of interaction within societies, and when social roles differ from supposed norms, we tend to be curious and interested rather than horrified and disgusted by variations from those norms: we seek to be descriptive and talk about what is, rather than prescriptive and talk about what should be. For these reasons, I’m infinitely grateful to have happened to exist within the milieu I have when I finally realised that transitioning was something I wished to pursue. Though my transition has easily been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and continues in a variety of ways to be challenging and difficult (the breakup of my last relationship resulted from my partner’s inability to come to terms with my being transgender, despite the fact that I’d told her this fact and about my desire to transition less than a week after we started dating; I won’t lie, I’m still a little bitter), the friends, colleagues, and family around me have inundated me with nothing but support, love, endearment, and admiration. From some people it’s even reached the level of clear excitement, which is a little discombobulating, but equally lovely to experience! No doubt it’s a combination of being happy for me on the one hand, and being touched that I trusted them enough to tell them on the other. I’ve felt similar rushes of what I could only call excited love when my friends have entrusted me with their own stories, their own secrets. It’s an immense honour and a great gift when someone trusts me sufficiently to reveal their hearts to me, a gift far beyond any material object, and if that’s an honour and a gift that others have perceived when I’ve likewise shared with them, then they can rest safely assured that their feeling of being honoured and trusted is equalled only by my gratitude for their trustworthiness.

This rich support surprises me anew every day, and every time that I think about that support is another little nudge forward, another shot of gratitude that helps me moving myself forward even through rough times. (And lately these rough times have comprised the bulk of my waking life. While my gender transition is only relatively tangentially related to them, I also suffer from clinical depression and a social anxiety disorder that currently aren’t stable. Nonetheless, the support that my loved ones are giving to both my gender situation and my mental health struggles is in large part the engine that propels me through each new day. I’ll talk more about those anon as well.) And to be completely fair, apart from a snide comment I overheard on the train last week – in which one numb young shit asked her friend how to spell the derogatory word tranny so she could send it in a text making fun of me to a third and presumably equally small-minded friend; a request that, from my perspective, dripped with the richest of irony by exposing the same lack of education that probably yielded the bigotry it contained – I’ve largely been treated with respect and honour by the people I interact with. There have been issues of misgendering, of course, and standing at a broad-shouldered and fairly barrel-chested 6’1″ I’m not really surprised, even though disappointed and a little hurt every time. Even there, though, it’s usually from people who don’t know me and consequently are much easier to ignore or just get past, and from those who do know me, I never have any issue so long as I can see that an effort is genuinely being made. (Self-recognition and self-correction of a name or pronoun slip go a long way in that regard, though it really doesn’t have to be a big deal. In all honesty, a simple apology, a quick “sorry” with a correction of the slip-up and then just returning to conversation as normal is absolutely fine with me. I don’t want for you to have to be overtaken with embarrassment any more than you want to. We all fuck up from time to time, and Christ knows I’m still very much coming to terms with the change myself!)

And it does help me to think that when I attract stares and odd looks from strangers, even though I feel I’m now living as my most authentic self and portraying to the world the person that I feel I truly am and want to be, they’re staring because of my being transgender. I feel much pride in being a trans woman, and although I do wish often that I wasn’t so stereotypically masculine in my build, it does please me to think that when I attract stares from people, I may be one of the first trans people that they’ve seen “in the wild” (as it were) and can thereby show them that I’m just a person, just another human being with my own interests and desires and hopes and character. Another aspect of dealing with the stares and strange glances is that, in part because of the anxiety disorder I mentioned earlier, I always used to feel that people were staring at me anyway, was always afraid that people were silently standing in judgment of me. Even before I realised I was transgender, even before my transition began, I felt this was the case. It’s one of the reasons I got my first piercings – my left brow and ear, which I got at the same time at least two years before I ever began undergoing hormonal therapy (indeed, before I even came to the realisation I was transgender). And the strange thing is that, paradoxical though it may be in that I feel I truly am what many trans people phrase as living my truth, I weirdly feel better about being stared at now than I used to pre-transition. There’s a line that I think parallels this sense nicely, a line from the epilogue of what for many years has been one of my favourite novels – Tim Willocks’s Bloodstained Kings – in which the main character, Cicero Grimes, finally comes to terms with the deaths of his father and brother and leaves his city home for good:

He packed his Olds 88 with the things he needed, and a few of the things he wanted, and drove south, deep into Mexico, where the air was dry and the days were long and where he could speak Spanish and be thought of as strange because he was a gringo, and not because strange was how he was.
—Tim Willocks, Bloodstained Kings

I suppose I view myself in a similar light to Cicero Grimes: I’m quite comfortable now, after my transition, with being the target of stares; with being thought of as strange because I’m a “tranny”, and not because strange is how I am. (And believe me, I really am strange.) It lets me say to myself, “Well, if they’re judging you for being transgender, then they’re just bigoted and they are therefore unimportant.” It allows me in my turn to brush off stares as being the superficial responses they are; as the Klingon proverb says, ghIlab ghewmey tIbuSQo’ pay no attention to glob flies. And who knows? Perhaps those stares will encourage people to learn, to grow, to understand and come to an acceptance of not only me and other transgender people, but everyone in the queer community. These days – particularly with the heated argument across society about the Federal Government’s rotten-to-the-core proposal for a plebiscite on the topic of marriage equality, a plebiscite that I vented my spleen about just a couple of weeks ago – I feel more of that kind of understanding and acceptance can only be a good thing, and if my existence in the community as a trans woman can serve as a means by which to accelerate that acceptance for me and all like me, then let them stare.