One Hundred and Sixty Four Days
October 19, 2016 10:33 AM   Subscribe

It’s the evening of April 30th of this year. I’m sitting on the edge of my bathtub smoking. I smoke almost every day. I am standing on the edge of an abyss. Everything feels wrong and I have no idea why. I’m covered in molasses, dragged to earth. I have strange ideas, strange fantasies. Nothing makes sense. I don’t know why.

One comix blogger's attempt to explain where their life went and what new insight finally made everything make sense, using as its template Watchmen chapter IV --Dr Manhattan examining the key moments of his life non sequentially-- and tying in everything from Alan Moore's reinvention of Swamp Thing, writing for The Comics Journal, Tom Spurgeon's essay on how comics made him fat, how superhero fandom differs from sports fandom and why it matters to the Star Wars prequels and how Anakin Skywalker bad life decisions almost doomed the galaxy; the pay-off's in the last two sentences.
posted by MartinWisse (48 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Don't be like me, don't scroll to the end to see the end. You'll ruin it. You'll regret it
posted by hat_eater at 10:43 AM on October 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just amazing. I had to go back and read the whole damn thing again as soon as I got to the end. I suspect I'll do it again tomorrow.
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

But the one thing none of the subsequent iterations ever quite get right is the violence and terror of Moore’s initial idea, the nightmare that you might one day wake up and discover that you are a different person from who you were when you fell asleep.

This is my central deepest terror.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm midway through this incredibly powerful essay, and I just want to note that it might be worth a content warning as there is discussion of suicide and mental illness.
posted by selfnoise at 11:09 AM on October 19, 2016

Ok, I finished it.

I have to admit I have no idea who this person is, but it's a tremendous piece of writing. Both in its focus on a certain pop cultural ephemera and its elliptical, avoidant nature it reminded me of John Darnielle's novel "Wolf in White Van."

Also, I hope and wish for the best.
posted by selfnoise at 11:13 AM on October 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Jesus fucking christ. I just finished it.

holy shit.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:38 AM on October 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this, MartinWisse.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:44 AM on October 19, 2016

The least amazing thing about this: Now, I actually want to rewatch Episodes 1-3.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:55 AM on October 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm acquainted with the person who wrote this. They're in a good place now. I'm thankful they're in the world and working out their shit.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:07 PM on October 19, 2016 [35 favorites]

This is an extraordinary piece of writing.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:22 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best thing I've read on here in forever.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, having reached the end, I want to go back and re-read the entire thing. O'Neil is one of those bloggers who I used to religiously follow back in the day but gradually stopped checking in on. Some of them stopped updating with any regularity and some ran out of things to say and some of them ended up going to some really weird and ugly places in their writing that I wasn't interested in. (And, of course, I myself went through some changes.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2016

Ten-fifteen minutes of reading and then - stop. That feeling, when your skin tingles and a strong shiver runs down your back. That's what I got from that.

Thanks so much for posting it.
posted by Mooski at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've followed O'Neil on the blog for over a decade and on Twitter for several years. The change described in the essay is plainly visible in both. It's amazing and heartening.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, my. Wonderfully written, and I want to go back to the beginning and see it again with this new knowledge.
posted by xingcat at 1:09 PM on October 19, 2016

The whole thing felt like Knaussgard x. Hornby. (I categorize. Apologies in advance.) In a mostly good way.

At first, I thought it failed a little, because of the lack of introspection (or complete lack of words) about the experience with which he concludes (am I not supposed to spoil it or are we enough comments in ...?). Then I realized (or interpreted) that that's all she can share (to the whole world) right now, and that's more than enough.

And then, the contrast of 10,000+ words or whatever vs. those last 5 demonstrates emphatically how much those 5 words change things, which is clearly a powerful literary effect, but as someone who strongly identifies with the author, I'd have loved to read a bit more about those last 5 words.

Also, I'll be honest. The biggest reason I clicked on the link was for an explanation about the molasses, and my best understanding is that it's figurative? If not, I also want to know more about the molasses. (I probably wouldn't have clicked the link if I read the 'more inside' and I'm very glad I clicked so thanks for the framing. I do like molasses.)

The least amazing thing about this: Now, I actually want to rewatch Episodes 1-3.

No. She is right about the fight scene in II, but that's all. The rest is unbearable.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:21 PM on October 19, 2016

This is a hell of a piece, and I'm floored by the power of it. And also glad to hear from pxe2000 that the author is in a good place now.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:23 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh my god
posted by elsilnora at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

maybe let's not bulldoze over the author's very trenchant and personal insights about the portrayal of Anakin in I-III just to get our prequel-shitting chuckles in
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

That was amazing. I am so glad it was posted here and so glad I read it.
posted by biscotti at 1:33 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Blown away. Thank you so much for posting
posted by rosary at 1:34 PM on October 19, 2016

I totally identify with what they say about Anakin. I was also about eight when the first of the prequels came out. I get it as a child's film.
posted by Braeburn at 1:49 PM on October 19, 2016

Anyway to elaborate on my earlier comment:

I knew exactly what was going on a few paragraphs in. I didn't read ahead, but I knew for certain. (less seriously I was sure I was right when they kept talking about Tegan & Sara cause LET ME TELL YA) As it became clearer my heart started racing; I was reading it during downtime at work and several times I had to step back and center myself to keep from crying at my desk.

It sounds like my life has been more comfortable and hasn't been as accompanied by clinical depression the way it has for the author, but this is so, so familiar.

Thank you for posting this, MartinWisse
posted by elsilnora at 2:17 PM on October 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

This is a powerful piece, thank you for sharing it MartinWisse.

That said -- it leaves me with more questions than answers. I get to the end of it and there's this statement that I guess is a revelation, but I'm not getting how this conclusion arises from everything else we've learned, nor am I seeing how this conclusion helps the author move forward.

(Maybe this would be better to discuss on the green, honestly. Since the conclusion is being framed as a surprise I don't want to "spoil" it for anyone here, at least not this early in the thread. But it really was a surprise to me, and I'm having trouble fitting it in with the rest of the narrative. Maybe I just need to go back and read more closely?)

I wouldn't even comment -- I'd just acknowledge that I don't fully understand, appreciate it for the great piece of writing that it is and the painful journey of self discovery that it represents, and move on -- but as I was reading I got invested because for quite a lot of it I was thinking to myself, wow, I could have written this. This sounds like my life. So I guess I was looking to the conclusion to maybe tell me something about myself as well, and that's... well, I don't know. Not what I would have expected at least. But maybe it arises naturally from everything else we learn about the author and I'm just not seeing that, and maybe there's a natural path forward from there where things will improve and I'm just not seeing that either. (And, maybe I should stop trying to understand my own experiences through the imperfect lens of other people's stories, and maybe I should educate myself better about these kinds of stories to begin with.)

I don't want to be derail-y so I'll stop. I'll read the piece again and give it some more thought, and I'll keep an eye on the thread to see if anyone else has comments that might help me understand better.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:19 PM on October 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

nor am I seeing how this conclusion helps the author move forward.

....The part about feeling like a failure. All that.

There's a lot more but I need like a week to fully cry this article out of me and process and understand all the parts of myself that resonate with it.

It's...pretty fucking accurate from where I sit in relation to my own journey coming to accept myself as trans.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:24 PM on October 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

(thanks for your comments, elsilnora and Annika Cicada, I really appreciate your perspectives here. I see I have a lot more reading and thinking to do, both to understand your experience and to know what to make of the overlap with mine.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:28 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to wait a bit to post my comment, but seeing as the twist has already been revealed for the discerning comment-reader, I will go ahead.

This was a really brilliant piece of writing.

I accidentally previewed the ending halfway through, trying to check if I had time to read it to the end. But that sense of the abyss, of a blackness that doesn't end is... was so relateable to me too. At some point through the essay, a terrifying thought came over me that this could have been my life too: a free fall of self-destruction.

I like this essay a lot, too, because it is a testament to the fact that a life decision like this, a personal situation to grapple with like this, is not trivial. There is not a time where someone wakes up and says, "yes, this whole trans thing sounds good. Sign me up." For many people, especially those that are already grown when they realize they need to deal with this situation, instead of trying to box it up with one hand and fending off a compulsion toward suicide with another, there is a long history of denial and shame and attempts to cope that always end up falling short.

My overriding sensation on most days is a generalized lack of vigor that leaves me feeling like a wax approximation of a real human being.

My feelings were mostly like this too -- "wax approximation of a human being" is an excellent way to describe it. I wrote about my transition on my sometimes-blog in February of this year, nine months after I started medically transitioning:
While I was determined to be able to say that I have been essentially the same person this whole time, the truth is that is not entirely accurate. It is more like, before transitioning, I was not even a person at all. I was a ghost. When I think of myself and my life before I started transitioning, there was no sense of self. There was just contradictions and unhappiness and confusion. I was a paradox. My life was random events that happened to me and some things, by expending haphazard effort, I seemed to make happen myself. I found myself, strangely, the common denominator in all these events; I was a witness, rather than a participant, in the life that stretched endlessly in front of me.

Transitioning to me feels most like a resurrection. I don’t think I ever would have described myself, previously, as “dead inside” except with a morbid sarcasm, but, in comparison, it feels now like I have been carrying around just a husk of a person underneath my skin all these years. I was already dead. And I feel as if, in getting treatment, I have been delivered from the more permanent end of suicide. It is a resurrection of the person I was, would have been, could have been if not for the anomalous changes my body decided to undertake without me.
I dream of a world where people don't have to live through decades of suffering and shame, don't have to grow into themselves in these dark places before finally being able to get help.
posted by sevenofspades at 2:39 PM on October 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

Hey, Two unicycles, don't sweat it. (all, can we just talk about what the essay is about now? is that cool, I feel like we can do that now) I'm not confident that I don't just go into everything thinking in the back of my head is this thing going to turn out to be trans? So I might be skewing how universal some of the essay really is in my head.

There isn't really any one particular thing that made me figure the essay out I guess? It's that, not to speak for any other trans people but just reading it from my personal perspective, there's a whole lot of little things that taken in aggregate made me think OH YEAH OBVIOUSLY. Things like talking about gender segregated school activities (not even the specifics of it, but just talking about that at all, like who talks about that so wistfully?), together with talking about meeting a person online who finally understands what the essay doesn't say they're going through yet, together with saying they revealed a deep secret to another friend, together with the description of how the Swamp Thing was never who it used to think it was--like it all just clicked, for me.

Or when they say "I assumed everyone suffered equally and I was uniquely terrible at coping". I feel like I have read SO MANY PEOPLE recently talking about gender in terms of mistakenly universalizing their personal experience? Like I worry I do that all the time?

It's not easy to tell is what I'm saying! Don't worry if you don't exactly "get" it? If that helps? I'm not sure that helps. I'm actually not at all sure I get it myself, despite how familiar a lot of it is; like I don't understand all of the overlap between the author's experience, and your experience, and my experience, and Annika Cicada's experience, and sevenofspades experience.

Actually I don't even know what I'm saying. This is a really powerful essay, and I'm going to go lie down for a bit.
posted by elsilnora at 3:31 PM on October 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Just so people know: When I posted my first comment in this thread I was still reading it and had no inkling yet this would be about being trans. What I didn't put in the comment is that I've already faced that fear. And I'm still afraid of it.

When I read that line in the article it was a punch in my heart. I felt anxiety and panic and had to steel myself and keep on. I popped over here and left that first comment, then went back to reading. I even had a comment queued up saying something like (I faced that fear when I came out to myself as trans) but I didn't post it because I didn't want to clog the thread up. So long before I even knew where the hell the article was going, I was already having to face those vast and deep chasms inside myself that I don't really share with anyone, because those dark places are...a hard place to look into inside myself.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:58 PM on October 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

i made an account to say something but for a good fraction of an hour i've been writing and deleting various one-line comments that feel trite and unworthy.

just. yeah. it's like that.

nothing is over. it will get better and it will get worse. but everything will always make sense now.
posted by i deserved this at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2016 [16 favorites]

Thanks elsilnora... yeah I read it again and thought about it and I see what you mean. It seems clear the author is struggling to fit into the role they feel they're supposed to fit into, and identity is obviously a big part of it -- Anakin, Swamp Thing, everybody trying to understand who they are and what that means. And I imagine a lot of the pain goes away once you figure out why you're struggling and take positive steps to fix it, to be who you're meant to be.

I really do appreciate you and Annika and sevenofspades and i deserved this sharing your experiences, not only because it helps all of us understand and appreciate better what trans folk go through, but because I personally find it super encouraging to hear from people who have struggled with their identities and come out the other side a stronger person, with a better sense of who they are, and are living better lives as a result. It's like a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone who's still struggling to figure out where they belong. Thank you.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 4:20 PM on October 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

(oh and also: welcome, i deserved this! glad you're here.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Back to the swamp thing, one book that wedged itself deep into my psyche was "the monster at the end of this book". I guess in a way it's heartening to know that's it's okay to be the monster you were terrified of at the end of the book.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:36 PM on October 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Two unicycles and some duct tape,

hahahahaha I haven't come out on the other side of anything, but I always hope we can all help each other, and if providing some of my own perspective can do that I'm really glad. Do your best!

Welcome to Metafilter, i deserved this!
posted by elsilnora at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2016

Oh my gosh, Annika, is there an intense identity-searching reading one can give to The Monster at the End of This Book? That is a really good observation, and your comparison to Swamp Thing really makes the latter more hopeful, it mitigates what the author calls the violence and terror of Moore's comic.

I really, really, deeply hope that turns out to be the case for the author too, that they get to find peace in self-discovery like Grover.
posted by elsilnora at 5:06 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

that was actually really interesting. they didn't really touch on most of the obvious gender dysphoria issues that are normally cited in the "i guess i always knew" narratives. instead it focused on the dysphoric depression, the suicidality, and the self-loathing-- which can be very hard to source or even recognize for what they are. ive heard a number of trans folx talk about similar experiences with dysphoria.

i feel like it's really important to get away from any one central narrative about what it's like to have been trans, for that reason. the hardest part of my gender trouble was talking myself out of misconceptions about confining trans narratives that i thought i had to stick to. we're an incredibly diverse group, and folx who don't know they're trans yet need to not hear any "you can only be trans if".
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 7:03 PM on October 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

Something very masterful about this essay is how relatable everything is to people in general before the final line. I think it's very common to feel some degree of that numbness, that drifting through life while you excoriate yourself for your failure to take control, even if a revelation about gender identity isn't the piece that will make sense of it all for you... and that makes for a powerful empathetic bridge when you get to the end, because you get real comfortable in the author's shoes before you hit that last line. I hope this essay spreads, I think it can do some real good by making that connection. On top of the obvious good of bringing readers unfamiliar with trans issues a huge dose of empathy for the experiences of trans people, it also makes you wonder: if I'm feeling those symptoms, could I be missing some part of my identity?

It makes you think, maybe it's nothing to do with gender for me, but maybe there's some part of me that I've lost, or denied, or never even found in the first place. Something obscured by obligations that I never wanted that always take up my attention, some question that I've never even thought to ask myself. And that's a revolutionary thought that has the potential to change people. It's been about all I can think about since reading this - is there a piece of who I am that I never even noticed that I've been neglecting, is that where the disconnect comes from when trying to navigate a "normal" life? Is that why I pick up life-consuming passions, drop them the instant the novelty wears off and I can't distract myself with them, rinse and repeat, year after year? Is that why I've never once been able to truthfully answer the question "what do you want to do with your life?" Maybe I'm trying to choose from an artificially shrunken pool of possibilities, and there's more out there and more in me that I haven't even considered. It's funny, because the typical narrative for this kind of soul searching is like, yeah, maybe you should focus on your art over your job or whatever... but that narrative yields no answers when even your art fails to anchor your drifting. Which isn't some melodramatic ooh I'm so jaded even my art cannot affect me thinking, I think disappointment with that old chestnut is probably very common. This, though, this gets you looking even deeper, for something more fundamental that isn't part of some creative/commercial, culture/counterculture pat-answers duality framing of life, and that's really something.

Fuck, that's a good essay.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:39 PM on October 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said better up thread. I created an account just to say how much I appreciated MartinWisse posting the article.

Within the first few lines I knew but didn't want to know what the final reveal was going to be, born out of an unshakeable sense of recognition. I kept reading because I couldn't stop. I wanted to be wrong because I wanted the sense of recognition to be false.

I only hope the author is truly on a good path going forward. I'm not sure I would have the bravery to put this out in the public eye.

Oh god. The selves we invent, often unknowing, in order to survive, and the damage it does to us. Survival is just a slow death, but the numbness and sense of self-disassociation helps you fool yourself that to withstand time passing is good enough. After all, it's not really you who's waiting for the end, just someone you are watching.
posted by allium cepa at 12:46 AM on October 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Holy shit. (Yeah, I saw it coming. But I was still cheering when I hit those last two words.)

Something I think about a lot is how repressing part of yourself is an action. It's possible to get pretty far along in your life without realizing you're trans, sure. But you don't get there by just "Oh, huh, I guess I never thought about it." Even if that's how it feels on the surface, behind the scenes in your subconscious mind you are expending a tremendous amount of energy and exerting massive, violent forces to keep that shit buried.

So there ends up being this sort of fractal complexity to the set of trans narratives. Like right up at the surface there's "Some people realize early / Some people realize late." But then when you zoom in on the people who realize late, there's a whole lot more variety and diversity, having to do with the different ways that people found of keeping their shit repressed, the different sources of energy they tapped, the different forces they exerted — and then the different ways they eventually undid that damage.

Some of us keep our shit repressed by finding "safe" outlets in queer/kink communities (drag or crossdressing for trans women, butch culture for trans men, politicized androgyny or the "I don't even see gender" wing of the bi community for enbies, etc). Some of us go to the other extreme and meticulously avoid ever meeting any other queers or kinky people for fear that it will remind us of things we want to forget. Some of us do it by embracing hyper-respectability, building a high-powered career in a conservative field, and compulsively conforming to the expectations that come with it. Some of us go the other way and turn ourselves into utter caustic burnouts, refusing to take anything seriously and compulsively disappointing and alienating anyone who takes an interest in our lives. Some of us cultivate hyperfocus on tasks that can distract us from our gender. Some of us cultivate a state of total mindless distractedness that keeps us from stringing together coherent thoughts and plans about anything, gender included.

Those aren't direct effects of being trans. They're, like, ways of trying to refuse to be trans. But there are so, so many different ones, including a ton that don't look on the surface like they have anything to do with gender at all.

And I think one of the really great effects of trans people telling their own stories is that all those different repression styles are getting described and discussed.

Like, there's no way in hell that a cis person who set out to write a trans story would have written this thing. Because to 99% of cis people, "I have interests that are super escapist but stereotypically masculine, I'm the most distractible person I know, my social persona is utterly fake and forced but it's so pervasive I don't even know what's under it, and I'm sarcastic and withering to the point where it's actually ruining my entire life" doesn't scream this person might be trans. You need to have spent a lot of time around newly-out trans women who are unlearning that particular repression style to see that connection — and even if a cis writer has done that, they're going to know that most of their cis readers won't have, and they're going to write another High Powered Masc Businessman With Secret Crossdressing Fetish or another Faggy Sex Worker Drag Queen Superstar or whatever. (Which, like, those are valid and real repression styles too, they're just overrepresented in the media.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:41 AM on October 20, 2016 [20 favorites]

Even the counting of the days as the title of the article.

Counting days from, counting days to. counting days since. So much of an awareness of being trans is counting up the reminders, the validations, the invalidations, the notable events, the life changing decisions and announcements. Counting how many days of pills are left, how many days until the next doctor appointment, timing the prescriptions so you don't get caught short handed.

So much of my "out as trans life" has been bound up in counting the days and years in about every way possible. Hell I even wrote something that was recently published that recounts my life across three Aprils. I've never really articulated this, but maybe being trans shapes and informs how I encounter time itself.

It's stuff like that about the article.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:23 AM on October 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

I can't read the comments from other people for whom this article resonates without an inseparable mixture of pain and relief. It's worth so much to hear other voices and know that the ball of awful inside your own head might not be unique.

It's a mark of the writing that I have read the article twice and still can't remember well enough to distinguish between details that are in it and ones I immediately projected onto it.

So much the sense of introversion and private mental life. So much the sense of numbness towards self; the feeling of not feeling, of being an automaton. So much the ability to fight for others you care about but not yourself. So much the feeling of being a random assemblage of pieces without a center. So much the difficulty of seeing in. So much the restless drive directed outwards, unsatisfied and unsatisfiable. So much the difficulty following through, of being able to finish. So much the difficulty of even knowing what you think.

In my 5th decade of life, I suddenly find now that I occasionally have opinions. I like or dislike things without the necessity of judgement or reasoned evaluation. I can take on the right to like or dislike which I never had before.

We fasten on that which talks to parts of us of which we are sometimes not even aware. I have always been fascinated by stories centered around transformative events and complex internal lives. In hindsight the attraction seems obvious.

To cite a familiar one, the Dayworld series by Philip Jose Farmer where the protagonist must reintegrate 7 selves creates simply to survive.

But it can be so lonely, and I am not sure it is better or worse when you know why. Our understanding and communication with each other makes me think of biological ring species, where maybe our interactions with those most similar will have fruit, but how difficult it is with those more dissimilar, looking at each other across the great divide of our different minds and models of the world.
posted by allium cepa at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am not trans, and I read this essay and really felt like I connected with some parts of it and totally missed others, and then I got to the end and I had, I think, a similar reaction as Unicycles'. What? Wait, that's the answer? Are you sure? Is that really an answer to the dysphoria depression aadhd personality stress bpd issues that you are facing? Really?

I really, really, really hope the author can become who she wants to be. I say that about a lot of people - I want people to become who they want to be. And part of that is because I am so sick of people trying to become who other people want them to be, and part of it is because I'm sick of that pressure on myself, and part of it is because I've become closer and closer to trans folk in mid-west michigan and, I want SO HARD to help. And to help people. And this essay really, well. I didn't get it. And I don't get it. and I'm upset that I don't understand, but maybe I have to accept that I won't understand, that I'm WRONG in a way that I can't just "learn" a set of facts and will no longer be wrong.

It's different and I don't understand and I'm so very glad that you all have helped me understand more through your comments and conversations. I'm bookmarking this to think about and read again.
posted by rebent at 11:53 AM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

So I mean, it's really common for someone to transition and then a few years later be like "OK, so these are the issues that my transition solved, and these are the ones that it didn't." And then, yeah, you go to work on that other stuff — which sometimes includes personality stuff or psych diagnoses or whatever, and almost always includes built-up trauma from having had to hide and deny yourself for so long.

The thing is, if you are trans, being closeted or in denial makes it nearly impossible to work on that other stuff in a serious way. Obviously you can't work through the trauma of being in denial until you're out of denial. But often you can't even really work through anything else either. Like, doing therapy requires a lot of openness and trust and honesty — and trying to be open and trusting and honest, while still repressing one of the most important things about yourself so deeply that even you don't consciously know it's there... is practically impossible. For a lot of us it's totally impossible. It's like trying to inhale and exhale at the same time. People don't work like that.

So realizing you're trans doesn't fix your other problems. But it opens the door to working on them in an effective way.

And there's something kinda similar with friendships and relationships. Realizing you're trans doesn't magically get you a partner or a community of friends. But it opens the door that will let you find those things for yourself eventually. When you're in the closet, you end up projecting this social façade that can get incredibly disconnected from your real personality and your real feelings. And that makes it really difficult to be genuinely close with anyone. Getting out of the closet makes it easier.

It's like, okay, getting yourself to a place where you're happy and mentally healthy and surrounded by loving community is a long road. But for a lot of us, being in denial about being trans makes it feel like that road is on the other side of a huge wall, and we don't know where the door is, and even if we find the door we don't have the key. What happened at the end of the essay is she found the key.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:20 PM on October 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

(And FWIW rebent I don't think there's anything wrong with you for not seeing the connection right away. Like, there were people who knew me in person for 30 years and didn't connect all the struggles I was going through with "Oh, maybe zie's trans." This shit is subtle.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:39 PM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Is that really an answer to the dysphoria depression aadhd personality stress bpd issues that you are facing? Really?

In my specific case I'd been trying for decades to figure WTF was wrong with me and when I came out to myself (I was the hardest person to come out to) I saw it in my mind as grabbing hold of the tap root that would lead me out to the exterior edges of my physical body, like pushing into the capillaries at the edges of my skin. I can't really express what it feels like to be trapped inside your psyche, unable to directly access your physical body, but the allegory of the cave is a pretty good approximation.

The "Annika" version of me is a tiny ball of fragile light at the tip of a subconscious mind that now has to "do the necessary work" to propel and project me onto the exterior form of my body. To live requires a constant, diligent effort to reinforce and demand validation so that I may exist. Because even though this has always been my body, I haven't always been here on the outside like this.

And I'm not going back into that darkness. That life is worse than death.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

rebent - all we can do is write from what we know.

But what I can say, from literally decades of not coming to terms with this, is that the article very accurately evoked the feeling of mentally surviving while skirting the biggest issue in one's life. Turning your eyes away either consciously or subconsciously, not allowing yourself to go down what your subconscious sees as an incredibly dangerous path, but still completely influenced by what you are denying. And maybe this is fundamental to the experience for a lot of trans people. It's so for at least more than one.

Gravitationally, circling something you can't look at for fear of destruction. Chewed up by the effort to survive and
not fall in. You can be in a place where you literally can't let yourself think about this the root of what is hurting you, and so you avert your gaze intentionally or reflexively. And so there are not necessarily conscious moments in the past where you talked to yourself honestly about these issues. If and when you confront it - or it confronts you, maybe pieces of your past will start fitting themselves together. Maybe you will be able to construct a narrative in which events and past emotions and images of self make sense, but that might not happen until after the first break, the break that starts to let this trickle through.

So the feeling of going through life, wrestling with something you can't see, or feel, or properly know, possibly because you can't let yourself look at it, is very familiar. And the moment when that which you've been fighting
with comes into focus, and you find out that it's you - but not the you you thought you were, that your entire
upbringing and everyone around you knew you as and reinforced every day by word and action and regard - but a you that was real and possibly intimate and a stranger at the same time and the first you you could hope to ever trust and maybe even not hate - that's what this piece conveyed.

Because your self is the bedrock on which your world is built, and sometimes that changes without asking.
posted by allium cepa at 1:29 PM on October 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's...pretty fucking accurate from where I sit in relation to my own journey coming to accept myself as trans.

Having struggled with depression earlier in my life, I can certainly relate to much of the essay. And I can only imagine how having fundamental gender identity issues on top of messed-up brain chemistry adds to the desperate pain this makes you experience. I am so happy this courageous author came to a place of self acceptance.

I really hope I can express myself the way I intend to, but I have so much respect for all people who are trying to come to a place where they are able to embrace who they really are, and I am sure that while many societies are moving strongly in the right direction towards acceptance of people as people, there must be some element of societal intolerance that makes that journey even more traumatic and difficult. Heck, as this essay illustrates, the internal work is hard enough! I don't even know where I am going with this, but I would like LGBTQ folks to know that there are many of us cis/het folks who accept and welcome and value and hear you, that we respect you as human beings, and we we hope you will help us learn how to talk to and about you in a respectful and acceptable way so we can help you on your journey instead of hindering you.
posted by biscotti at 1:31 PM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

A couple days ago the author posted a follow-up essay, approaching her experiences by way of music criticism:

You lose a lot by telling the truth. Lies fester.
This is especially true of the lies you tell yourself.
The truth is never quite so kind as we’d like.

posted by elsilnora at 7:30 AM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

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