Caitlin on Confusion4 June, 2011
Confusion. A word grafted to TS individuality and the transition process tighter and more conspicuous than Zaphod Beeblebrox‘s third arm. A myriad of questions assail the flailing mind trying to grasp the anomalous figure whose mere presence demands not just some form of acknowledgement but also a shifting of a decades old perceptual set associated with them. Their core, fundamental nature causes the world’s perceptions to derail worse than the DC Metro Red line. How do I address him . . . her? Will our friendship change? Is she considered homosexual and will she hit on me? How do I reconcile this with my ethics/religion/morals? What is gender? What bathroom does she use? Is this legal? Can she board an airplane? How do I define MY gender? Am I normal? Fear, admiration, disgust, ambivalence, jealousy, are all common emotions that rush into the synaptic gap cleared by the confusion. These are all understandable questions and concerns. People are just learning about the transition. It seems sudden to them and they are going to have knee jerk reactions. The person transitioning needs to remember this and appropriately amend how they interact with spouses, family, friends, and co-workers. They have been thinking about and coming to terms with these issues most of their lives and to everyone else, who were unaware of the problem, this is a bizarre whim or mid-life crisis.
But those who are adjusting to the TS individual’s news should hold firmly in their mind the understanding that they are not the only confused ones. The process is at least as confusing for the TS individual. Yes, they have been aware of the issue longer, they have been aware that they are not as they ought be, their animus and their bodies are at odds and they have valiantly worked with, around, or through these feelings. But the actual transition? That’s as new, unsettling, and confusing for the TS as it is for their companions. As much as we say we are still the same person, that we aren’t changing who we are, just what we look like, that’s at best a half truth. A person cannot pump their bodies full of hormones and hormone blockers to produce physical changes and not expect the mental landscape to, also, undergo significant terraforming. Certain elements of who we are will not change. Those are the core components that determine aspects of our true character (who we are when the chips are down and we react on instinct): inherited traits and genetic memory and, to an extent, certain experience-shaped qualities.
The hormones and blockers shape the body into something new, something opposite yet complimentary to what came before and it does the same to our minds and personalities. Though it is true personality is, primarily, a composite of intangible experiences that create a partially tangible emotional response, the experiences and responses are physically recorded as grooves and lines tracing eccentric footpaths and goat trails through the cognizant sphere that is our gray matter that, when interacted with by new electrical impulses, respond in a familiar and comforting way. Then enter the hormones and the a body reshaping itself and those grooves getting stretched, pulled, and contorted, the standard pattern altered, and the responses exaggerated into distorted versions of the old emotions, versions diminished to the point where there is barely a flinch, or new memories crisscrossing and consuming in the old. Re-groove the record and change the songs; the beat is different can you dance to it? Do you still possess the coördination dancing requires? Do you even like music?
This is one of the reasons I so relate to The Doctor and his process of regeneration. Each time the doctor regenerates his physical form changes, but along with the changes in the physical there is an accompanying shift in personality. Oh, well, the basic morality and inner Doctor-ness doesn’t change, but likes, dislikes, sense of humour, sense of purpose, approachability, and priorities are all subject to the rules of chance and physiological psychology. There is an epic scene in The Doctor Who episode “The Eleventh Hour” in which The Doctor is trying a wide variety of foods in an attempt to figure out what he still likes that starts with an apple and ends with cod-fish sticks dipped in custard [clip]. At this stage in my journey, my regeneration, I relate to what the doctor is going through. A mild example: I loved the taste of Shake ‘n Bake chicken and Amanda decided to dust of the neglected shaking and baking skills for one last round before we separated. I took one bite and grimaced. Is it the same recipe? I asked. It was. Did you follow it the same? She did. Did you use more than usual? She did not. Why? Because it tastes awful. The spices were overpowering and failed to meld on palate in any form that was recognizable as the tasty Shake ‘n Bake of yesteryear. I no longer like Shake ‘n Bake; now, however, I enjoy kettle corn, which before I couldn’t stand.
And it’s not just food. Preferences in style, which before was more classic-casual have become far more bohemian or hipster. I am less reserved and more free-spirited. I am more casual and far less angry. I also have a diminishing attraction to women with a mild, and blossoming, attraction to men. How fitting is it that The Doctor is also my first true male crushee. (Does that make the person crushing the crusher? No, I think perhaps each party is a crushee and the crusher is the emotion itself.) The emotions ebb and flow with more regularity than the tide. Some days I know exactly who I am and others I am an unrecognizable image doing and thinking things that are foreign to me. I occasionally find myself thinking, Oh, so that’s the kind of person I am and I say that now or I’ll never say that again. It’s exploration. It’s frightening. It’s exhilarating. It’s brilliant. It’s a strange regeneration. Most of all, it’s terribly confusing.
How do I describe the feeling of not knowing who you are? Identity is something easily taken for granted; something people often put very little thought into. They act, they behave, they misbehave, they do everything they do for good or ill out of some intrinsic sense of self. People rarely sit down and question why they did what they just did. It doesn’t occur to them to explore why they chose to walk to the pharmacy instead of taking the bus; they don’t wonder why they are hungry for steak one night and chicken a different; and they don’t analyze why they prefer the color green over the color yellow. “I put on a green shirt and walked to the pharmacist to use the ATM so I could pay for my steak dinner,” is what the average person will tell you. They accept these opinions as mere statements of fact or, to bastardize Popeye, they are what they are and that’s all that they are. There’s no need to question it because it doesn’t feel off to them. I don’t have that same sense of “this is because it is” and I may never have had it. Well, I can’t say “never” because before induction into the cult of gender I didn’t feel anxiety acting on one thought pattern over another. Since that moment, however, I have spent my energy crafting a persona to present to others so I appear “squared away” and “normal.” I had to analyze everything for its value in keeping up the masculine disguise and I had to have reasons, real or fabricated, for anything I did that was not masculine. Now I find I have spent so much time creating and maintaining an image that I can no longer just say, I like steak better than chicken. Instead, I am questioning whether I would have prefered a salad but because I don’t want to become a stereotype I chose the most anti-stereotype meal on the menu. The constant, low-level anxiety this produces is a high-pitched whine of mental feedback created by ideas echoing off and spiraling around one another in an infinite loop as I try to determine if any given choice is part of a projected image, a true image, or an accidental image. Still, as neurotic and stressful as that sounds, it’s better than it was before I began treatment. At least I am now free to act first and ponder the meaning of the action in retrospect and at leisure. Before, the meaning and its short and long-term effects weighed against the danger of being “made” and considered a liar or, worse, a manipulator. Before, each action examined and the value of its self-expression determined greater than the inherent risk of discovery and the shame (not to mention danger) of having the mental disguise fall, exposing myself as a fraud and a freak.
Really, all I am trying to say is, I understand the confusion and anxiety my transition causes people because I am in the thick of it, too, but we push past it and accept things as they are, and Bob’s our uncle.
- The Problem of Self and Regeneration (a Caitlin On . . . post) (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)
- Caitlin on How to #StayAlive (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)
- Caitlin on Rites of Passage and Split Lips (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)
- Caitlin on Self Image: or wigging out (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)