Being forced to LIVE!

Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.
– Soren Kierkegaard

I’ve been very joyful the last few days, but this week began with an absolute mental breakdown.

Pretty much every Sunday my stress about the upcoming week coupled with all the impending homework assignments boils over into a hot mess of panic attacks and emotional shutdown. This happens like clockwork, and every Sunday evening I end up spending more time than I can afford working through my emotions enough to mitigate the anxiety enough to get at least one of my assignments done before the wee hours of the morning enough to pass my classes. Not good.

This Sunday was no different except that I was very conscious of what was causing the anxiety. Some time after dinner a thousand voices attacked me and my identity from every angle possible in a cloud of damnable darkness. Every ill-bearing voice of dissent in my life screamed at me at once, telling me I have to figure it all out, I need to get this right, I must be crazy, I can’t be loveable, I need to pretend to be a certain person to be loved, it’s up to me to figure out the transgender mystery, I’m probably walking a tightrope over eternal fire, and what’s the point?

I was getting more and more overwhelmed by the second, and my thoughts became increasingly morbid. I don’t know how I would have gone about killed myself, but I was more than certain in my desire for a God-sent quick death, like a careless automobile or a lightening bolt.

I felt incredibly alone. I begged God: “please, just at least send me someone to talk to!” By some strange twist of fate, everyone I’d tried to hang out with since the day before Valentines Day had gone AWOL. I was in the center of a communications blackout – email, texting, facebook, everything. It was like I didn’t exist. “Please, God, I just want there to be someone out there!”

And then, only a few minutes after this choked up prayer, a buzz from my phone heralded a God-sent text. The divine message was from a very dear friend of mine, who told me: “So, I’ve been praying for you lately, and whenever I pray for you I get super under spiritual attack and start to suffer from depression and anxiety myself. And I feel right now that I’m under attack because I’m supposed to pray for you.”

I promptly called her, and we talked for a long time about all sorts of stuff. She says she’s been experiencing intense morbidity and anxiety out of nowhere, and whenever she experiences this she gets a spiritual sense that she’s bearing it for my sake. Wow.

Anyway, we talked a lot about stuff like gender theory and passed several hours discussing, sometimes arguing, the philosophy of sex differentiation. It was a good discussion, but I felt drained by it because there was never a straight answer. I kept realizing something: these pressing questions like what is gender or what makes a man/woman are mysteries that I can take a gander at, but I’ll never figure them out completely. I can have the most beautiful theology in the world about why I am the way I am, but it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change who I wake up as every day and the challenges before me.

What the conversation kept hitting home for me is how at the end of the day I’m faced with the towering giant of LIFE which always beckons me to LIVE. I can talk myself silly about how things ought to be or whether or not I’m a girl, but at the end of the day I’m still transgender, I still have a deep psychological and medical reality to face, and I still need to live a life that is coherent, beautiful, active, and engaged in love.

The glory of God is man fully alive.
– St. Irenaeus

While I love connecting my life with my faith, I’m never going to truly figure things out. I won’t know anything until the day I die and begin my Heavenly reality. Until then I can put forth my small offerings of what I think my experience teaches the world about what it means to be human, but they’re never more than shots in the dark. And I think they’re beautiful shots in the dark, but they aren’t my life. Life consists of loving people and living joyfully. At the end of the day there’s nothing to do but make steps to be fully alive.

After the phone call with my friend, I was still utterly useless, practically comatose. My roommate eavesdropped on the tail-end of the conversation and kindly turned to me and asked me about what was going on. I told him there are so many voices tearing me down, and there is a part of me that wants to believe them because I want to be loveable and apparently being trans is an unloveable condition. With his usual talent for cutting through bullshit, he commanded me to stop listening to the voices if they are wrecking my soul. If doubting my identity and trying to desconstruct everything makes me borderline suicidal when I’m otherwise happy, it’s obviously not of God.

So I stopped. And I remembered that life needs to be lived. As myself.

As a result, this week has been great! I’ve had barely a care in the world because I don’t have to figure it all out. I don’t have to perform to be okay. I’m just me, and I really don’t have to be someone else. In fact, I can’t be someone else (believe me, I’ve spent most of my life trying). It’s okay to just live sometimes. It’s okay to be.

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.
– Thomas Merton

Video

Soooo… this transition video is AMAZING

I really thought I’d seen all the MtF transition timelines out there, but this one has a damned alternative title so it escaped my notice until now. And I’m literally crying from how inspiring this woman’s transition is. Not only is she utterly gorgeous (and while looks aren’t important, this girl gots it), what’s really striking is how her smile gets increasingly genuine throughout the video. She goes from a dead mask to a radiant goddess!

Brianna Rose, I just love you! If you ever read this, your wedding photos were fabulous! (That was the part I cried at, btw)

Aside

A list of common MtF transgender traits

This is a list of common TS traits I found in the forums of susans.org. I combined it with some other lists or descriptions of trans people I found. While everyone is obviously different, and this particular list is probably more geared toward those trans people who are closeted/repressed until after puberty, it’s kinda fun to see how you fit the stereotype. Apparently I’m incredibly unoriginal. :/

Common TS Traits: 

  1. We primarily cope with the condition by shutting down all emotions – YES
  2. We have an inability to discuss deep feelings with others – NO, if anything the opposite
  3. We are insecure – YES, I am starved for affirmation
  4. We have very few, if any, close friends, and prefer to spend time alone – NO, I have more close friends than most people, probably because I’m open about my emotions 
  5. We exhibit extreme shyness at times – YES
  6. We have a hatred of (and inattention to) our appearance – YES, although this has changed
  7. We avoid pictures and videos of ourselves – SOMETIMES
  8. We often have inattention to health issues – YES, although this has also changed
  9. We have extreme modesty about our sexuality and partial and full nudity – YES, especially now
  10. We often take on dangerous jobs or activities – NO
  11. We often have well above average intelligence – YES, or so I’ve been told
  12. We immerse ourselves in activities or jobs that require intense concentration and highly technical vocations. – YES, film is one of the most demanding/technical professions out there
  13. We enjoy intense or escapist hobbies such as complex puzzles, video games, highly technical vocations, creative projects, “nerdy” pastimes, roleplaying games – YES, all the above (including game modding, D&D, film editing, inventing card games and board games, collaging, drawing, writing…)
  14. We are extremely competitive or extremely non-competitive with no middle ground – YES, I used to be extremely (insecurely) competitive when I was still trying to be macho, and now I loath competition 
  15. We are very imaginative daydreamers – YES
  16. We possess a tolerance for others, very unlikely to be racist, homophobic etc. – YES
  17. We are anti-war and anti death penalty – YES
  18. We have the need for more than usual privacy in our  lives – YES
  19. We are very unlikely to fight or have a physical confrontation – I DON’T KNOW
  20. We have deep seated hatred of authority – YES, rules are made to be broken, although I’ve always attributed this trait to being Sicilian, not to being trans 
  21. We have on and off battles with clinical depression – YES
  22. We are easily able to place people by the sounds of their voice – YES
  23. We are able to easily read peoples emotions – YES, when I get out of my head and pay attention
  24. We excel in reading and writing at an early age but have difficulty with mathematics – YES
  25. We often have suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts – YES
  26. We sometimes have a delayed puberty – SORT OF: physically I was ON SCHEDULE, but sexually I was probably a few years behind
  27. We obsess over informing others about trans issues and changing peoples’ minds on the subject – YES, dear Lord I’m a nuisance!
  28. We have a sense of detachment, confusion, or being a ‘blank slate’ in childhood – YES
  29. As children we were often sickly. Before transitioning we struggle with chronic health problems like asthma, bronchitis, acid reflux, ulcers, fatigue, and headaches – YES, all the above except headaches
  30. We go through a stage of denial in which we become homophobic, transphobic, and/or misogynistic – YES, God forgive me
  31. We take on masculine/macho professions, or professions where there is a definite glass ceiling for women – YES, philosophy is almost all guys, and the film industry has a really horrible glass ceiling despite the often superior talent of women filmmakers. During the summer I’ve always worked really manly physical jobs like roofing and landscaping.  
  32. We become addicted, absorbed, or professionally tied to computer activities, whether it is online role-playing, blogging, video editing, graphic design, or something related to computer science – YES
  33. As children we prefer solo-play (books, legos, drawing) to competitive/group activities – YES
  34. Before coming out, we often think marriage to a woman will cure our dysphoria – YES
  35. We make many efforts to appear normal – YES

I wonder if there are any trans girls who just don’t fit any of these descriptions. The fact that these characteristics line up so well with my life & personality makes me a believer. Again, obviously everyone is different, but even just talking to other trans people online has made me realize how powerful an effect gender dysphoria has on development. We all have unique personalities that shine through, but we also all seem to have many of the same coping mechanisms up our sleeve.

Just food for thought.

I love lists like this way too much.

My castle is under attack!

‘ve been spending so much time in my head lately. The influence of various people in my life has left me completely emotionally shut down and repressed.

My intellect has always been my coping mechanism for dysphoria since it’s the main part of my personality that people reward and accept. Growing up, I would spend all my private life absorbed in creative projects that demanded everything of me, and a lot of my public energy with clubs and whatnot. I would tackle all these in a way that demonstrated my own intellectual abilities because, well… that’s what people wanted to see in me.

When at last I came out to myself, I began to open up what had up until then been closed rooms of my soul. I had this image in my mind of myself as a shy, frightened child locked up in a dingy study my entire life. When I came out, it was as if I opened the doors and began sweeping the rest of the house (all dark and dusty) with a flashlight. I discovered there were many rooms in my soul, most of which I had neglected or largely ignored because I was too afraid of what my house would look like if I put them all together.

Eight months have passed since then, and I can say it has been wonderful visiting the other rooms in my house. There have been many times where I’ve felt the freedom to pass from one room to the next, enjoying my emotions and thoughts and desires and hopes and all the other parts of the house all at once, integrated, whole, synthesized. At these moments I’ve felt such joy and youth and peace, no matter what’s going on around me.

The problem is that I now feel my house under siege from others. My parents, after invalidating my identity about as much as they could, have been putting financial pressure on me to make me see a particular psychologist who is part of the “reparative therapy” movement – that is, he thinks queer people can and should change who they are (and he thinks he can help with that).

It really feels like my house is under attack, and instead of being able to glide about just gazing at paintings hanging on the wall or perusing long-neglected books and reupholstering furniture, I’m forced to run back into my small, cramped study to draw out battle plans.

It really sucks right now. I’ve made so much progress putting my life back together again, but these peoples’ constant barrage of criticism (unspoken or direct) is closing doors again. I’m being sent back into dark places where I used to live, where the only thing worthwhile about myself was my intellect, where all my feelings hid because they’re dirty and shameful.

I’ve spent my entire life in that small cramped study trying to think up ways to deny that the rest of my house exists. Well, now that I’m finally living as a homemaker and not a prisoner in my own house, I find myself being chased back into my hole.

I want to cry almost every day, but most of the time my emotions are so completely cauterized that I can barely shed a tear.

To the gates! Ready the archers!

But I’m so fucking tired… 

Film Review: DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Dallas Buyers Club was the most emotionally exhausting movie I’ve seen since Hotel Rwanda, and not in a good way.

Now I know comparing a failed transgender story with a movie about racial genocide might seem a tad overkill, but as a person who is both transgender and a film student, allow me a little sensitivity on the subject.

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club.The movie follows “fiercely heterosexual” Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) as he comes to terms with having contracted AIDS. As he copes with and combats his illness, he finds that all effective anti-AIDS medications are blocked by the FDA, which will only provide him with an experimental, potentially harmful, and apparently ineffective new medication. The story follows his battle with the FDA as he sets up shop distributing unapproved meds to other AIDS victims.

A major subplot (and much of the emotional force of the film) surrounds Woodruff’s friendship (of sorts) with the transgender woman Rayon, played by Jared Leto. Rayon meets Woodruff at the local hospital where she is also being treated for AIDS. When Woodruff begins marketing his unapproved treatments, Rayon helps him connect with the gay community. Woodruff and Rayon join forces and eventually form the business that is the namesake of the film. After a long battle with her illness, Rayon eventually succumbs to drug addiction and dies.

Dallas Buyers Club was an extremely difficult movie for me to watch. While there are certainly good things to be said about Jared Leto’s efforts as Rayon, all in all the film left my stomach churning. I left the movie with tears of rage in my eyes.

At least I finished it. When I tried to watch TransAmerica, I stopped halfway through since all my film sensibilities were either insulted or bored to death. (I rarely stop watching movies out of boredom – the last time I did so was for Mean Girls 2). Dallas Buyers Club on the other hand was a genuinely good piece of cinema. Its editing was pristine, its cinematography refreshingly unobtrusive, its acting virtuoso, and its writing – while not very trans-friendly – was at least intelligent and well-crafted.

Let’s be clear: I do not want to personally attack Jared Leto for his performance. As a piece of method acting, Leto’s work was absolutely incredible. He was given a character, and he became that character inside and out. The problem is that the character he was given – supposedly a transwoman – was created by utterly ignorant scriptwriters.

The script was the main problem. As much as Leto tried to make Rayon the heart of the film, the writing made her a mere narrative device. She was written as a 1980s-90s stereotyped caricature of a transsexual in order to fill the need for Woodruff to have a token ‘gay best friend.’

And we come immediately to the script’s first problem: the subtle equivocation of ‘trans’ with ‘gay.’ While it’s never really explicit, Rayon is the film’s spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community. She represents the ‘fag’ world – as McCaughey’s character might call it – not any kind of recognizable transgender world. The implication of the script – or at least of the other characters in the movie – is that Rayon is a gay guy in a dress who wants breast implants.

Leto even makes this false connection when he says in an interview that “the Rayons of the world” are, you know, “the gays and lesbians of the world.” C’mon! LGBT 101: transgender people are a whole different ballgame than gay and lesbian. Gender identity ≠ sexual orientation!

In fact, one of my least favorite moments in the film is when Woodruff catches Rayon looking at a waitress’s cleavage. Rayon remarks that she’d like boobs that big one day, to which Woodruff replies: ““Will you stop staring at her tits, Rayon? You’re starting to look normal.” The implication was that Rayon ought to be a straight cisgender guy to be normal. The scene really rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m generally pretty laid back about that sort of thing.

One gets a sense of the filmmakers’ and contributors’ general attitude toward the project from the lyric video to Airborne Toxic Event’s song Hell & Back, which they wrote for the film. The lyric video features a drag queen ala Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

If this isn’t a shitty trans stereotype, then I don’t know what is.

Although Leto correctly pronouns his character in interviews, throughout the script Rayon is consistently referred to as “he.” One might argue this comes from the ignorance of the characters, but the world that the writers create is one in which Rayon is clearly not any sort of woman. She is a man in drag, and it is this conception of trans people that the audience is asked to accept as reality for the film’s 117 minutes.

Rayon’s place in the story upset me. She is verbally abused and mistreated by Woodruff for nearly the entire film. She dresses like a hooker half the time. And while there are moments in which she seems really genuine and alive, at many other points she comes across as almost creepy:

And then of course she dies tragically, partly due to drug abuse. God forbid a trans character have a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t end with untimely death! Transwomen are the new femme fatales of film noir or promiscuous girls of slasher movies: we always get what we deserve, which is apparently death.

This is a film made by cisgender straight people for cisgender straight people. It really tries to be understanding of the issues it deal with, but it unwittingly devolves into a massive cisgender self-congratulation because “oh look, aren’t we such good allies to the trans people out there?”

Now I understand the historical limitations of the story. The film takes place in the early 90s, when transwomen had little access to the benefits they have now. HRT was less sophisticated, many of the trans people who were out were tied exclusively to the gay community, and there weren’t gender clinics to provide voice lessons and support groups. There were real Rayons out there, and such people are (perhaps accurately – although maybe not) represented by this film.

The problem is how little positive visibility trans people get in the media. If agreeable trans portrayals abounded, Leto’s performance might be a good character sketch of a very particular trans person. Unfortunately, this is really the only portrayal of transwomen in Hollywood, and it plays to bad stereotypes and retrograde understandings of who we are. The Academy Awards and many other institutions hold it up as a great step forward for transgender awareness even though most trans people are at least a little miffed, if not all-out angry. I don’t think this movie’s success is about making the trans story heard; it seems more like the media’s attempt to congratulate itself on being sufficiently politically correct and diverse.

On the other hand, I cried three times during this film, and while two of those instances were from sheer frustration, there was one time where I was genuinely moved to sob. Below is a problematic but touching interview with Jared Leto about playing Rayon, and at t=4:00 the interview shows the scene that jerked my tears. In the scene, Rayon confronts her father about AIDS.

While I have a lot of beef with this film, I want to commend Leto for his commitment to the role. It’s obvious how much he cares about bringing his character’s story to life. While the script and plot certainly limited his ability to do that, as did the constraints of working on such a blatantly cisgender movie and the limits of his own understanding, I applaud the remarkable thoroughness of his method acting.

I.e. I don’t want him to win the Academy Award because I don’t want his character in the spotlight as “an excellent portrayal of a transwoman,” but I also admit he deserves any accolade he receives.

As a regular ol’ movie I’d have given Buyers 4.5 stars, but as a trans narrative I think it’s a anywhere between a 3 and a 1. Not all visibility is good visibility, and while I think Buyers might stir up some ‘pity’ for the trans community, it might set us back many years as far as any intelligent awareness is concerned.