Everyone says that going through the surgery is a new start. You don’t believe them of course; you nod and smile and think that this is just the final tidying up. It is that, and you may have read me saying that the feeling is at once brilliant and mundane. It does feel very simply and unexcitingly right. There is no thought of what was before, what is after and how wonderful it is. It’s wonderful simply because it’s right. In that sense it’s quite the antithesis of any operation you might have had before, where something threatened, you accepted…
- being out
- Bramley Press
- Charing Cross
- coming out
- conversion therapy
- cross dressing
- gender dysphoria
- gender queer
- genital surgery
- Grrl Alex
- marriage vows
- muesli love
- name change
- raw sex
- real life experience
- trans children
- transgender poetry
Last night at Five Rhythms dance, my evening drew to a close with having a vision of an open door and a sense of freedom to go through.
The night before I had driven to a dance workshop under an evenly-pink sky painted with a rainbow, and the dance had evoked awareness of our being as trees or plants, desperately clinging to roots held in nourishment, yet wanting to burst free in flower and move around.
A couple of nights earlier I had the most tangible experience of strength and support during a meditation that I have perhaps ever had.
The night before that had been both the anniversary of my leaving the place where I had known love for so long, and the night I was rapped over the knuckles for writing my felt experiences here, of being faced with a requirement of maleness, and how that affected my feelings of self, of being, of respect.
A couple of days ago I also lost my email address (it was dumped by my provider) and with it a lot of old connections. I will try to sort the mess out, but it will also allow me to let go of more past too.
In the midst of this I was chastened by having threatened a friendship by having been too self-obsessed, and having to return to my house, to where used to be my home, for the last time, say goodbye to my cats I may never see again, collect my last few things and my art from the walls. I have left a legacy of self, in how I created so much in that house, and have withdrawn the last vestiges.
Have I been writing these years out of self-obsession? I guess I’m much closer to that than I have to writing about other people, and whenever a third party has been involved, only very few readers will actually be able to identify them (or themselves). I always try to observe, not criticise. Most of my thousands of readers are in other countries, a few hundred in the UK, and very few local. One, perhaps two, are family. I speak more to people who I shall never meet. And yet I know from my (non-blog) chastening this week, that talking honestly can be painful. Sometimes openness is mis-read or misunderstood, or its intention lost, and talking is best. I heard what my friend was saying, and was deeply hurt that what she said was true: I hadn’t listened enough to her enough to understand her fragility.
We talked at length, the friendship is restored, and I have learned something important, we are stronger. We made the effort to understand.
But here, all I can do is write. It is my experience, my story, and no-one else’s.
Reasons for obsession
I recall reading Helen Boyd’s remark that people with gender dysphoria, when they begin to understand what they have to do, see everything in gender terms. Nothing is more important than gender. It’s an obsession. She’s right. If society allowed us to simply be, without having to be identified, labelled, dressed, as M or F, and even allowed us to move freely about between, then it would be a lot easier and more natural. The terrible truth is that this is nigh impossible. If we do, we are ‘weird’, unnatural, and strange. If we don’t, either we are trapped, or committed not so much to transition as switching, before we are ready.
In one sense, such obsession is unforgiveable and selfish (see also Self, Self(ish), Selfish), but as I have explained at times, when you are drowning, you don’t politely raise a hand and say ‘excuse me …!’. No, you thrash about, make waves, noise and shout, hoping that rescue may come. Sometimes it feels as if though rescue has not come, especially from those you’ve loved and you thought loved you, and that coincidentally your thrashing has been swimming and you find a distant shore.
And that thrashing about, that survival instinct, can make it difficult for others to deal with.
I have loved Neil Diamond’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (Be) since I first heard it in the 70s, and I recall:
on a distant shore
on the wings of dreams
through an open door
you may find him …
if you may find him.
is a page that aches
for a word which speaks
on a theme that is timeless
and the one god will make for your day.
is a song in search
of a voice that is silent
and the sun god will make for your way
And we dance
to a whispered voice
overheard by the soul
undertook by the heart
you may know it
if you may know it …
And it reminds me of the explorers that sailed to the edge of the flat earth. And beyond. And returned. My journey has been an obsession too, misunderstood, labelled as brave. And when I have said the earth is round (or that gender and genderedness, even as simply a feminist, is not as taught), I have been thought of as unnecessarily rocking the boat.
Writing here, I know, has helped other people in similar situations. It has been therapy for me, and at times simply the noise of survival. It was better than the suicidal thoughts. It was better than giving in to the waves.
An open door
In losing my home, now my house, I am released one bit more from my past. I closed that door for the last time yesterday.
My last blog on Calling Time is part of that. It was a wide-reaching sense of moving on, and reading it selectively would be unjust. Anything that pushes me back from the open door is not open for discussion any more. I can see that obsession has also held me back; why not just quietly walk through? I feel that now I can.
Accuse me of speaking too openly about the felt experience if you like; all I have done for nearly two years is observe myself and the impact of gender dysphoria on other people, and I think, looking back, that this has been more than a personal therapy. If you have been splashed by my thrashing about, then I apologise. But I have not been waving (Stevie Smith).
I last wrote about the connectedness of all life, the lack of real boundaries between things, and a sense of belonging in the universe. This was brought close to me beautifully last week, when I went to learn about and do chakra dancing. That isn’t my subject this week, but suffice it to say that I found a belonging and inclusiveness that understood me, and that I understood. The dance itself was so much what I do already, but with structure and context. The mindset was familiar and the welcome not unbelievable but deeply reassuring.
It’s time I read a couple of books I have on and by David Bohm, to explore more the way he presents how everything hangs together, but behind his thinking is the idea that things are not actually separate and that boundaries are impossible to define. In my unread thoughts, then, take a subatomic particle that happens to statistically ‘belong’ with a carbon atom, that belongs in a molecule, that is part of a cell wall in your skin. Then take another identical subatomic particle that happens statistically to ‘belong’ with a carbon atom, that is part of a carbon dioxide molecule in the air in contact with your skin. Now widen your scope and become aware of the whole of your skin-air boundary: do ‘you’ really end where the air begins? In the sum of things, what keeps the two ‘belongings’ distinct? Is it in fact distinct at all? Those subatomic particles do not belong anywhere fixed at all, and move around at distances immeasurable greater from each other than their own ‘dimensions’. Like a whirlpool in a river, we are identifiable but inseparable and lacking definable boundaries.
However, we are very particular about our sense of self. We check it against other people, societal expectations, religious beliefs, internal philosophies, dependencies and so on, all the time. We preserve this sense of individuality against all manner of pressures, but go with those pressures when we feel we would be made ‘other’ or non-included – which I guess throws us in the opposite direction. We are all happiest being individual providing we still belong. Maybe we are not so different from the subatomic particle that might statistically belong with a carbon dioxide molecule in the air one instant or an organic skin molecule the next. It too has to belong, because subatomic particles don’t wander round looking for friends, or find themselves alone. They can’t.
And then we have an equal sense of the otherness of others, especially when their differences might change us. We can never be another, or become another, so why do we fear the influence of others? Is it partly because in realising others are in fact unknowable, we do not fully know ourselves? And that this is in fact a fragile state of affairs? And so we preserve our sense of self and belonging by over-defining our boundaries and sticking to those others who are most similar. At the same time we exclude the less-alike because they might change our fragile sense of self or contaminate the in-group we feel we belong with.
Do we ever really belong as a result of what we are? Or of what we think, say and present as what we think we are? Or is it just a tacit human agreement that similarity is safety, so be similar? How many of us risk standing out as individuals at the expense of belonging, of being included? It’s really noticeable when someone does.
As someone who has stood out very deliberately as a matter of survival, and who has been excluded by a number of people, I am confronted by what it means to be fully aware of self, and how close or known another can ever be. I thought love was a kind of merging of minds or souls into a deep or inseparable bond, until rudely awoken to the fact that even the love of family was accommodatory. At the same time, it has been said to me how damaging codependency is, and at its mildest, this means making one’s own needs subordinate to another, not out of altruism, but in an unbalanced relationship of unequal power. I don’t think I was there, however desperate I was not to lose the love I had.
In the end, I had to choose between my sense of self and the love of another, knowing that being more real would lose their love for me. (Is that a choice anyone should have to make?)
‘Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’
Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics. Writings on Philosophy and Literature
Now isn’t that a powerful thought? I am real. I can know that (cogito, ergo sum?) – but can I know that another is real, and not a projection of myself, or illusory? Well, let’s agree at least for now that we are always ‘with’ ourselves, but never actually ‘with’ another. We can be proximate, even with intimately entwined bodies – but we are never part of another, and they can always go away, as we never can from ourselves. So how does our sense of our own reality compare with our knowledge that another is real?
When we come to realise that another is as real as we are, then an awareness of complete equality arises. Only then can love find its truest form. And if two people both understand this of each other, there is a bond that is, I believe, extremely rare. I wish I had this experience! I want it! But it demands something of me before something of the other. With the complete equality comes the truth that the separation of the self and the other as truly autonomous is also illusory.
And this is an extremely difficult realisation.
Philosophy is fine, and I am a constant thinker, but I am also that ‘other’ to you, and I feel loneliness. I am alone for approximately 50 per cent of my life now. That means the other half is spent in the company of others. For me a sense of loneliness is partly a function of the loss of all intimacy, all real closeness, almost all physical contact with another, after many years (almost all my adult life). It is also bewildering. On one level I understand it well: I became ‘different’ by finding out who I was and how I was. That placed me outside the zone of inclusiveness felt by others. I mean, ‘I was a man and I became a woman’, didn’t I? What else should I expect?
However, on another level I am completely at a loss as to why my continuous sense of self-reality should hit such a disconjunction. If another loved me, then surely they would realise that my reality has not changed at all – how could it? Do they think theirs could?
I feel loneliness keenly, because my sense of belonging has been completely undermined. My sense of being ‘known’ at all, has been shaken to its foundations. Suddenly there is nobody other who recognises, truly, that I am as real as they. I don’t mean they can’t see, hear and touch me (though they don’t do the latter very much) but that I can be easily disconnected as ‘not being what I was’, and therefore be illegitimised from certain roles and places of belonging.
That brings me back to my inner belief of belonging in the universe. I feel strongly that I am one with something much greater and all-inclusive, and that gives me hope that I can gain that crucial understanding of another as being real. That I can understand love, and that perhaps I might find another who is in the same place.
At this distance, I know that I have never experienced this yet.
And at the same time I know that if I do find intimate companionship ever again, it will be with someone non-religious but deeply spiritually aware, and also with a sincere sensuality, who understands what I am saying here. Their gender? I think that is quite secondary.