Hi everyone! I promise I haven’t given up on this. This time I’ve juxtaposed more recent experiences with the far past, and I don’t know if it works as a story or not.
But I do hope you enjoy this, the twenty-fourth chapter in the story of my life. Or well, if not enjoy, are fascinated by.
Some conversations are impossible to share, you decide. It’s just past midnight, and it looks like it’s another round of insomnia- lately, your emotions have been running deep and hot, like the weather last Monday, sitting in the old man’s front yard and craning your neck to stare at the perfect spirals of the four inter-cloven conifers. The conversation had danced like the sunlight through the needles, like the grip of one’s attention as it slides up the grooves in the bark, catches on the pitch, and disappears upwards into the afternoon.
It’s not that the conversation was too personal-after all, you keep a blog in which personal is the defining theme. Instead, it’s that your mind has a habit of ignoring the words and listening for the meaning behind them. You unfocus, forming pictures and concepts, ideations and questions. You listen to understand, to expand your awareness of a greater worldview. Thus, the words themselves are just road signs pointing somewhere else, quickly lost in the distance and ultimately unimportant.
The point the old man had been making, however, was painfully solid: all of your identity fluctuations, all your desperations, all your longing, everything comes down to this: What you crave is a certain type of attention. It’s all very nebulous. And you’ve long since learned that in the path of getting to know oneself, the terrain is an illusion. You’re increasingly coming to suspect that the ultimate goal of the journey is to stop trying to define which part is the beginning and which part is the end. Probably, there is no journey, because there’s just where you happen to be right now and a lot of shimmering potentials that few can make sense of and even fewer can reach for.
A thought surfaces: you miss your father.
Now, tossing and turning and ugly-crying, you find yourself wishing you’d been able to force yourself to eat something sometimes in the past eight or nine hours. Hunger pangs are easier to deal with, however, and it’s just possible that they fulfill some perverse need. After all, you became deeply familiar with hunger in early childhood. Somehow, going to bed hungry makes a part of you feel like he’s still there.
A thought surfaces: you hate your father.
You blow your nose into a tank-top you wore earlier and give up on sleep for the time being. You’ve got to do something with the pain- hunger isn’t enough. So, writing. In writing, free thought.
The past few days have been rough. Yesterday, you finally found a place to live. You looked at it, the man was friendly, but you sensed reticence. Still, he said you could have the place and move in today. This morning, you called him to see if he would follow through. You inquire after the best time to move in. He tells you he forgot to let you know he rented it to someone else who looked at it after you. You’re not surprised, but it hurts all the same. He offers you a different bedroom, clearly out of guilt, but you can smell the uncertainty of prejudice when it wafts your way. You inform him that if you can’t trust him to keep his word for the span of one day there’s no way you would trust him to do it in a week and hang up. Bullet dodged, but what the fuck?
And that’s basically life now. No one has ever done anything like this to you before. Losing cisnormative privilege fucking sucks, and you don’t even dress much differently than before. You almost never wear makeup. But now people at the bank ask you what your preferred name is, women smile too nicely, men stare until they see your face and then turn away and pretend they weren’t looking at your ass. Cis normal is over now, and it’s never coming back. Not that you miss it’s price. Goodbye, old life.
Hello, new paradigm. This is what you get for not wanting to be bedridden. And actually, the changes your body has been going through are amazing. You never thought you could look in the mirror and mostly make sense. You never thought you’d care for the breasts when they grew in but the truth is they feel so natural it’s hard to imagine them gone. Meanwhile, they’re also the reason you’re getting clocked as trans even when you don’t want to be. “Just wear a looser shirt”, says Shayna, but you’re living on charity, out of a suitcase and still trying to find a place to settle into so you can have wardrobe options in the first place because most of your belongings are crammed in Katie’s basement. And even so, you don’t actually own many male clothes. You’ve been wearing mostly tight, androgynous women’s clothing for years now. And loose shirts feel... just... wrong, somehow. Anxious. Tight upper clothing helps you to know where your body is in space and makes it that much easier to move. Loose tops are just a tangle. Anyway, that’s all just dysphoric distraction, anyway.
A thought strikes you, and you realize that the reason you’ve been binge-watching “House of Cards” on Netflix is because Frank Underwood is your father. Just replace politics with Calvinism and a focus on making sure his eldest son grows to be a man and you have it. You watched a good nine hours of it in a row instead of eating, desperately aching to be near and far from the Tyrant. That desire seems an awful lot like another secret desire: the wish to walk through hell unscathed. You want to see, to know. But not to be trapped. If only knowing weren’t such a prison.
“Sometimes, I just want to call your dad up on the phone and yell at him!” Shayna had said earlier today. It’s heartwarming.
He wasn’t always so bad though, and that’s what makes it hurt. Even at 32 you retain vivid memories of your father hanging you on a ceiling hook by baby-clothes belt loops. Or how he would toss you in the air, ecstatic to be there with you, in that moment, as your mother’s anxiety bled out her mouth. It’s okay, mom, you thought to her, he won’t drop me. He’ll never drop me.
He dropped you. He just did it a short pair of years later, and that, too, is a moment vividly imprinted upon your memory.
You stand in the corner, naked except for the shitty diaper that your father has folded over a string and then tied around your neck like obscene bling.
Wait. Haven’t you written about this before? You do a search through the three hundred and thirty-nine notes on your iPhone’s Evernote app. Yes, actually you have, several times. But not on your blog just yet. That you can recall. Fuck.
It’s not really a memory you know if you want to share, either. Oh well. Add it to the pile.
Like most of your childhood memories, you see things in more than one point of view at once. One is the viewpoint of your eyes, in the moment. The other is the memory of the environment as your eyes took it in before you got to where you are now. Thus, as you stand in the corner and stare at the wall, afraid that your father is still somehow watching even while you can hear his voice in another room (the kitchen?), you also see the patterns of the linoleum floor, sense the rubbery texture of the caulking at the base of the tub, and see the butterfinger bar balanced diagonally across the far left corner of the towel rack. You clearly recall that bar and the sunflower wrapper. But you cannot recall if there was a towel hanging on the rack, or several, or none, and what color?
The dirty diaper tied around your neck isn’t such a problem- you’re used to the smell by now and you’re more worried about your feet and legs hurting from standing up, and about whatever your parents are arguing about in the other room. Life has gone from happy to some kind of nameless anxiety. Father wants you to be potty trained already, but some part of you feels profoundly unsafe while out of diapers.
“Lindsey, it won’t be long before he’s three years old,” your father is saying, “it’s time to start teaching him to be a man.
What is a man? You wonder. Is it like what father is? Does being a man mean you have to wear crusty leather boots so large that you can currently fit both feet into one, and laces so rough they hurt your fingers to untie? How do you even get that big?
Does being a man mean making threats and tying things around the necks of people smaller than you?
If being a man means having a rough and scratchy face, that could be alright- you love running your hands over father’s. You wish he would grow it out.
Does being a man mean you have to disappear all day and come back when it’s dark? Does it mean being hard and rough and scary? Does it mean not being able to have fun again?
How do you become one, anyway? Is it automatic or do you have to do something special so that world makes you that way?
Is mommy a man too?
The conversation in the kitchen is going on and on. Mommy and you are the same- neither of you understand why father is doing things the way he’s doing them. Mommy wants to wait, to let things develop naturally. Father thinks it’s time already.
But you’re so small still. How could it be time? You’re not even as tall as father’s knee.
The conversation ends. Father always wins it. Is that what being a man is? That you always win even if you’re mean?
The rhythmic clomp of father’s boots signals that he’s coming, and maybe you can finally be free of the bathroom corner and this smell and this cold, bright, yellowish light. But the noises reach the hallway and turn the other direction, towards the bedroom. He’s not coming for you, is he? He’s just going to forget about you forever and leave you there! But just before you panic the footsteps stop abruptly and he returns and enters the bathroom.
“Turn around and look at me.” He says. You do. He’s towering over you, huge and menacing. You can smell the leather and mud and traces of cow shit wafting from his boots and mingling with the stench of the diaper. His eyes seem unreadable, his energy feels caring but exasperated. You feel so ashamed. You drop your eyes to stare at the linoleum.
Father undoes the diaper and takes it off your neck and now you’re naked. He tells you to follow him and you do.
There is conversation happening, but in your memory the words are a blur. But here’s what remains, crystal clear:
You are fascinated by the way your father’s boots make the bottom of his blue jeans wrinkle, and by the smell of the laces and of his socks beneath. The way the aglets stick to the end of the laces and don’t fall off. He’s staring down at you, exasperated and fatherly, and then something happens, something changes.
Suddenly you can’t feel him the way you have been. Suddenly he’s cold, iced out. It starts in his eyes and works down over him, like the shadow of a giant tree as it comes crashing down.
Suddenly you don’t know where you are or who you’re with. You don’t recognize this man, don’t feel him. You don’t know what this means, but you’re afraid.
After this, the memory jumbles and fades, cross-hatching into other memories, of helping father take off his boots, of trying to steal something soft and pink and failing, but one thing happens for certain: He tells you it’s time for you to become a man.
And one more thing: after this, he is never the same again.
It’s been nearly a month since you’ve written a new post. Or well, that’s not true. You’ve probably written thirty pages worth of material but haven’t posted it. Some of it is too personal, even for something like this, your pet long-term project. People always say you never follow through, never finish anything, and then talk about how great your art is in the same breath.
They’re not wrong. But they never really seem to consider why you’ve had to quit so many things, why you’ve tried so many different names. They don’t understand what it is to be constantly distressed, constantly anxious, constantly bombarded by defense mechanisms that no longer make sense, as if your only real problem is being shot in the ass with a BB gun but you can’t feel safe without bulletproof armor. As time has gone on, you’ve taken that armor off, piece by piece because it limited you more than helped you, and even if being pelted by BBs isn’t particularly pleasant, it’s survivable.
But it doesn’t exactly help you concentrate, either. You’ve spent your life trying to learn how not to be a target. And that meant trusting in creativity. That meant art and writing and dreaming and singing and wishing, oh, god, wishing that no one else could see so you could dance the way it comes to you.
Over the years, you’ve had to learn the hard way that a target by any other name is still a target. People think you’re just making another creative move, but actually you’ve surrendered, stopped trying to fight who you are. Embraced your target status and stood strong for the world and cried in private.
In truth, the problem with all this self-analysis is that it’s all just grasping for control. Define me, says your mind, help me fit in. Make me invisible, because I don’t want to be a target! I just want to be loved. But that’s just it. It’s still trying to define what you want even now.
Until you stop trying to control the world, stop trying to see if you’ll be pretty enough someday, stop trying to imagine who you’ll end up with, stop trying to look underneath every feeling as if the lazy maid just swept the truth underneath, you’ll never find peace. Peace, you are beginnig to realize, is a choice.
Energy spent, you finally fall alseep.