One of the more fascinating debates to have in the pub is when people start to ‘enquire beyond’. What is beyond the universe? What is beyond the end of time? What is beyond this life? It’s reassuring to know that there isn’t some monster at the end of the universe, or that time is not simply recycled in some Groundhog Day nightmare, or that hell isn’t just a coercive historical invention of a ruling priesthood. Whenever a conversation starts to ‘go beyond’, even if it is just an inability to understand a different human culture, or to think scientifically about something where there is insufficient knowledge, I recall Descartes’ Discourse on Method.
It was tough going, on my philosophy course at university, to plough through, especially since God had to be an integral part of all Descartes’ functions of reason, but I do recall some important features. One is that everything lesser comes from something greater, and that we can’t always infer the rock from the chipped-off stone. Also, that you can’t invent and describe a chimera (a made-up creature) that isn’t made of bits with which you are already familiar.
We had a rather old inherited children’s book with split pages, where you could mix half a lion with half a giraffe, for example, to make a liraffe. And pictures of dragons and monsters, or even aliens, are always recognisable in their parts. There is a head, or sometimes the body contains the head parts (Monsters Inc). An eye or eyes, a mouth and teeth (usually, not many monsters simply suck, and we tend to think of them as frightening and aggressive, so they need teeth), limbs to get about, with joints, gripping-parts with fingers, suckers or claws, and maybe a tail for balance or as a weapon. But however hard you try, it will be slimy, furry, leathery, scaly, or something derived from an experience of a living creature, or manufactured robot you know. You can only describe and imagine from what you already know – and for sure, we don’t know everything. (Anyone who knows me well, knows that I can be very adamantly wrong!) If you were to meet a quite different being, manifesting in an entirely novel way, you would have no words to convey the experience. Everything would be analogy or simile – in other words, solely in terms of your current available shared experience. In fact, you would have difficulty having the experience if it really was beyond the universe we know so partially.
Belonging and experience
Now think of your own life, its changes, roles, relations, and the creature that you are. Here is short chain of what I am so far:
unborn kick; baby; Andrew; son; brother; minor; pubescent child; Andy; adolescent; boyfriend; student; lover; man; husband; father; companion; woman; sister; daughter
I said ‘I am’ because either I am momentary (i.e. only actually exist in this moment) or I am everything from all moments because that is known and recalled. I could add the decorations, of writer, artist, musician, etc., but you get the point. These aspects are all me. Yes, I include the male stuff, because the body part of me was identifiably that, but because I am woman, that is as real and as true as anything else. I lived and performed as a man mistakenly for far too long, but nevertheless I did, just as surely as I kicked before I was born. You can’t infer the whole from the part, and you can also recognise everything that has ever described me.
Is there a ‘me’ in ‘chimera’? We can all see that, and we are all part of someone else’s construct..
Is there a chimera in me? No. Because I am not all things at once. Only a few things are retained together, but it isn’t monstrous to be daughter, sister, woman, father, even lover, all at once.
This is my philosophy of self, that I own it all, understand it better than I once did, and will again more in the future. But it is also my philosophy of person: that for everyone who knew me before I took possession of my womanhood, all of it was me, and that the person you know now is the same as the person then. Those who sit next to me in bands where I play, or in the office (does anyone there read this?!) know that my sense of humour is fast and innate and of a particular kind. Those who have told me I have lovely eyes have not done so because of my gender presentation. My voice has changed a bit, the way I speak and walk certainly have, I let my hair grow, but my memories are contiguous and detailed. My DNA runs in my children. My feet are the same size, even if women call a size 9 a size 8, but I dance on them now. So if anyone thinks I am a different person is simply saying that their mental chimera of me doesn’t look like this anymore.
A different person?
We do say, colloquially, ‘they’re a different person’ when someone is traumatised, or reacts to drugs, and in some way their personality changes. Sometimes a person becomes ‘lost’ through dementia, or grief, or by withdrawing, and we know that inside, this person is just unexpressed. Sometimes we mean someone has become released, or content or happy in a way they never were. But they aren’t really ‘a different person’, only expressing themselves differently. Sometimes we like it and relate to it, sometimes it is less easy to do so. But all of these changes belong to the person, and the difficulties belong to the observer, friend, or family member.
Me? Yes, I’ve changed. I’m happier, freer, I am reconciled with my real gender, I feel a lot younger and I wear eye shadow and a skirt. I don’t think that I have become less of a friend (though some have been tested during my transition) or unlikeable. I am as annoying in some ways as I always was, and I shall have to continue working on that. But the same person gets up in the morning and sleeps at night, and feels lonely and hungry.
When you say you love someone, what do you mean? What do you love? When a person changes in the way I have, what did or do you love? I hope I may find someone who loves me like this (but that is me ‘thinking beyond’) who may not have loved me when I was living as a man. But that is about attraction, not about loving the person. It’s about feeling safe to open up and be vulnerable with me, in accordance with what is ‘right’ or that fits expectations. Maybe someone will be intimate with me again, only because I am a woman. But just as those who have left me because of this could not accept that whole chain above as ‘me’, so another will have to face the fact that ‘I’ am that whole chain too. This is me, the one person. Be careful what you love.