You are currently browsing all posts tagged with 'loss'.
Displaying 1 - 5 of 51 entries.

It’s not what you remember, but how

  • Posted on December 1, 2015 at 10:35 pm

A friend of mine has been writing what we hope to be a book, with some contributions from me, interleaving experience and reflection with research. It’s not about being anything, but the meaning there is in it, as it is. In some ways it’s a challenge. ‘How about a chapter on your experience of gender dysphoria?’ Sounds innocent enough; we both know that it isn’t a generalisation but a personal experience, just my narrative and my interpretation of it.

I had a go. By the end of a day of hard writing and thinking, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. How many different ways could I have told the story as a chapter (not a whole big boring book)? Rather a lot of trans people have written their own books, and some are really good, and helped me. I have also seen some that are not so good, and are a reflection that many of us want just to tell our story, though we are not all writers. I guess if I were asked to tell my story to several people with very different backgrounds, I would tell it differently each time. So what matters most to me?

The more I think back, the more my story connects up, as I remember little things, the circumstances of the times, the pressures not to speak of certain things, the need to conform, and even the lack of sufficient understanding to think that I might not have been what everyone told me I was. On one level my story is a happy life. On another it is life characterised by a constant fear. On one reading it is very singularly my own, on another terribly familiar. But the reason that I have this story at all has an absolutely common thread, understood by every transgender person.

I am looking forward to seeing the file ‘The Danish Girl’, and have seen the trailer, and a few interviews with the key actor playing Lili Elbe, Eddie Redmayne. If the trailer made me cry, I’m sure I won’t make it through the film. The big trigger, I expect, will be that first unavoidable confession of knowing your gender is different. The way I phrased the feeling of falling into that realisation, was ‘it just feels perfect’.

The trouble with revisiting the story after several years, is that having settled very perfectly, you can still remember that there was real happiness in your life before too. I don’t want to lose that, but neither is it easy to embrace. If I look at photos of my daughter’s wedding a few months ago, or of my ex-wife looking really happy, giving the wedding speech, her being there and not me … or remember too vividly past Christmases … or holidays, or at pictures of happy homes we made and shared … and … and … Then I remember that but for one thing about me, everything was good.

The story of Lili Elbe, and of many other people who have transitioned, is one of devotion. Love somehow survives the hurt and carries on. Here, there will be pain and loss too, but something mattered too much to let it go. And this is where too much reflection and retelling the story doesn’t help. I was one of the majority who lost their marriage and family, and my deepest regret is that it was for no other reason than my gender. I still recall saying: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’

Rage spoils memories

I was trying to remember something I said when writing the chapter, and from searching around, came across a few pages I wrote at the beginning of transition, when I knew it was all over with my wife and family. It was rage in black and white. Rage that I was not allowed to be angry, that I had to be the one who must understand how difficult this all was for everyone else. It was rage that this one thing that made me feel perfect at last made everything else fall apart. That I could come to a clear understanding, and that in doing so I was no longer wanted as a partner, companion, parent, even though I was still me, crawling out from under a blanket of fear where I had stayed for the sake of everyone else.

And behind that rage was a whole lifetime of tender loving memories that felt completely betrayed. Yes, I had to understand how difficult this was, how impossible for those closest to me to sustain. So every time I hear of love enduring through transition, I remember. Memories of rage? Memories of betrayal? Memories of happiness? Memories of love?

Just as I could think after writing my chapter, of all the ways I could have told the story, so there are many ways of remembering. And it is hard to remember how I had to walk away, not from my own love but from a door closed by others. I think it takes a lot longer than I had thought, to wipe the soot and dust off good memories, so that they don’t simply hurt, but become treasures. I struggle sometimes with talking about a good life that I had, as if by confessing their goodness I want them back. I don’t, because they are long past, and they were all a shared possession, not just mine. And I don’t ever want to live with fear again, least of all fear of my authentic self being a reason not to be loved or wanted. So somehow I need to become able to see photographs, read things and remember, in a different way, where the ending isn’t part of every moment. I will get there, but it has been a reminder to me that just as you can tell your story to other people in many ways, so you can to yourself. Mine is not a sad story, just a brilliant chapter with a very sad ending.

I really don’t want to live with any resentment or anger, and largely it has gone. I simply want to feel gratitude for everything good that has happened in my life. Right now it is good, I am grateful for the love that I share, for the life my partner and I are building together, and for all the new experiences we bring to each other. Life is all about learning, all the way, beginning to end, and after so much telling over the past few years, now I still need to learn how to remember well and safely, because the story continues.

Finding; being found

  • Posted on October 25, 2015 at 7:57 pm

I have a ring. Like many things I reflect on much, it quickly gained symbolic significance. It is stainless steel, not precious metal, and not a complete circle. But in that point of apparent weakness it grasps an amethyst. It has always meant for me strength that does not corrode, with an element of seemingly naked vulnerable beauty and colour. I remember the day I bought it, and where, the circumstances, the tentative permission-seeking to buy a ring that was feminine, and the feelings running through me on that day, the pub lunch that followed, the dawning fear and awareness that my life was about to change and that there was nothing I could do to alter that.

The ring has been with me, long worn now on my left hand, third finger. At times I wondered whether that might be seen as relevant to others, whether anyone held back, wondered if I was in a relationship, or if indeed it had become a replacement for the wedding ring now worn by a small rabbit sitting by my bed. The ring is between me and myself, and still is a reminder of what acceptance and love are, and that both begin in oneself.

Dealing with loss

After a year, maybe less, I was careless enough to not remove it when doing some DIY task. The gem was lost and I could not find it anywhere. The empty stainless ring looked truly broken, and it seemed also relevant that I knew my marriage was well and truly over. In a back road in town, I found a craft jeweller able to find a matching stone, and it felt that any price would have been acceptable. I think maybe the stone cost more to replace than the original ring. The ring stays on my finger night and day, and I do rather less DIY than I did, mainly for living in a flat, not a house. I do sometimes take it off for safety, but not much.

Some time later, I was clearing things from the loft in the house that was going to have to be sold. I was moving out, and being the only one who dared to take the awkward jump into the loft, it was down to me to sort everything out for who would keep what. Schoolbooks, boxes of cuddly toys and past affection, a spare bed, cases, Christmas decorations, stuff; all sorts of stuff. Part-boarded by me, deep in rockwool by me, wired by me, and a place only I had actually been into, among our family … It was an awkward space that I should probably have spend money on fully boarding, which meant stepping on rafters some of the time. There I lifted an awkward heavy box, caught my finger, and realised I had again sprung the ring and the gem was gone. Casting around, I realised that surrounded by loose rockwool insulation and gappy boards, I was even less likely to find it than the last one. I stopped after a few minutes, because short of a truly time-losing forensic and meticulous search, I was unlikely to find this tiny purple dot. Instead I did what I had done before and spoke to it. ‘If you want to be found, you will be.’

I picked up one suitcase and carefully set it aside, and there it was. Immediately I set to resetting the stone – a lot more difficult than it was knocking it out. I have done this with other things. Maybe I forget the things that don’t turn up, maybe I just need to calm down, maybe a dowsing instinct takes over (and I can do this, though somewhat untrained). Either way, I felt that whatever weakness had lain in the original ring, my determination since, to add something precious to strength, had been reinforced. The symbolism felt stronger.

That’s all it is. No superstition; just a reminder to self, which is important. Where I wear it is a reminder too, that I am a committing person in love and relationships. I can read all sorts into it, but I am left with a feeling that it also wants to stay with me. I am strong. There is something held in me, incomplete as I am, that is precious and sparkles. Together those two attributes give me a better sense of self than ever I had when I was just supposed to be plain, complete and strong.

Change

We are all embedded in constant change. We can try to sit still while it washes over, like a rock in a river, and become beautiful and worn, or we can become the river and be just that – wherever we flow, whatever the change, whatever the pace. Sometimes we try too hard and miss things that want to be found. A year ago this week I walked into a room and met my partner for the first time. I was the more noticeable, just three months after surgery, and had decided that if I stayed out of the flow, I was going to get nowhere and neither meet nor be met, nor change anything. Our eyes did not ‘meet across a crowded room’, and I was immediately something different, rather than a future friend, let alone more. It took time (not much), but we both jumped into the same river in the end and started swimming it together.

I maintain that many things require more letting go than sheer effort, skill or knowledge. In fact, gaining skills and knowledge can be helped by letting go of ‘I can’t’.

This week I again read a poem by Mary Oliver in her latest volume of poetry, Felicity, which says how I feel in a short and lovely poem:

Not anyone who says

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
    careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable —
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.

Loss, change, letting go, finding

We are all trans. Transient, that is. Everyone of us and everything is temporarily what we are. You have nothing to lose other than what you have had the privilege of having or being. Loss is gaining space for something else. Change is moving from one space to another, where hanging on to anything may become a barrier to another possibility. Many things want to be found. Maybe it’s the future you.*

I have real regrets about a young girl’s life never lived, about a daughter’s life detached, about a love set aside … but also a gratitude for insights I could never otherwise have gained. In a very real sense I have been given a second life; maybe two half-lives that can be equally complete. I have had a very tangible sense of being led through these past years of transition from one place of transience into another, and of being found rather than lost.

I have understood what it is to be strong and resilient, to complete the circle, and to hold onto something precious.

 

* The workshop where my partner and I met was called ‘Future you’.

White

  • Posted on August 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

that’s the colour it will be.
Or maybe not. I imagine
I imagine how and for want
of colour I choose white.
She is beautiful on her special day
I imagine, and remember mine

white

that was the colour of her dress
then – I remember grey. My grey
wanting colour; grey and white
and the green under an overcast sky.
She was beautiful on our special day
I remember and imagine mine

white

the colour of a clean sheet
for writing the best story of
your life, your future, your love
to read, to share, to tell, to live.
To be beautiful on your special day
an imagine-and-remember time

white

that’s the colour it might be. I
may never know. My name
unprinted on any page, unmade
in being unspoken, unable
to see you beautiful on this day
unrememberable, unimaginably

white

that’s the lie, I imagine
when you are asked about your
father who does not give you away
and you say estranged but not
especially on this beautiful day
and you’ll remember without imagination

white

your small lie, if not your dress and
a page in our lives and a wish
to give you a way—and imagine
how a wedding presence could
still be beautiful on your day
I can’t imagine I won’t remember.

 

2015 © Andie Davidson

Negative thoughts: what’s in a memory?

  • Posted on April 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

When cameras shot rolls of film in 24s and 36s, you got envelopes back, with the developed film in cut strips. These (if you were like me) you filed, along with the rubbish prints that never made it to an album. Filed? Well, probably stacked in a box and never looked at again. I did the filing in case I wanted to enlarge or reprint from a negative strip. On a few rare occasions I did. A few. And so it is that I now have a heavy box on my sofa, regurgitating these envelopes, and retrieving a few photos of my children. These are the easy ones. If the birthday cake says ‘7’ on it, then I can tell when it was taken. But the steam train? The castle? The rainbow?

This is a heavy task, and you can well ask why I am doing it. The boxes aren’t so big that they couldn’t find yet another stuff-away place, it’s just that this time I know I shall never squint at the negative strips and make decisions about reprinting. It’s a heavy task, because those plastic strips represent my life, and split it in two. I can’t share the task either. My ex has the family print albums, and at some point I want to borrow them to take digital page-snapshots. But I don’t think just yet. Not now.

Albums wake up memories, and are best shared. (Where was that? Do you remember that house / holiday / event / thing we did?) Suddenly I don’t have anyone I can ask or refer to, let alone enjoy the memory with. Yes, I remember, and from behind these eyes, I think that’s OK. From the packs I’ve already been through, and the few discarded print retrievals, I have had a rich life. What I can’t handle so well are the prints (few) in which I have been captured. Here is a person, a young person (well, younger) who clearly loves their family, their spouse and kids, doing, making, sharing, giving, playing. They look like they were loved, enjoyed and valued too. It was fun.

Wasn’t it?

But who the fuck is young beardy with my family …? What right has he to be in my place? I feel angry, because he looks familiar but I don’t know him. He has stolen my family away. The birthday cakes, the holidays, the Christmases, the homes, gardens, pets. The belonging. The love.

He. Has stolen. My life.

I understand what you are thinking: that they feel I have stolen this person away, and that it’s my fault, and that’s why I no longer have any link to this pile of photographic records. But that isn’t how it feels to me. The problem is young beardy there, because I know he is smiling to the camera and enjoying life, while all the time I know exactly what he is thinking, feeling, doing – when alone. He is hiding, running, scared and not telling. Of course he can’t, can he? Because if he speaks his mind, heart or fears, all these pictures will stop. Bending parents over small children, crouched over books and toys, will stand up, shocked and horrified. Toddlers in the bath will stop giggling. The music will stop, the game will be over, the smiles will fall. So he didn’t.

And so it’s his fault now, that I have a carrier bag of paper wallets and scrap prints, and another of plastic sprocketed strips, on the floor, and half a box on my sofa, and honest confusion in my head. Am I throwing anything away? Untouched negatives, unwanted prints, space takers and careless memory-joggers. And there is nothing I can do about it. I am simply reminded that I never was going to do anything with the negatives when I said ‘you take the albums’, as I walked away from the ruins of the last family home. And that the memories in your head only really mean all they should, when the same memories are in the head of another with whom you can share them with knowing, prompted by these images.

The little boy? He seemed a lot happier when little. He’s had a less easy life than I would ever have wished for him, and now he has sole responsibility for his adult life. I helped launch him into life’s orbit, but he’s up there on his own now, communicating sporadically, and I can do little more as a parent. And anyway, how can it be as the same parent now?

The little girl laughs a lot, and plays with her brother. She really is very cute. And she would hate me even more for saying that. She has grown into an attractive woman, and I imagine that she would never want to see a photo with her and young beardy together, ever again. Well, not if she thinks that parent is still alive and thinking of her. I imagine that it’s more comfortable to put him among the dead ancestors. Either way it’s his fault that we aren’t able to communicate any more. Yes, I helped launch her into orbit too, but like a malfunctioning remote lander, or a satellite without working antennae, she is real and out there but with a location and activity quite unknown to me. If I had been there instead of young beardy, I would still have a daughter.

The mother. The mother is still an attractive woman, still kind, sociable and generous. You can tell she loved young beardy, and I guess he took all the pictures with equal sentiment. Yes, they look good together. Equal. Devoted. Happy. But where was I?

I feel angry. Where am I in these pictures? Why are they mine? Why is this family not mine? Why was it taken away from me? Why can I not remember together any more? Why are my memories in free and disconnected orbit? Why was young beardy the favoured one, the loved parent, the spouse, the partner, the beloved? Why not me? I am left thinking that he is the betrayer, the liar, not me sitting here with the remnants. And yet everyone else would say that I am.

And this is the problem. The little boy is the young man in orbit. The little girl is the soon-to-be married woman, in orbit. The wife, the mother, the attractive divorcee, the successful sociable woman – she too is still fully connected to her past, her family, and together they circle the life they have always had together, the cloud of memories. Every negative makes sense to them, every print is connected to retrievable memories, the memories are shared and bring joy. Young beardy though; he simply does not belong in the picture. He is no longer in orbit, and has been completely ex-communicated from this world of memories. Something is out there, but not recognisably him, not with any means of tuning in.

I have inherited the memories, as if digitised in a back-up drive, but I am not him. Young beardy was a fearful liar, and has gone. And having gone digital, the hyperlinks on all my memory files can be read, but connect to no-one else. I click on the birthday cake. I click in the sand-pit. I click on the old house, the red tractor with the little boy, the trampoline and the girl, the beautiful wife and none of the links works. I just have the picture of each, on its own.

What is a memory when it is unshared?

You know what really hurts the most? Where the grief really lies? It is that I was there. Either in the picture or behind the camera. And in my life I have had an enormous amount of happiness, love and reward. Not one of these pictures reminds me of conflict, or argument, not even disagreement. There is no distrust, aversion or hate, and in not one is there the remotest hint of something hidden. I was – we were – truly happy as people together, and yet it always did hang on one small thing: that how I felt inside had to be kept inside. Love and happiness depended entirely on me playing young beardy, every day.

What the pictures never show is how I felt on my own. They never show what I had to hide. They never showed the pain or fear, anger, hate or frustration. Because I loved my family too much to lose them, for as long as I could. Predictably, that love all evaporated as soon as my authentic self began to tear the fabric of my outer, not-so-young, no-longer-beardy self, completely apart, top to bottom.

But I loved. I truly, deeply loved. And that is why every memory is happiness and hurts, and can no longer be shared with anyone.

There is a small stack of prints left, mainly relating the early years of marriage and early childhood of my two children. And with these are a few more, of one or two people I loved a long time ago, and a few of these remind me of another girl, and the happiest time of my younger life. I feel comforted, because I know that I love; that I go on loving, however difficult life gets, and with love comes that insistent drive of life, of growing, of being. Of becoming.

I am about to take the bags down to the bins in the yard. There is a sense of loss, even if I was never going to refer to the thousands of negatives ever again. What is in a memory, when it is not shared? For me, the capacity to live and to love; the self-assurance that I can do nothing else. Pictures may remind me of loss, but without the negative thoughts, what is printed in my memory is still gratitude that I have shared in a lot of real happiness through love.

My partner and I have a list stuck to the fridge, of things we want to do. At the bottom is says ‘photography day out’.

There will be no negatives this time.

 

See also (poetry):

Dementia

  • Posted on April 3, 2015 at 11:33 am

You said ‘bitch’ which I have not heard
you accuse before, like that. It is an unkindness
wedged amongst broken exposed neurons.

It is an insult without interpretation, a word
that robs our sense of kin-ness, confuses
kind in deconstruction with cruel revelation.

Where was ‘bitch’ before entering your mouth as
utter contempt for your consideration? Betrayal
of layers—or delamination of mind?

Somewhere between memory and repetition,
intent and imagination, lies the confluence
of meaning and demeaning in grey shadows.

This is the catch, as time tears your fabric,
like a wind reducing buildings to their bones in
an empty street, and wandering, a lone canine stray.

 

2015 © Andie Davidson

 

This poem was provoked by the experience of my mother, slipping from all we knew into degrees of dementia. Mainly at present it is forgetfulness, but in this, a forgetting of context, and of trust, in her own capacity and of others. There must be an awareness that all is not as it was. When reminded of things quickly forgotten or misplaced, in moments of greater clarity, a dawning, just as dawnings themselves become misty experiences, that mind is slipping, and with it the crafted character. How much of personality is soul, and how much a fabricated façade? Not to be false, but even to be what we want to be. Can memories of others’ patterns of behaviour and speech be as falling beams in a collapsing house? That fall into places previously occupied by our own character? Or does the fabric collapse just expose our more basic instinctive responses? I don’t know. The poem merely expresses this doubt and the sadness of it. Again, my written style is to use many ambiguous words, allusion and internal cross-reference to create layers of meaning from rereading the poem several times.