Tuesday, October 28, 2008

a whimper in the dark

My little girl took a glow stick to bed, tonight. It's not the first time -- she thinks they're just the most fun thing in the world, sometimes, and she's recently discovered Star Wars, and can't get enough of telling me how they look like light sabers. However, it will be the last time for at least a year or so. She got a little bit overzealous with the twisting and cracking to evenly free the catalyst from its little rigid compartments, and cracked the tube. I woke to a confused sort of whimpering (my wife being doped-up on codeine cough syrup and solidly out for the night) (okay, let's face it, I'd be the one doing the wake-up-and-check-on-the-kids routine even were she sober and awake, that's just who we are).

It was an interesting sight -- thank goodness it had been a green stick; had it been blue I'd probably have been distracted by weird memories of American Zombie (great film, except I can't even handle horror spoofs) and much too creeped-out to empathize. The poor dear had managed to spatter her blanket and bedsheets and pajamas with luminescent fluid, and had (in the dark, probably on the verge of falling asleep) rubbed her left eye, causing sudden, lasting stinging and burning. O Pathos! Sleepy, hurty, whimpery 3-year-old!

One exciting, howling- and struggling-filled trip to the bathtub (what, you don't want your painful head held upside-down beneath a faucet running full blast? really?) later, I was helping her out of her [faintly glowing] jammies and talking about how scary it must have been to suddenly start hurting and not know why. She was even extra-brave for me and blinked her eye open numerous times as I flushed it more gently from a cup. It's funny, the odd situations where we find these moments of sympathy, of connection and understanding. I was so proud of her: I knew just how upset she was to be pouring more things into her eye, and I knew she trusted me if I said it was necessary and that it would help her feel better.

Since this is, nominally, a "trans blog", there's an odd sense of incompleteness if I don't tie my convoluted sense of gender identity into this, draw some tangent of meaning, but I can't. There's nothing "T" about this. It's a facet of my life that I want to tie to the person I'm slowly describing, here, but only in that it's part of the foundational self from which that person springs.

Love is always hard to describe, isn't it?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Naming and Necessity (with apologies to Kripke)

I have a name: "Rachel".

I've pondered it for years, really, and never found another. It's odd how I came to know it. I remember being a junior in high school, and visiting a bunch of relatives in Los Angeles. An American melting-pot family, ours; Irish and Czech and Italian and various bits of Central Europe, and everyone goes and marries around the globe. The cousins we were visiting that night had four of the most beautiful children imaginable. Their youngest daughter, at the time, was five, perhaps six: a sprightly little almost-Levantine waif, all dark curls and flailing limbs as she ran and bounced about. Her name was Rachel. And it suited her.

I don't know why I thought that. I didn't understand a lot of things. I have no sisters; of my close friends with sisters, their ages were mostly very close to mine. So I was unprepared for the well in my heart that she uncapped, with her energetic gymnastics (around the dinner table, to her mother's consternation), her mercurial shyness, and her bright, thoughtful eyes. This was a little girl in the heyday of early girlhood. I saw myself in her. I don't know if who and what I saw were really there, or if something deep inside was projecting, desperately, earnestly, upon my unsuspecting young cousin, but the effect was and is the same. Here was childhood, a childhood I didn't recognize, yet knew, instinctively.

Bear in mind that I had no real concept of my own transness at the time. I had begun to look in those directions to explain my inauthentic personalities, my sense of hollowness, but the clear connections had yet to be made. So I had no framework in which to place this recognition, with which to explain it. So it was an amorphous sort of understanding—I knew that I recognized and understood something, but I couldn't articulate it. Not at all.

Such gnosis seems to live in me as experiential memory: a sheaf of visual percepts, uninterpreted, but instead edited to discard everything unimportant to the meaning contained, all then bound together with the faint memory of feelings, intangible impressions, acting as glue and binding to carry the memory down through the years, until I can pare it apart and begin to read it anew. I see her curious, shy face, mahogany curls setting off dark, watching eyes. I feel startled. I hear the name "Rachel". Did I know I was being named? Could she know, then, impossibly, that I somehow shared her name, and wonder "who is this strange person, this boy, this stranger, to take my name?"

I met her again, briefly, when my daughter was tiny, at a family wedding. She had grown into a stunning teen, and I suppose I should have noted myriad other details … but all I can recall is that her face, while it more strongly echoed her father's and mother's adult faces, having lost the baby fat I remembered, was the same: the shy curiosity, the reticence, the alert life behind her eyes. And the name still fit; it fit admirably.

And no other name fits me. I don't really know why not. I think I named myself so many years ago, when I first encountered the sort of child I might have been (and who, unsurprisingly, my daughter is swiftly growing to be), and perhaps it's simply that, once forged, the name will not be broken.

Certainly, my old name—avoided, set aside, but not denied—will never cease to be me. That might have happened, once. That individual might have half-died, given-up his presence so that I might "truly live", had I transitioned in my teens or early twenties, before I learned to love again, before I found my crafts, before I began to build a home. But there's something ineffable and powerful about giving life and welcoming life. HeIfathered my children. I may understand myself, now, to be their mother, but I have always been their father. I can no more erase that existence and presencemy existencethan I can cease to be their parent, cease to love and cherish them.

I have managed to present as a strong, feminine man for the entirety of my (pre-transition) adult life. I have accomplished things, as such, of which I am deeply proud: things with which I define myself, which have persisted in my identity as I have shed the male, para-masculine shells and windows and screens and grown me around my heart in their place. Accomplishments that continue to matter, even as my speech lightens, even as my curves soften and increase, even as I strive to recenter all the friendships I've knocked askew along the way. I cannot disavow that earnest, confused person, because his heart is my heart, stripped of the rest of me so as to fit in that awkward man-like form. His name is my name. Even when I do not want it.

Names, it seem, are more permanent than clothes, and not so easily outgrown. And perhaps when I saw that little girl whisk around the dining room table and peek-out from behind her brother's chair, I saw, suddenly, a ghost of the child I had half-been for so many years: unaccepted, fearful, confused, confusing, and eventually exiled. Perhaps I glimpsed this little girl and learned that her name was "Rachel". And so that is her name. My name.

Make it stop

Sleep won't come with any reliability. Work is draining, my three-year-old is feeling ignored and rebelliously independent, and in 2-3 weeks she will have a baby brother. 3-6 months after that, he'll be weaned, my wife will be able to take her meds again and think clearly, and I can start asking her to learn, learn about the details of being trans, learn about the parts of my life she's never looked too closely at, learn why being a feminine man will not stop the gradual spiral of self-destructive impulses, the attrition of self-neglect. I am terrified of discovering what happens, then, when she looks and learns, just as I am terrified of the prospect of waiting so long alone and unheard.

I want off, I want everything to stop ... but I don't really. I've come crashing through the hidden walls in my world, and from without it's clear they've insufficient value in themselves to merit rebuilding.

I'm full of resentment over her conflicted, angsty wafflings over breastfeeding. Bitterness, such deep, deep bitterness at the way she threw-up walls when I offered. But simultaneously, I cannot possibly fault her. It's jarring.

Hahn's setting of Paul Verlaine's D'Une Prison, keeps echoing in my head:

Qu'a tu fait, O toi, qui voila
pleurant sans cesse?

Dit! Qu'a tu fait, toi la,
de ta jeunesse?

... I suppose the question some part of my psyche is struggling to ask, with that, is "how did this happen?" It would be "how did it come to this?" if not for the rich, battered love we still share. Oh, desperation, you are cruel. Poor Verlaine, he broke and ran when his world shifted, and madness ate at him to the sad end of his days, the madness of being unhomed, robbed of his beginnings. Poor sweet, fiery, brilliant, mad, pious, queer Verlaine; and yet ... and yet I find only bitterness that a trans woman today can often hope for little better than the savage uprooting disjunction he suffered for his homosexuality a century ago.

I have so much anger that bubbles to the surface when fatigue thins and loosens my reserve, my blankets of hope and optimism. Why am I unable to remember this in therapy? What do I hope to gain by cooking it inside? I feel ill.