2022-05-03

Pursuing Joy in Defiance of Oppression

I haven't used this space for anything in a while - and that, quite honestly, has been very intentional. It also relates directly to the subject of this actual post.


It's been about three and a half years now since I realized I needed to radically rethink my ideas about who I am as a person, and since I made a commitment to pursue my own authenticity, wherever that ended up leading.

I won't mince words: it's been a tough road. In that span of time, I've learned that I'm trans, femme, non-binary, autistic, invisibly disabled, that I carry deep psychological as well as physiological trauma, and that there are plenty of forces in this world that desperately want me not to live a life of happiness, joy, and fulfillment as my true self.

I've learned a lot - enough to realize how very little I really know. About justice, about liberation, about healing, about decolonizing, about embracing a world far richer and more complex and wondrous than I ever realized existed, just a few short years ago.

And I've also tried a lot of things. Some of them have stuck, others have not. I've built a sort of personal infrastructure around trying experiments with my life, evaluating how I feel about the results, and using the data from those experiences to shape my future decisions.

So that's how my writing hiatus started. I set out at the beginning of 2022 to try a bit of a personal experiment.

I was tired - burned out, exhausted, feeling the weight of multiple consecutive years of doggedly pursuing the truth about myself in the face of significant external pressure not to be her.

I'm keenly aware that I enjoy a truly rare amount of privilege and relative ease in my experiences. I am beyond fortunate to live in a place where trans healthcare is attainable, even if it's at times awkward, difficult, and expensive. I'm employed and able to stay fed, clothed, and housed, even while the process of shifting to exclusively-remote work has taxed my autistic interpersonal struggles to the extreme. I've enjoyed a comparatively smooth process of actualizing my real self, even though a part of me twinges in pain every time I have to fill out a "gender" selection on a form with an "F" marker even though that's a severe disservice to who I really am.

I'd tried a lot of approaches to responding to the systemic injustices I experience, with all my intersectional attributes, on a literal daily basis. Some things had worked, others had not; but ultimately, I was just shot.

More crucially, I wasn't happy.

So I thought, you know what? Fuck it. The world will still be on fire in a year if I want to try and jump back into social justice work, or advocacy, or whatever form or other of external-facing praxis I want to engage in. I need a break.

And I chose to spend 2022 prioritizing my own joy, no matter what that meant in terms of giving up on trying to better the world.



I put a lot of weight on that word: joy.

I'm not sure I can emphasize enough how much that term truly means to me. It's literally my middle name. To me, it goes well beyond a simple feeling of temporary, fleeting happiness or excitement - although it certainly blends with many of those kinds of emotions and experiences.

To me, joy is existential - it's a response to the opportunity to exist, to even have experiences, and to choose how I find meaning, purpose, and value in them. I don't personally subscribe to any kind of belief framework about larger sources of meaning, purpose, value, or guidance - I am not a "spiritual" person and emphatically not a religious one, although I have no objections to anyone who finds those kinds of beliefs useful (provided it doesn't lead to harmful treatment of anyone else).

But I do find an almost transcendent kind of magic in the notion that "I", after all, am a serendipitous chunk of leftover atoms forged by stellar nuclear fusion, which have followed the inexorable dance of physical forces and evolutionary statistical processes for billions of years, to reach the point where this blob of matter has coalesced into a self-perpetuating biological organism that is able to reason about itself and the reality it occupies.

There's something deeply cool about that, to me - the notion that I'm really just a tiny, fractal fragment of a huge universe, a channel by which reality itself can peer back out and experience its own existence. I represent the opportunity for a vast, incomprehensibly immense plane of existence to experience a configuration of "being" that is literally and truly unique across all of time and space.

And when I think about what that really means to me, on a personal level, I can only describe the feelings it creates with one word.

Joy.



So what does this have to do with oppression? Why am I surfacing now, after four consecutive months of this personal experiment to prioritize my own joy, to write again?

There are rumblings of some external events that have put this subject on my mind, and to be completely honest this does feel like a relevant time to talk about things like sociopolitical oppression. But it also coincides very nicely with a sort of status update about my experiment itself.

You see, it's been working - and, I must admit, shockingly well.


I'm not merely coping, anymore; not merely surviving the seemingly endless dragging-on of a global pandemic; not merely slogging through the repeated, nested marathons of all the legal paperwork, name changes, documentation updates, and awkward processes of telling the world around me about who I am as a trans person; not merely trudging along on a perpetual treadmill of attempting to stay alive despite the gradually mounting desire to just collapse in utter exhaustion.

How?

I go back to the first time I discovered the works of bell hooks - and the subsequent weeks in which I hungrily obtained everything I could that she wrote, and devoured it all. I think about the ideas I hold about how I conduct relationships - my "queerelationality." I think about my desire to exist - the very motivation that keeps me alive and fighting for something better and that is very much responsible for carrying me through some genuinely dark and horrific life experiences. I think about how much I want to exist in good relationship to the rest of my reality; not just to people, but to the random trees and flowers growing in my yard, to the family of wild rabbits that lives there, to the possibilities of the future and the wisdom of those who have preceded me.

Wisdom of people like bell hooks, who talk about the importance of love and not being afraid to live a life centered in the embodiment of that all-important verb. Wisdom of people like Audre Lorde, who crucially observed that the mechanisms of oppression will never truly serve to set us free from oppressive dynamics.

And I look back on my own voracious, auto-didactic desire to learn, to create mental models; my autistic need to understand things in systemic terms, to piece together complex relationships and the interplay of subtle nuances and movements nigh-on-invisible - sometimes because they're almost too small to see, and sometimes because they're almost too big to see.

And I ask myself what the mechanisms of oppression really are.


I see three major categories - a taxonomy I've thought about a lot, but not written about much. There's plenty of material I could explore, here, but the depth and the detail are for another time, I think.

There are three primary weapons of any oppressive dynamic, on any scale: whether those dynamics play out inside a single person, between a small number of people, or across our entire species. I call them division, exhaustion, and information control.

Division is easy enough to explain. It's the messages I hear every day about who I "should" treat as an "enemy." Who is "against" me and wants me to "fail" or whatever else. I hear a lot about this in a country embroiled in an active attempt to erase the fundamental rights of bodily autonomy and self-determination of trans people and femme people - people like me. Division wants me to see opposition and competition and foes in every tiny shadow. Division wants me to believe I'm at war with myself, that some part of me is "against" other parts of me, that my own struggles are somehow because I'm acting at odds with my own interests - division wants me to forget that the ideas it has planted in my mind are not my own, and that the whispers of self-doubt and uncertainty and anxiety are coming directly from me. Division wants me to forget that the enemy of my enemy is, truly, my friend - that anyone else on the losing end of an oppressive dynamic could very well be my ally in my own struggles, even if we experience very different things in our respective lives.

Exhaustion probably needs little elaboration. Exhaustion wants me to believe it's pointless, that there's too much to change and not enough will to change it. That the cause is lost and the worst will happen. That I'm a failure of a person if I don't burn every last quantum of personal energy I have to undoing the wrongs of the world. That my praxis is meaningless if I take a break to just be happy for a year. That I'm a selfish and bad human for choosing to enjoy my life instead of draining every drop of blood and sweat I can to better someone else's.

Information control is perhaps the most subtle, devious, and - in this era of technological pervasiveness - also the most impossible to escape. It's in cultural messages, in media, in entertainment, in the horrific lack of representation of human diversity, in algorithms and social media accounts and our clout and our reach and our numbers. It's in the path-of-least-resistance reliance on an increasingly tiny number of sources for data and knowledge and understanding, while reassuring myself that I'm actually Quite Well Informed Thank You Very Much, I Have Internet Access. It's the choice to not question assumptions, the decision not to dig deeper, the willingness to shrug off alternative answers and perspectives because maybe they lead somewhere that says something uncomfortable about me as a human being. It's the ease with which the world lets me sit in a rut of stagnation and quietly reassures me that, no, there's no way out of this hell - the quiet, easy lie. And like all the most potent lies, it's built on a scarily large portion of truth.


So that's how oppression works, in my mind - different manifestations, combinations, and variations on those themes. It's a systemic understanding I've been refining for quite some time now.

But this year, I've found myself asking a slightly bigger question: why?

Those are the how of oppressive dynamics. But what's the actual goal? Why do those patterns exist? Why do people perpetuate them? To the extent that we could potentially anthropomorphize these dynamics on a societal level, what purpose are they trying to serve?


And I've reached what feels, to me, like a profoundly simple answer: oppression exists to deny joy.

It's the kind of elegant, compact, pithy conclusion that I'm simultaneously tempted to reject and deconstruct and denounce as too absurdly trivial to really mean anything, while knowing deep down that it's a kind of core truth that I simply cannot escape. It's a facet of reality that resonates in my heart even as my brain floods with the internalized ideas I've been bombarded with my entire life, clamoring and insisting that it just can't be that cut and dried.

It's the sort of insight that reminds me of other truths of mine that seemed impossible at first, and then somehow suddenly became inescapable.


Moreover, I've been accumulating the empirical data to support the hypothesis.

I've stopped investing in certain social venues, certain spaces, certain endeavors - sure. But I no longer find myself feeling divided. I am different and often struggle to truly fit, socially speaking; but that's a reality for many, many autistic people. I try every day to reframe my understanding of those dynamics, to gently adjust my thinking away from "alienation" and "rejection" and towards difference, towards choosing to interpret my social struggles as reflective of a lack of experience and understanding - sometimes just as much on my own part as on the part of others around me. Unawareness can be educated, and I've chosen to only try to educate those who prove by their actions that they're willing to learn. I have, numerically speaking, fewer people in my life than I have had at many points in the past, and yet I feel markedly less alone than ever before.

I go to bed tired, at the end of most days - drained, ready to sleep, in need of rest and of being refreshed; but the reasons for that have changed, over this past several months. I no longer collapse onto my mattress and wrap myself in my sheets and blankets in a huddled ball of existential exhaustion and overwhelm. Instead, I find myself gently ushering my body into the bliss of sleep, to recharge from a full day of living - of giggling at silly wordplay, of taking time away from being responsible and adult to just watch butterflies meader around outside, of finding fascination in poking at a tiny pile of dirt and seeing what tiny lives are going on within, of carefree dancing to music that probably annoys the hell out of my neighbors, of capriciousness and a childlike wonder and endless fascination with things that I could so easily write off as pointlessly mundane, of covering myself in a literal pile of plushies and having conversations with my "fuzzy friends" prior to a mid-afternoon nap, because fuck everything that says I'm "too old for that."

And slowly, tiny slice by tiny slice, I find myself letting go of the urge to follow all those old ideas in my brain. The ideas, accumulated across a lifetime of being told who and how to be, that only want to control the information I use to make my decisions.


I sent my brain on permanent vacation, earlier this year. It's much easier to ignore the lies of oppression that exist like parasites in my mind, feeding on my angst, when all I'm listening to is the leaping thrill in my chest when my heart discovers some other little sliver of joy in the universe around me.


I know I'm better off, for this.


And it's not quite had time for the experiment to be borne out in a larger venue than just my personal existence - at least, not yet. But something inside me knows, in a way that feels utterly in opposition to everything I've ever been told about how to live, that this is the way forward. This is the way not only to live a life I truly find meaningful, enjoyable, and happy - but also the way to undo oppression.

Not by picking up oppression's weapons and trying to wield them against all the things I think are wrong in the world.

But by diving directly to the heart of what oppression is trying to prevent.

Not by burying my head in the sand, channeling willful ignorance, and ignoring the very real suffering in the world - of myself, and of far too many other oppressed and marginalized and downtrodden people.

But by rejecting the lie that we can't have our joy until "all that" is "fixed."


I'll never pretend it's easy. Frankly, the choices I've made this year are easily some of the hardest things I've ever done with my life, and that's saying quite a lot.

But I'm deeply, solidly convinced it's worth it.


And I deeply, truly, genuinely hope that we can all find our respective joys, in whatever forms they make take for each of us. I hope you can find your connectedness, your meaning, and your own joy.


Travel well. We're not alone.

2021-11-03

A Giant Lie Called Gender

The concept of gender, in its entirety, has been on my mind a lot lately.

This probably isn't surprising, given the entire name of this blog and the nature of my life; but in all honesty, the notion wasn't quite as centered in my awareness and thoughts for a while. I needed to work on other things.

Now, though... now it's back. And it's time to explore some more.


The following paragraph mentions various forms of violence and child abuse as I experienced them; please feel free to skip it if needed.


I've had a contentious experience of the construct of gender for as long as I can remember. As a young child, gender was the justification for much of the physical and emotional violence done to me. Most of this violence came from relatives and caregivers, in the form of gendered assumptions, based entirely on (in essence) the shape of my crotch. The superficial reasoning was usually expressed in some fashion resembling "that's not OK for a boy to do." The response for years was usually a severe beating, or later on, verbal abuse and threats of violence to accent the hateful words. I spent several of my formative years having difficulty walking without pain because of the savage bodily harm that was done to me for trying to be myself.


Needless to say, I learned fairly quickly not to be myself. At some point I buried all awareness of my reality for safekeeping and began to slowly believe the lies I was being told.

Lies about myself, about what was acceptable to do, about who was acceptable in general. Lies about people and what we "can" or "can't" do.

I was lied to, as a child, about a heart-breakingly long list of things - but the one that still stings the worst was the lie of gender.


I'm not sure I have a conclusion to any of this that I can express, not just yet. What I do have is a swirling mass of unorganized thoughts and ideas, all orbiting this central conceptual construct, all telling me that the way forward for my life as a person is to push even harder to reject that lie and find the truth hiding underneath it.

I've mused before about feminism and its inherent expansion of what "gender" is considered to entail, but lately, I've found a bit more clarity around my feelings on the subject. I think I've tended to default to self-describing as "girl" (notably not "woman" but we'll get back to that) because, in the current landscape of feminist and queer liberation efforts, it feels much less restrictive as a starting point. Toxic masculinity is still such a rampant reality that starting from "male but X/Y/Z" seems to create a massively long list of caveats, exceptions, and ideas that I can only imagine drawing weird looks from people if I tried to explain myself that way.

By contrast... girl musician? Girl with a career as an engineer? Girl who likes using power tools? Girl who likes driving fast cars? None of those are problematic, in the eyes of society at large, and are unlikely to draw the same amount of confusion.

Digging further, though, the only reason for picking a starting point in the first place is the deeply entrenched misconception that anatomical sex has a meaningful correspondence with personality traits.

I find myself wondering... if nobody thought about people in terms of physical bodies, how would I explain who I am?

Musician... career engineer... gleeful power-tool-user and fast-car-driver... deeply contemplative, concerned about others, invested in continual growth and exploration and self-improvement...

None of these things need "gender." To a large extent, I think we'd live in a much better world if we all rejected the notion that "gender" even exists in a way that's meaningfully relevant to those kinds of facts about specific people.


I understand that there is a value in the idea, to many people - a sort of shorthand way to express identity without diving into long-winded details. I'm sensitive to the sort of comforting, security-blanket-like fuzziness that accompanies gender-certainty for people who have it. I've personally felt tinges of that over the past few years, and even leaned into it occasionally to help guide my own self-exploration.

I also wonder, deep down, if gender isn't just another one of those things that we as humans cling to desperately and invest in deeply despite the fact that it's doing nothing but hurting us.


All I know for sure is my own experience, and that trying to generalize from that into anyone else's world is a mistake at best.

So returning exclusively to my own experiences... I've played with the concept of "non-binary" for quite some time now (the very first post of this blog mentions the term) but never really felt it fitting, for reasons that until recently I couldn't quite articulate. I think, at this point, my quibble is not with the idea denoted by the term but rather with the etymological construction of the term itself - after all, despite many protestations to the contrary by various groups of people, words do matter. A lot.

I'm reminded of a quintessential conundrum from within the lesbian community (another place I feel at home) - the desire to define ourselves in a way that is not simply in reference to men somehow. This is heightened by the additional layer of "Sapphic" attractions which aren't exclusively aimed at "women" either, but rather a sort of vague cloud of possibility-space within which one occasionally finds various amplitudes of femininity.

I don't want to express myself in reference to binary gender, so "non-binary" inherently feels unfitting. Hell, I don't want to express myself in reference to the lie of gender at all.


Where do we go from here? I have no idea. I have no words. I have no clarity for how to establish a commonly-useful expression that captures the essence of what I'm struggling to convey. But I'll keep looking. There's plenty of us on the hunt, all over the world. We'll find something.

For now? I feel like, if someone were to ask me what my gender identity is, I really only have one remotely satisfying answer:

"I don't interact with gender. I'm magic incarnate."

2021-10-09

Meta: it's been a long time coming...

I started writing the document that became the beginning of this blog late on the night of April 28th, 2019.

2019 was a hard year, for me; that document started as a desperate dumping ground for words I dared not utter anyplace else, and over the course of the next three months, it expanded beyond what I ever dreamed it might contain.

I wrote the final entry in that document on July 20th, 2019 - a Saturday. Those three months felt like three eternities. I still can hardly fathom how much happened in such a blindingly short time - and that was just the beginning.


The beginning of what I now think of as my actual life.

Everything else - the years of pain and loneliness and confusion - that was the prologue. The background story, the setup, the context that made everything else make sense, but wasn't really ever the point.


That document spanned 55 pages - 28,001 words.

With only minor edits and clarifications, the entirety of that document is now posted here on this blog, in the original chronological order, for the first time - as of tonight.


This evening I sat down to finish a project I barely dreamed I'd ever attempt. The present of my life is full - in mostly good ways, but not exclusively - and that has led to a considerable amount of delay in the completion of this chapter. The blog will, of course, continue; it's simply now caught up with everything I have already written.

Even though I wrote the closing entries of that document more than two years ago, there is still so much in there that rings true today. Much of it I wasn't prepared to share, until recently; but there's a new blog entry that should be written, about all of that.

Soon.


For now, these are the entries I posted retroactively today:

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

Saturday, July 20, 2019


I feel slightly pretentious quoting my own work, but that final entry really says it all:

What a journey.
This moment, so powerful and impossible to imprison in the tiny cell of mere language.
A girl trembling, learning that yes, she is scared – but that doesn’t mean not to go.
Crescendo.
Glimpses.
Peace. Trust. Love.
She is scared. And she is brave.
A smile, to no one and everyone, the purest loveliness.
And she lets go of that last blade of grass
Falls into the sky
Takes her place as the woman
Who dances in the stars


May all your journeys, now and forever, bring you to loveliness. 

2021-09-03

Meta: publishing some old things, finally

Today has been ... intense.

This blog is filled with mentions and allusions to the things I endured as a child, growing up in a horrific environment, bouncing from one hellish landscape of neglect and abuse to another. I spent part of this morning doing trauma therapy exercises, writing freehand with a purple pen on printer paper, about those chunks of experience.

There is something vividly heart-breaking about seeing the neat lettering of a 35 year old woman devolve into the half-inch-high, barely-legible scrawl of a terrified little girl.

To see my past and my pain take such a physically undeniable representation in ink is simultaneously mind-blowing and deeply healing.

It is the kind of experience that reminds me of why I started this blog to begin with - the blended desire to share for catharsis, and to share for providing solidarity. I know I am not alone, and I see others in the world around me every day whose stories carry gut-wrenching echoes of my own.

I'm not ready to share those handwritten letters, just yet. Someday.

But I do have a backlog of entries for this site, that I wrote over two years ago and never quite had the chance to publish.

Some just needed some privacy edits before making their way onto the internet. Some... I simply wasn't ready to admit to yet.

It's time to add them, now, to the project. I am well enough in heart, mind, and body to put these out there.


I've posted the following entries today, retroactively; they're grouped loosely by theme:

My gender identity journey


Dealing with the realities of child abuse as a recovering adult


Mental health


Assorted Updates



There are a few more left, which will have to wait a tiny bit longer. As much as I'm grateful to be healthy and healed enough, these days, to revisit and publish these, it's still a very taxing and tiring experience.

I hope they might do someone some good.

Ultimately, I finished with one last retroactive post - one I wasn't sure about sharing, for a while, due to the heavily political nature of its contents; but after 2020, and 2021, it feels like the right thing to say aloud.

And besides, it ends with a beautifully fitting tonic note - a return to the theme of this blog, this entry, and so many threads of my life: Thursday, July 4, 2019

2021-08-23

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

I've been a big fan of writing down my thoughts for many, many years. I started writing stuff that (eventually) wound up becoming this blog nearly two and a half years ago.

Life doesn't stop, and neither has the discovery, the growth, and the change. It seems like every time I pause to catch my breath, I look up and realize I know myself better than I did the last time I took stock.

I'm honestly kind of surprised that I haven't burned out, after all this. After just over two years of hormone therapy, after an incalculable number of harrowing, lonely hours struggling with grief and trauma and three decades' worth of unresolved pain, and after losing track of the number of times I've caught myself saying stuff like, "wow, I had no idea something that good was even possible."

During the time I've started thinking of as the "prelude" to my life, I would have found this concept daunting. I would have expected the idea to be exhausting, demoralizing, scary to the point of wanting desperately to avoid it.

But now, somehow, as I've gotten my footing as my actual self, as my real life has begun, I find it peaceful - calming, reassuring, and hopeful.

I've learned how to move forward when I can, to dig deep and explore and stretch while I'm able, and when to rest. When to sit still, just listen to the tiny signals coming from my brain and my body, and tend to my own heart.

And from that nascent skill of pacing and self-perpetuation, I've learned so much more.


There doesn't seem to be much point in expecting permanence in my answers. Sometimes I learn things that help me formulate better understandings; and sometimes I simply change out from under whatever I thought I understood.

For now, I have a few answers that are working nicely: I'm non-binary, specifically girlflux, and spend most of my time really close to basically just binary-female, but not quite. My attractions are undeniably Sapphic in nature. I'm autistic. I'm emphatically - perhaps even radically - non-monogamous.

A few other answers have come and gone. What once felt like gray-asexuality, or maybe some flavor of demisexuality, has come into more focus; as I continue the marathon of discovering and processing the myriad forms of trauma I've survived, it seems increasingly obvious that I'm emerging from a deep, gnarled, wounded shell - a desperate armor forged by a combination of repression due to religious "purity" culture, plus the memories and scars from enduring some of the worst instances of child abuse around situations where I'd made the appalling mistake of admitting to have sexual curiosity, and ruthlessly tempered by the adult experience of spending four years being emotionally and sexually abused by a domestic partner.

Come to think of it, a lot of answers I've clung to over the years - some for longer than others - sort of melt away under the lens of understanding and healing from all of that trauma.


I don't know what's going to happen next. I have no idea who I will be another year from now.

And that's OK.

I wouldn't have it any other way, honestly. I get to live, now. To be, to change, to experience, to enjoy, to feel, to exist.


I come back, over and over again, to a wry comment that originally popped into my head about two years ago, thinking about the challenges of attaining a measure of self-actualization in a world that often would rather not have me.

The old cliche expression of "marathon not sprint" seemed woefully inadequate, at the time; this isn't like running one marathon, it's like running dozens at the same time, shifting between so many different races and struggles and challenges, constantly feeling like the tiny bits of progress are never going to add up. Finish one race, only to realize that it was just a segment of a larger, harder process. It's not a marathon, it's a fractal marathon. A fractathlon.

Somewhere along the way, though, that process smoothed out somehow, and gave way to a more natural, sustainable rhythm - a life with moments of change, of activity, of discovery, and then time to rest, to pause, and to prepare for more. Days end in calm evenings, nights give way to sleep, and in a pattern that still stuns me in its reliability, I wake up again and feel like I can do another day.


So maybe the moment does suck - this one, right now, writing this blog entry. Maybe I am exhausted, in pain, scared for the future on any number of fronts. Maybe I am aching... for touch, for closeness, for the embrace of someone I may not see again in person for what seems like an unbearably long time, with what feels like a hopeless absence of options and possibilities for connecting with anyone closer.

Interesting, perhaps... but so what?

It's all fractal anyways. Some of life's patterns may repeat themselves, but as everything goes along, the fractal gets bigger - grander, brighter, lovelier. I have survived worse. I have found the luck, the fortune, and the companionship of others that I always wanted, the ingredients I need to truly get what I've always sought from life. In time, the ripples of hurt and unease in the now will fade away in the exhilaration and splendor of more life, and life well lived.


So for tonight, I set my course for Sleepies-Space, the plane of existence without consciousness, to revel in the company of my as-yet-uncharted dreams.

I hope our paths may cross, someday, but if not - may this be a signpost to you, traveler. There's life out there. Don't lose hope.

2021-05-23

Waiting

There are some things that are hard to believe, even as we live through them.

I never really bought into the line that "truth is stranger than fiction." But there are parts of my life I couldn't invent, no matter how much I tried.

There is a story - part of my story - that was over twenty-four years in the making. And after it was over, it was another two years before I even realized what had happened.


I don't think stories really have beginnings. There's always some antecedent, some context, some background, something prior. There are moments that are easier to start at than others, however, so that will suffice.

The starting point for this fragment of my story took place in a small house off a nondescript side-alley of a minor road, in a city most people reading this in English would never have heard of.

The house didn't matter, to this story; the city didn't, either.

What mattered was that I had my bedroom in that house, and a small single bed. I was eight years old, or perhaps nine; somewhere around late second-grade. In that bed, one night, I had a dream.

At such a young age, I had not yet begun to appreciate the subtleties or the intricacies of human dreams. I'd dreamed many dreams before. But that night was the first time I had a dream that I remembered vividly, that seemed more real than waking, that stuck with me - haunted me - for days after.

Or, as it turned out, for decades.

I dreamed of a girl, about my age, who was powerful, beloved, amazing in every possible way my tiny young imagination could conjure. As often is the case in dreams, I had no notion of how we'd met, why we were together, or why any of it felt so important.

We adventured, together, in that vaguely abstract and indescribable way of dreams; I had no idea what it was we were doing or why, but I knew it was important.

I knew I had some kind of connection to her, one that I couldn't quite explain, either in the dream itself or the days after that I spent brooding on it all.

There were many firsts, in that dream. It was the first I remembered so clearly, and it was the first that had a profoundly confusing symbolism within it.

At the end of our adventures, and what I somehow knew even in the moment was about to be the end of the dream, the girl pulled me aside from it all. There was a foundation, a place to build a building, to construct something. I knew it, even then, as the life that somehow we were supposed to share.

She gave me a watch - not one that worked, but one that seemed frozen, that made no sense... as the notion of time often tends to do, within dreams.

And together, we buried that watch, under a corner of the foundation, knowing that somehow it meant a promise - albeit a tragically delayed one.

I knew she would be back.

Or rather, I knew she wasn't really gone.

But as she evaporated from my awareness and I drifted awake that morning, all I could process was that I'd lost her, somehow.


I spent days, carefully trying to hide how much the dream had unsettled me, pondering and contemplating it constantly, trying to understand what had happened and why this nonsensical event during sleep had rattled me so deeply.

I couldn't articulate why - not for many, many long years after - but I kept it secret. Somehow it felt like betrayal, like sharing her secret - our secret - to even whisper about it to anyone else.

And so after a few days, I concluded I'd probably never understand why I'd woken up crying, that morning, aching for the loss of a girl that wasn't real and didn't exist.

And with my mind made up, I set about slowly forgetting what I'd sobbed quietly to myself before leaving my bed; the name I couldn't make sense of, the person I couldn't understand from a place in my head, the connection that I wasn't quite sure actually even occurred.


Twenty-four years later, I was sitting in my car, in traffic, one late afternoon... the afternoon of April 8th, 2019, to be precise. I knew I wasn't who I thought I was, but I had no name to call myself; or so I thought.

And I flailed, for just a heartbeat, mid-sentence in a thought in my own head that no one could hear, trying to figure out how to refer to myself, this trans person in the midst of self-discovery.

On that day, in that moment, I remembered my name.


I struggled to describe it, for almost two years afterwards; it couldn't really be a memory, could it? It felt like a reunion, like coming home, like returning to something long lost and deeply forgotten. For months upon months, I caught myself thinking of my journey as going back - I kept stumbling over the word "again" as if part of me knew that this wasn't the first time I'd understood myself.

But how could that be? There was no way; surely just a meaningless slip of the tongue. I scoured my memory - fragmented and traumatized as it was - for indicators that I'd ever known "before" or that there was any real precedent.

And now I've finally found them: the signs that there was understanding before. Prior to the dysphoria. Prior to the social struggles. Prior to anything I'd thought was relevant.


When I was eight years old, I awoke one morning from a dream, crying over the vanishing of a girl I didn't know was me. And I knew I had to keep her secret, forget her name, hide her memory, even as I knew it hurt, and I had no conscious idea why.

One spring day, not long ago, at the age of thirty five, I remembered who I'd been crying for all those long years ago. What I said, over and over, for the agonizing minutes after I'd awoken.


My Princess Amelia.


It turns out I kept that promise after all. Dreams have always held a profound, almost mystical, fascination for me. She turned up, over and over again, across the years - to the point that I even broke my silence about her at one point, without even knowing.


Maybe it's all just a bit too hard to believe, maybe it's just easier to brush it off as revisionist wishful semi-fiction.

But I'll always know the truth.



I love you forever, Amelia.

2021-05-17

Monday, May 17th, 2021

I have nothing against being wrong - not in general, not in principle. Being wrong is part of guessing, and guessing is part of trying something new; and, after all, one of the biggest reliefs of my entire life was discovering just how wrong I was about who I am, a couple of years ago.

But there are times when it's harder than others. Times when I have to just admit that I was wrong, and if there's any usefulness to be had from the mistake, it's lost in the sheer pain of how awful the mistake was.

I made the mistake of thinking things were OK with my relatives.

This is the only way forward now.


* * *


The trash cans are just sitting there, on the curb.

Maybe for some people it’s "just" a "simple" matter of opening the garage, pulling them inside, and disappearing into solitude again.

Not for me.

I can’t go out there.

Instead, I have to be in here, fighting off the whispers of anxiety and dread that say someone out there is judging me for not having taken the cans inside yet.


Never mind that half the neighborhood just leaves their cans on the road all week.

Never mind that even the people who do bring them up a driveway, into a garage, around to the side yard... they often take a day or two to manage it themselves.


I almost wish I could say something, as if to explain what’s going on and just avoid further conversation entirely. Tell everyone. But why? I don’t want their pity, their offers of help, or their involvement.

All I want is to be left alone… and they already do that. No one ever bothers me here.

But I can’t go outside.

They know I’m here. It’s not some kind of secret. I’m not fooling anyone. Nor am I trying.


I know why all of this is.


It has nothing to do with being left alone. It has everything to do with not being rejected. Not being treated as a problem, as a freak, as an abnormality, as a monster.

No one here has ever given me a reason to think they would respond that way.


But I know who did.


There’s a flashing storm of images in my brain, words and sounds and faces, a parade of horrible people doing horrible things. Echoes of long-faded physical pain flash through my nerves.

Being beaten by my father at a party, him hauling me into the driveway of the host’s home and hitting me over and over again, for embarrassing and inconveniencing him. I’d had a social anxiety attack and lost control of my bladder, surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar setting. Somehow his impression of the right response to that was to begin smacking his eight year old child.


That was the right response to everything. Hit me.


I remember exactly one time - eighth grade - when I dared to walk away from him when he started getting angry at me. I left the room, went upstairs, and quietly locked the door to my bedroom behind me. Without even leaving the kitchen table downstairs, he yelled for me, promising that if I didn’t come back down and listen to his tirade, he’d "make me remember" the consequences. I didn’t get hit - that time - but I remembered anyways.

I have no idea what he was even pissed about, all these years later.

All I remember is the depth of how awful, how profoundly terribly incomprehensible, it all felt. To be struck time and again, for almost two full decades. "This is only for your own good. I’m only doing it because I love you. It hurts me more than it hurts you."


Bullshit.


I’m not afraid of my neighbors saying something shitty, or being ignorant or rude. I can handle people acting badly.


What I’m scared of is the remote chance that I’d see the same look in someone’s eye, that tiny flicker of disgust, the judgment, the silent hurrying away as if I’d ruined their day just by existing.

The look he gave me all the time.

I dread trying to talk to them, trying to help them understand that the strange woman living on the corner lot just needs some space and some privacy... I dread the beginnings of things starting to work out, people still being just as respectful but with a little more knowing behind the casual waves from across the street... I dread the eventual outcome of the illusion shattering, the bubble bursting, and someone finally telling me they couldn’t handle being kind to me anymore because I’m just too much.

The way my mother always did when I sought refuge with her after yet another incident with my father.


* * *


I tried again, all those years later, to make it work. To tell them the truth - who I am, what they did, why I struggled for weeks deciding whether or not to even give them another chance. I sent them the recommendations… books to read, documentaries to watch, people to talk to.

For a little while, it seemed like it might have worked. We talked on the phone, now and then. Occasionally even ventured past the petty small-talk that I always find so exhaustingly pointless.

And then it stopped. The illusion broke. For everything that has changed, nothing really changed at all - not with them.


A year and a half ago, my father promised to answer the letter I wrote him explaining who I am. He has since disappeared again into whatever obsessive religious hole he’s finding interesting these days. I’ve heard nothing from him, but he’s found plenty of time to write letters - to absolute strangers, trying to sell them his advice. 

A year and a half ago, my mother promised to try and build an actual relationship with her youngest daughter - with me. And when we’d finally reached a point where I felt comfortable telling her that I am autistic, and relating some of my struggles to her, she fell back into the same old habit she always has. It’s just too much, can’t we talk about something else?


I turned thirty-five years old over a month ago. I have heard absolutely nothing, from either of them, since the beginning of this year. For all their promises, for all their assurances that they’ve changed and become better people, they’re still just as problematic as ever.

I spend most of my nights and weekends working through the leftovers of the traumas they both put me through. Violent abuse on one hand, and dismissive neglect on the other.



Someday I will be able to get my trash cans without seeing their shadows hiding around every corner.


I am breaking the cycle.

This shit stops with me.