The Tight Little Ball of Hate

I’ve always been an angry person. I mean really angry. It’s what people used to notice about me, maybe not the first thing, but it’s what they’d remember. I got in a lot of fights in grade school, and was most notable for having a short fuse. I wasn’t a very good fighter, but I was vicious. I once almost peeled this kid’s ears off. Eventually, I got my temper under control. Or rather, I subsumed it into a general background level of rage. It was with me so long I forgot it was there. In middle school, I drew pictures of mecha that I wish I had; I wanted them because there were lots of classmates I wanted to kill. When Colombine happened, I was thrilled. I thought it was the best thing ever, and for years afterwards, whenever I thought of a school shooting, I imagined what it would be like to be there. I was the kid with the gun.

In my darkest moments, I considered torturing animals.

As I grew older and more articulate, the blood fantasies mostly stopped and were replaced with indictments of the world around me, as scathing as I could make them. Once, in college, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I thought I held too much back, and that I should be more open with my thoughts. She was horrified.

My college program was a pioneering undergrad creative writing curriculum at UCSC. After I graduated, I found out that I had been one of the more popular people to get a critique from, because I was willing to look the other writer in the eye and tell them which parts of their baby sucked. Most of us didn’t want to hurt the other writers’ feelings, but it never even occurred to me to be concerned with such things. But before I got to that point, where I could call bullshit constructively, I had to learn how not to be cruel, and that took some doing. In fact, cruelty was my natural instinct. You made bad fiction: suffer!

It wasn’t all rageboy all the time. I think that’s why people noticed it. If I’d worn KoЯn shirts to class and stared out at them sullenly from under greasy bangs, they’d have forgotten me as soon as I left the room. I was, at first glance, this somewhat meek shy boy who probably wouldn’t talk to you much until the third or fourth time you met him, if at all. But once we got into a real conversation or class discussion, the napalm came out. I think it caught a lot of people by surprise. I remember calling Valarie Solanas a coward because she advocated genocide only by implication, and didn’t have the spine to come right out and say “fire up the ovens!” I remember saying this in such a way that several of my classmates gasped.

My worldview was defined by the negative. I want to be clear that I think that the negative has a place. If you’ve got any art training, you know about negative space, the part of the art that isn’t there, and is just as important, if not more important, than the part that is. Well I saw negative virtue; I always looked for what was lacking, and tried to imagine what could be, if only that deficiency could be solved. There is a place for this kind of thinking, but it dominated me, blotted everything out.

As my life in Portland limped towards its inevitable doom, I noticed that my rage was growing stronger. I began to become concerned about it. I could see which way the trendlines were running, and I was afraid it would consume me. I had no idea about what I could do to deal with it. When I saw this Onion article, it was like sticking a wet finger in an electrical socket.

Part of my fear of dealing with it was that I was afraid that if I got rid of my rage, I would be destroying the one thing I was really good at. If I didn’t have that fire, that drive to point at something and say “That! That right there sucks!” then what did I have? Would I still be any good at figuring out how to make writing better? And if I lost that ability, which I had no problem turning against my own work to improve it, then would I ever be more than a mediocre writer?

So I did the bold and decisive thing: I ignored the problem and hoped it would resolve itself.

In August of 2010 I decided to transition. The germ of the decision was planted when I happened to see a video of a trans woman on YouTube, talking about her voice. I was stunned. This woman did not look or sound like the tranny I was terrified of becoming, and at that moment a terrifying bead of hope bored into me and attached itself firmly to my spine. In the course of three exhilarating days I furiously tore through the basic research about transitioning and decided that it was something I had to do. There’s a kind of euphoria when you realize that you don’t have to stay trapped. I’m not sure I can explain it to someone who hasn’t been there.

It took me only a week to notice that the tight little ball of hate in my chest was unwinding. It frayed apart faster than I could have imagined, fell to pieces and evaporated. It took me by surprise, and I was not afraid. The hate had fueled my urge to go out and explain, in detail, exactly what is wrong with the world went away. Really, I think I’d been trying to figure out how to explain what was wrong with me. By committing myself to transition, I’d taken the biggest step towards righting myself, and finding some measure of inner peace.

That’s not the happy ending. I still haven’t gotten to that part, and might never arrive. For the rest of the year and into spring of 2011, I still hated myself intensely. But almost from the moment I decided to transition, I stopped hating the world. That is a gift I can never repay.

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2 thoughts on “The Tight Little Ball of Hate

  1. Again, I am struck by the similarity. I was bullied for five straight years in elementary school, dealing with a complicit administration who didn’t want to anger the bully’s dad because he was a cop. Everyone thought of me as someone with a short fuse because to them the shit leading up to the fight was funny.

    I also had an extremely low pain threshold. Even my dad though of me as a sissy at times. I don’t know when or how it happened, but at one point I realized that I didn’t want anyone to have to feel pain like that. And even when there was the fleeting wish for someone to suffer, the fantasies mostly went away.

    I finally got control of my anger in college though, when I was taking a Buddhism history class. During that class we studied a sect (I wish I could remember the name now, Google has failed me!) where their first task for initiates is to meditate upon a mural’s meaning until they understand it. The end result is that the new monk learns that the opposite of anger is patience. Anger is rooted in the desire to have one’s way immediately being thwarted. Giving up the need for immediate satisfaction is like depriving a fire of oxygen.

  2. Dakina said something similar on Twitter, and I’v got a cis lesbian friend who’s the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet who said she was pretty rageful too before she came out. I’m curious about seeing just how widespread this phenomenon is.

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