I am a person, not a collection of routines.
June 3, 2019 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Emily Todd VanDerWerff writes for Vox about The Handmaid's Tale and coming out as trans: "The Catastrophist"
VanDerWerff was inspired to "think about thinking about transitioning" after reading a March 2018 interview of Daniel Ortberg by Heather Havrilesky in The Cut: "'Mallory Is Not Gone': Daniel Mallory Ortberg on Coming Out As Trans"
posted by Going To Maine (23 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why hello there anxious nightmare fuel. It's good to see you again.
posted by loquacious at 2:06 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


[This is good] btw. Thank you.
posted by loquacious at 2:09 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I’ve been a fan of hers since her days with the A.V. Club, glad to see this and that she’s happy!
posted by Automocar at 2:20 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Even as a non-trans person, the notion of routine as a bad cure for despair is quite relatable.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:22 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


Oh gosh I am seriously going to have to work up the reserves to read this...
posted by nikaspark at 2:27 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


(just thinking about starting transition in the age of Trump makes my heart ache for her)
posted by nikaspark at 2:28 PM on June 3 [13 favorites]


this hits way to close to home right now
posted by kokaku at 2:35 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I've been friends with Emily since middle school and couldn't wait for this day! We were, like, the first two kids at summer camp to have email addresses, and I'm so proud to know her.
posted by lauranesson at 2:37 PM on June 3 [39 favorites]


(just thinking about starting transition in the age of Trump makes my heart ache for her)

real talk the fact that I started transitioning in the age of Trump is the one thing I can cling to as an anchor that my transness is legit

no one "does it for the attention" anyway but they sure as hell wouldn't do it for the attention NOW
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 4:25 PM on June 3 [51 favorites]


This is so, so real to me.

The political and cultural landscape has gotten much worse in the last few years since I accepted who I was.

Sometimes I think about how the fact I don't care if i live or die affords me the freedom to move forward, because what do I care if it ends up killing me? And then I think about the painful irony that the act might mean i start caring about life even as i take a huge risk that I'm throwing it away. And then i think about the fact I have obligations to other people I care about, whose lives would also suffer. And then i think with bitterness about how in a few decades being transgender will hopefully be understood as just one variant of the ways to be human. But I live now, not then.

And then I turn my thoughts somewhere else as best I can, and make another day go away.
posted by allium cepa at 5:42 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]


I've been reading a lot of the blog Roll to Disbelieve, which is written by a woman who deconverted from fundamentalist Christianity in the early aughts (I think), and she spends a lot of effort unpacking the patriarchal gender expectations and rolls of right-wing Christianity of the same type that Emily touches on, that makes her "wonder what might have been had I grown up [in LA]." It's been interesting reading, and feel like it's given me a much better understanding of Trump voters than a thousand articles about how sad blue collar workers are that blue collar jobs have gone away or whatever, and what so many women have had to grapple with their whole lives.
posted by Caduceus at 5:46 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


As another a trans woman named Emily, in her 30s, who started transitioning in 2017, who has absolutely had a lifelong habit of catastrophizing, this (wonderful) piece would probably feel more harrowing if it weren't so familiar?

I mean I've never actually seen The Handmaid's Tale, I don't know if I have the emotional wherewithal to handle it at this exact moment, but sometimes you have recurring dreams like the one she described. Sometimes you find yourself having a dream about hiding from the cops behind a giant statue of Chelsea Manning, and you just gotta deal with it.

Anyway I'm sure not EVERY trans person these days turns to feminist, antifascist, and anticolonialist thinking as a way to find hope and figure out what the hell is happening to the world, but anecdotally it seems like it's a lot of us! For some reason! Who can say why! Oh well I guess it's an unsolvable mystery!
posted by elsilnora at 8:06 PM on June 3 [20 favorites]


One of the things that I'm working on processing is that for my dad and my grandfather, getting the degree and getting the job on masculine terms was how they managed to get out of their childhood family difficulties. I think that was less successful for my father, who ended up living with his mom anyway, but still I was sold on the idea that living well involved getting that 9-5 life, and once I had that everything will be fine.

In 2016, I had three major life events pile up on me before we even got to the election, and I realized that I couldn't properly heal from that while doing this act. All of these little superstitious rituals I had built up to avoid harassment, violence, and the painful family fight. So yes, a lot of this hits home.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:51 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Can definitely relate to the self-destructive, complete alienation from the body.
posted by fleacircus at 6:10 AM on June 4


Oh wow basically everything in this thread is relatable, especially this:

real talk the fact that I started transitioning in the age of Trump is the one thing I can cling to as an anchor that my transness is legit

no one "does it for the attention" anyway but they sure as hell wouldn't do it for the attention NOW
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 7:25 PM on June 3 [31 favorites +] [!]


and this:

Anyway I'm sure not EVERY trans person these days turns to feminist, antifascist, and anticolonialist thinking as a way to find hope and figure out what the hell is happening to the world, but anecdotally it seems like it's a lot of us! For some reason! Who can say why! Oh well I guess it's an unsolvable mystery!
posted by elsilnora at 11:06 PM on June 3 [12 favorites +] [!]


(for this one I was already involved in feminist/antifascist organizing before I started figuring stuff out but it is definitely connected)

Daniel Ortberg's piece about binders was posted on Metafilter when it was published and I was hugely, weirdly resistant to reading it for reasons I couldn't figure out until recently and like lol turns out I was terrified and when I actually read it a week or so ago it was ALSO hugely relatable. What could have been so frightening to me. Who's to say.

Literally when one of my trans female friends was like "you should try a binder" I was like "no, that's how they got Daniel Ortberg"
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:21 AM on June 4 [21 favorites]


The men get to feel things, sometimes clumsily, sometimes eloquently. But the women are so often defined not by who they are but by what they have been asked to handle.

gulp.
posted by wellred at 7:23 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


What I believed for too long, and what you might believe too, is that your body is not a gift but an obligation. That it is not who you are but a series of tasks assigned to you by the accident of your birth. This is not true. The best obligations — the only real obligations — are chosen. Your life is your life. It is worth fighting for.

Not a new thought, but very well-put.
posted by praemunire at 9:16 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


So much of this resonated with me--

--from the not caring what happened to the alien, inhuman body of he-who-was-me and waiting for it to expire to turning around and loving the wonderfully familiar, human body of she-that-i-am;
--from not having a reason to live, but not having a reason to die, to having both something to live for and die for;
--from the dependance on ritual and routine (twice daily showers; washing hands thrice every time with cold, then hot, then cold) to exert and maintain 보위부-esque control over my thoughts, to a liberation, a renaissance.

I came to terms with it in the dying days of 2017 and only started HRT a scant six months before Emily; the deal I'd made with myself, waiting until a better time, 30 years hence, when my mom died and I wouldn't have to explain, became untenable.

I haven't been able to get past the first few episodes of The Handmaid's Tale because it's too dark (says the girl who is perfectly fine with Chernobyl because the monsters in that are more distinctly inhuman)...
posted by anem0ne at 2:40 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


This was really good.

no one "does it for the attention" anyway but they sure as hell wouldn't do it for the attention NOW

Seriously.

Literally when one of my trans female friends was like "you should try a binder" I was like "no, that's how they got Daniel Ortberg"

After that article came out, Ortberg tweeted "my only other piece of advice, if you get a binder, is to sternly tell it 'This better not awaken anything in me' before putting it on." Which, well, we were warned...

posted by ubersturm at 5:05 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


Coming to terms with being trans has made more personal and real than anything else just how fragile, fleeting, and rare is the idea that all humans should possess an inalienable equality in terms of rights, freedoms, and respect.

I want to believe that other people feel this way. I want to believe that we're on a path to widespread acceptance of this as a guiding principle that drives the way we build our world.

But i can't really. I can only accept that equality and respect is won piecemeal, and that any differentiator, whether new or old, between groups of people is an excuse to play out the same horrible scenarios of prejudice and mistreatment.

And it's hard to believe in a bright future so long as this lingers in the dark corners of our minds. It's hard to believe that somehow we'll all pull together in time to unfuck the earth.

All i can do is accept that i am different in a way that when known will ensure a future in which an enormous number of people feel justified in treating me shittily. And yet I still want that future.

Because I have found out something about who I am and the past 4+ decades of confusion and unhappiness have been thrown into a new light.

Because now that i know, I cannot unknow, and all the mechanisms i built to keep me alive, to keep that knowledge at bay, are disintegrating. And so I live in constant knowledge of what I am and am not, and in painful juxtaposition with the fact that the world knows me as exactly the opposite.

Because to keep playing out this hand which I've been dealt is merely to read the lines from a script thrust in my hands, a story I never cared for but was unable to explain why.

And my mind does its thing, because allegories, visions, physical sensations are the only way it has of experiencing the level of emotion which I am somehow mostly blocked from.

And I am re-emerging from the depths of the sea, gasping for air, knowing if I don't fight free of the water I will sink again.

And I am standing on a great height, ready to throw myself from the edge, for the seconds of feeling unanchored, of air rushing by, of being free.

And I am a 40-something person that the world calls a man, and I see the thing in the mirror which I've never once recognised, and mind expects it to split down the back like some insect larva, and myself to finally emerge.

And I am a ghost fading because nothing I touch or do seem real, and I am often shocked when people notice or respond to me, and when my hands can still touch the desk I sit at at work.

And I am me, an androgynous child, somewhere in my memory, and a thread connects that child to this moment, this life, and it's as if that thread was mis-stitched with another existence.

And I am me, here, writing these words, thinking about how the article was all too real, and how i see the words of my trans siblings in this thread, and believe they are real, and that life can be precious even if most of it sucks, and how feeling can be worth it even if almost all of it is bad. And how I am here in this moment, and have unexamined faith I will be here in the next moment, but do not know what it means, and cannot believe in a future moment in which I am on the other side of waiting to start transition.

And I am here.
And I am here
posted by allium cepa at 3:59 AM on June 5 [11 favorites]


It is mostly tangential to the article in FPP, but VanDerWerff has published a medium post with some more professional details about her transition: "Emily and Everything After"
posted by Going To Maine at 2:12 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Well. I’m a bit late to this thread, but I read this piece the day it came out, actually in the middle of the night. I’m in the middle of my own Full-Blown Gender Crisis, which feels like it came on suddenly and without warning, but has also been percolating under the surface since I was, oh, five?

Anyway, I read this piece and it cut me to the core, and I lay awake for a long time thinking about it, and at the end of that long time, I realized I do want to do something about “my gender stuff.” I don’t know what, but I’ve got a binder on its way and an appointment with a queer hairstylist. And I’ve already got a queer therapist who has been very kind about me talking circles around “my gender stuff” without actually saying words like “trans,” for which I am grateful. So those are some good first-ish steps.

Daniel Ortberg's piece about binders was posted on Metafilter when it was published and I was hugely, weirdly resistant to reading it for reasons I couldn't figure out until recently and like lol turns out I was terrified and when I actually read it a week or so ago it was ALSO hugely relatable. What could have been so frightening to me. Who's to say.

I was SO UPSET when he came out. Like, just this completely outsized reaction. I also refused to read any of his interviews or essays or newsletters about it. Now I realize that I identified so strongly with his writing as Mallory, and my own sense of my femaleness was so tenuous, that it was threatening to me. I have of course now read all of it and about 90% of it is extremely relatable, to the point where sometimes I wonder “is all this just because Daniel Ortberg is so damn persuasive?” (Note: I do not actually believe this)

Literally when one of my trans female friends was like "you should try a binder" I was like "no, that's how they got Daniel

My Big Revelatory Moment came one day when I was wearing a sports bra and a baggy shirt. I looked down at my chest and something about the cut of the shirt made it look flat - and I could not stop looking at it in wonder. Wonder is not an emotion I’ve ever had when thinking about or looking at my body. So of course I thought about that binder essay and now my binder is being delivered tomorrow and I can’t decide if I’m more nervous that I’ll love it or that I’ll hate it.

Because now that i know, I cannot unknow, and all the mechanisms i built to keep me alive, to keep that knowledge at bay, are disintegrating. And so I live in constant knowledge of what I am and am not, and in painful juxtaposition with the fact that the world knows me as exactly the opposite.

Thank you for putting to words something I’ve been trying to articulate for myself. I thought I was ok. Hell, a little over a month ago I posted an AskMe that was like “I think I’m nonbinary but I don’t want to change anything, does it matter?” In the intervening time, I have realized that it does matter, a lot. That what I thought of as “fine” was actually me just being completely alienated from my body and afraid to want things. Now that I know I have a body, it’s so painful in some ways (I literally cried for hours the other day because of this) but I actually feel excited and hopeful about something for the first time in a very long time.
posted by the sockening at 2:40 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


...I have realized that it does matter, a lot. That what I thought of as “fine” was actually me just being completely alienated from my body and afraid to want things.

One of the painful shocks of coming to terms with this was recognising that I actually had no idea what it would be like for me to be OK. I had what was normal for me, and I thought this baseline counted as "fine". It didn't. It was just what I was living with.

Over time I started to recognise more and more behaviours I had that were all about avoiding confronting what was wrong. And bit by bit memories started surfacing, memories which very very clearly of thoughts and reactions that were unmistakably because I was trans. And the pattern became clear. I'd spent a lifetime having these experiences and actually knowing and then deliberately forgetting them because I simply couldn't deal.

It took decades of processing everything else before i could even start with this.

...but I actually feel excited and hopeful about something for the first time in a very long time.

I remember this feel!

It sounds as if you are ready. Run with it! You have only yourself to find.
posted by allium cepa at 3:56 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


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