So Transitioning Isn’t Going to Solve All My Problems After All

“Laying awake at night.” That’s what they call it. When the world is still and your mind races. The blank screen of your bedroom ceiling now flickers with the dim, shuttery pictures of your own exquisite horror film. Tomorrow’s problems and today’s regrets loom. Desperate plans and hopeless fantasies war, and goddamnit there is work tomorrow get to sleep or you’ll never make it to the end of the shift. Safe in bed and yet falling, falling…

I owe all of my money. By the time my next paycheck rolls around, I will have had to make a choice between being late on my student loan payments, or not eating. Today I had to take a chunk out of my food budget to buy a towel so I can take baths; I can’t afford showers because I can’t afford a shower curtain. I think to myself, why did I buy that stupid fucking hat? It was overpriced, and the damn thing ripped the second day I had it. But the hat is just an emblem of my problem: I am sick and fucking tired of living like a pauper, and sometimes I forget that I still am one. I want to buy a blender so I can make fruit smoothies for breakfast, a healthier and hopefully cheaper alternative to hitting up a fast  food joint on the way to work. I can’t afford a blender. I can’t afford food, literally cannot afford it, if I want to pay my bills on time. It’s because earlier this week I blew a hundred bucks on senseless luxuries like a pan to cook things in, and a spatula with which to cook. And that fucking hat.

Not being satisfied with shooting myself in one foot, I find myself taking careful aim at the other. I’ve got a graduate class I’m taking. There’s a lot of reading, but it’s manageable. Then I’ve also got two other classes I’m trying to clean up from last quarter, classes I catastrophically fucked up because of my endless endless self-sabotage. My shrink called it an adjustment disorder. My mom called it dawdling. They’re both right. And now I feel it happening again, because I spent 10 bucks today–remember that affording food is something I only aspire to–on a book that I’m going to want to read way more than about the European Union. I’ve got a paper outline due next week about the disconnect between accountability and obligation of the member-states of the EU, and I don’t even know what the governing structures of the EU are. All I have to say on the subject is that somebody, somewhere fucked up. This paper is for one of the best, but most demanding, professors in the department. On top of that, I’m taking a course for the other best-most-demanding professor in the department. I know these men won’t cut me slack, and that even if they did, I wouldn’t respect the degree I earned from it. It’s a struggle to get myself to focus on my work, even the parts of it I enjoy. I’ve got Impostor Syndrome so bad I can’t even bring myself to decently fail.

And so I stay awake to the thrumming realization, an epiphany exploding over and over again, that I’m still trying to kill myself, but now I’m just taking my time about it. It’s a good thing I don’t own a gun.

A Room of One’s Own

As of about 1 pm-ish on September 19th, I had signed the lease on my new apartment. This ends a period of homelessness that began with a full scale crouching-behind-the-bushes-sobbing nervous breakdown on December 18th of last year. From that day to this week, I stayed on couches or borrowed beds all up and down the west coast. Some times were better than others. When I managed to stay with family, things were usually pretty good, but there were a few solid months there where I would have considered living in the proverbial van down by the river to be a significant upgrade. I never slept on the streets, but at times it was a pretty near thing.

Even during the good times, I was always acutely aware of being homeless. Sleeping in one of my father’s spare bedrooms doesn’t sound like it counts as homelessness, and indeed it was a vast improvement over Thrillhouse, but even in the best of times the helplessness gnawed at me, as did the shame. I’ve nearly killed myself on three significant occasions this year. I was suicidal so often I developed a new taxonomy to describe the various flavors of suicidal ideation. I’ve had periods of strained relationship with nearly every member of my family. I’ve had the unique, um, joy, of realizing that I had become a parasite on the people I care most about. I’ve noticed myself becoming at once more empathetic and more callous, acutely feeling other people’s suffering and then deliberately turning away from it in a way I didn’t do before. My planning horizon for major life decisions was, at one point, habitually set to about 48 hours, because that’s as far as I could reasonably predict what I would be doing, or in what city I would be.

And this week it finally ended. I’ve been employed full time for a little over 2 months now, and I was finally able to put together all the elements– lease, location, roommate, money– needed to pay for my own roof. I spent the day on the verge of tears of relief.
Today, with the help of a friend, I finished moving my stuff into Bitch Castle. Now I’m strutting around this bitch like I own the place, because for all purposes that I’m interested in, I FUCKING DO.

Fall in Portland

Oh my sweet summer child, what do you know of rain? Rain is for the winter, the long grey, when the puddles fall a hundred feet deep and the clouds come flowing out of the north. Rain is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for months at a time, and hipsters move here, get discouraged, and leave, all in darkness.

Is that the rain you be liking, child?

Of Milestones and Motivations

The transition process is heavily front-loaded with milestones. The first, obviously, is figuring out you’re trans. Other early markers are the first time you think of yourself as a girl in an absent minded context (eg your internal monologue says sigh, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do), adopting a female persona online, and of course the big one, coming out. There are loads of others; I recall at one point getting annoyed with the number for firsts I was encountering in a given week, as it had become monotonous to realize over and over that it was the first time that X had happened.

But then it smooths out and milestones stop coming so fast. You’ve broken through most of them, now it’s just refining and developing your transition further. Today I had my frist milestone in a while. I got clocked for girl today by someone who didn’t know me. She was a worker at the Subway next to my work, and when I came in the door, she stuck her head into the back room and said “Jack, can you take care of her so that I can finish up with this paperwork?”

It took me a moment to realize she meant me, and for a moment I sat in quiet surprise. I’m wearing my boy clothes, even! I was passing, I was fucking passing. And it was easy, so easy. I haven’t even shaved today, I’ve got a tiny bit of stubble. But pull my hair back into a pony tail and to some people, I’m a chick.

At least until I open my mouth. She looked up right sharply when I started to talk. That introduced a quiet note of sadness into the occasion, but I still had a huge grin on my face.

This is a wonderful threshold to cross; I can’t quite tell you how good it feels, it’s a subtle quiet joy of purity and lightness, but it brings with it a complication. Suddenly, my voice seems like a much more pressing problem. I think I’ve found my motivation to practice.

Voice Lessons

I sing to myself. Never with my own voice, with someone else’s. With the earphones in and my lips moving, I can pretend I sound like I should. My voice is a boy’s, and I can’t bear to sing with it.

There are ways to fix this. With a little bit of effort and practice, trans women can sound like testosterone never poisoned their voice. There is a surgery that allegedly helps as well, but it is expensive and risky and doesn’t always work; it’s nowhere near worth the risk. And besides, voice training is cheap or free, so what’s the problem?

I think it’s that I’m scared. When I try to do a girl voice, I sound like an asthmatic walrus. What if I always sound fake?

More than that, I like my current voice. I like the way I laugh. I like the way I can resonate deep in my chest. I like how my normal voice is slightly high for a man, but if I want to sing low I can hit the fucking basement. I like the way I sound.

And I hate it. It’s far too masculine. I can’t sing with it. People on the phone will call me ‘sir’ for the rest of my life. I’ll never be able to pass with it.

I’m torn, and so I never quite get around to practicing. I never quite get around to exercising it. It’s always something I’ll start on tomorrow.

And until then, when I’m alone, I sing with another woman’s voice.

My Bitchcraft is Strong

So the other day I go into this Quiznos that I used to work at, and I lock eyes with the manager. I squint knowingly, with a little quirk of my mouth. She gets flustered and immediately takes her 15 minute break. I do this to her about once a month, because she fired me last summer, didn’t even tell me why. So now I like to come into her shop and stare her down for a moment before I go to order. Just so she knows that I know that she knows that I know that she knows.

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine who happens to be a reasonably successful author (name withheld because I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to use my friend’s fame to make myself look cooler) came to Portland to do a reading at a local bookshop. In the audience is Ryan (name not withheld because fuck that guy), a guy I used to game with who got suddenly weird and distanced himself from me after I told him I was trans. Ryan, of course, sits down right in front of me and blocks my view for the whole reading. I recalled that Ryan is a huge fan of [author], and sure enough after the reading is done and everyone lines up to get their copy sign, Ryan is there at the end of the line with a huge stack of books he can barely carry in both arms. I go to the cafe with the author’s wife, who is also a friend of mine and who I’ll call Beartrap, and we have a drink while we wait for the signing to be done. When we get back to the reading room, the line is almost done, except for Ryan. Beartrap mentions she’d quite like to go get drunk. I go over to [author] and relay the message, and I can’t quite resist being obvious about it enough to make sure that Ryan sees me speaking casually and familiarly with [author]. And then I look at him just long enough to make sure that he knows that I know that he knows that I know.

My bitchcraft is strong.

Live in Color

So it turns out being able to feel my emotions more keenly does not mean being able to understand them better. I’ve been on the edge of tears for the past hour, and I have no idea why. My softer skin, slowly regenerating hairline, and small little proto-boobs are the parts of hormone therapy that will help me, hopefully, someday be able to pass. As wonderful as those effects are, I have to say it’s the ongoing rewiring of my brain that is becoming the biggest focus for me. It’s funny how my brain can know I’m a woman even drenched in testosterone, but once I finally get a taste of estrogen, suddenly my mind doesn’t know what to do with itself.

The change happened with more subtlety than I had expected, but it is very clearly underway now. I had thought that with the rush of estrogen, things would sort of click and hey, now I have girl emotions, isn’t that neat. It doesn’t work that way. For the first few weeks, I felt almost no difference. It’s been a few months now, and the changes are starting to become evident. They probably were in effect for a while, but like realizing that you’re hungry, it sneaks up on you. Then suddenly, it’s there, and it’s been there for weeks.

Estrogen doesn’t make my emotions stronger, it gives them more density. Anger burns hotter. Laughter builds higher. Sadness tastes stronger, but isn’t really worse. Its a misnomer to say the highs are higher and the lows are lower. You physically can’t get to lower lows than what I experienced already this year or you’ll die, and the highs aren’t higher, they’re just more vivid. In comparison, my life before estrogen feels muted, hazed. I lived in pastels.

Here’s the thing: I had felt that my emotions were muted and grey before I ever took any estrogen. This was something I knew about even in my younger teenage years. I had the feeling that something was subtlety wrong, that I wasn’t feeling everything I was supposed to. I wondered at time if I was an emotional cripple, incapable of feeling real things. I wonder, did the part of me that expected to be a girl cause this? Was it a result of lacking the estrogen I was supposed to have? That would be an interesting question for a neurologist to puzzle out.

I’m happy to finally be righting myself, to finally be feeling the world. I feel alive.