Posts Tagged ‘Dysphoria’
Sundays are by tradition a day to relax. Trade your heels for a ratty pair of sneakers, put your hair up in a ponytail, and bum around in a pair of sweats. On Saturday you ran your errands and on Monday you go back to work but now, for a lovely twenty-four hours, you are responsibility free. Some people chose to spend that time in worship, others with family, and still others at the local gym getting buff and hot or at least checking out those who are. Ultimately people are opting to hide from the every day by engaging themself in activity that leaves weekly stressors behind and engages them in the now. For me that now-centred activity is movies. Old or new, A-list or B-cheese, black and white, Technicolor, or digital doesn’t matter; just give me a plot and a character to root for. It’s my escape, my chance to leave my world behind and slip into someone else’s. So it came as quite a shock this last Sunday when the exciting suspense/horror film I was watching thrust me back into my world.
A friend and I went to see House at the End of the Street. This was a four star suspense piece; the writers set complications and clues up in advance, revealed back story at key moments, and provided several throw your popcorn everywhere scares. I cannot in any way fault the writing. On near equal level were the actors. Lawrence and Shue were excellent and Thieroit was very James Dean (they even allude to Dean in one scene). But the big suspense-filled twist is what knocked me head first down the basement stairs landing me with an abrupt crash back into my world.
Those of you who do not wish to have the end of the film revealed should stop reading now. If you don’t plan on seeing this flicker, don’t mind spoilers, or are just painfully curious, feel free to read on.
I’m not joking; I’m going to give away the end.
… Shh! Spoilers …
The film’s final twist hit me in the spot I use films to escape from: my dysphoria. (I’m serious this your last chance to stop before I give aways the big reveal.) When Josh was little, he was damaged in a way that plays on the Norman Bates motif. He witnessed his sister’s accidental death and, after druggie dad buries her in the woods, crack-addled mom, in a new twist on forced feminisation, declares Josh is Carrie Anne and forces him to live as her for ten years before he, inevitably, murders his parents. This reveal did not so much knock me out of the movie’s world as it did merge it with my own and raised two major issues for me.
The first is the essential nature of transsexualism, that is dysphoria, living your life as one person while knowing you are someone else. I imagine this plot twist would be particularly triggering for trans men. The distressing image of a little boy in a dress pleading “I’m not Carrie Anne” will resonate with the darker natures of their pasts and dysphoria. As a trans woman, I also found the scene dysphoria triggering, as I recalled moments from my past that, though reversed, were equally damaging.
The second is how feminisation of the masculine is depicted as an act of insanity. Now, it cannot be argued that what mom did was sane or rational, clearly she was broken by crack and grief, but the use of this forced feminisation as the back story for the demonisation of Josh was difficult for me to see. In part because Josh was victim to a process that runs an uncomfortable parallel to fantasies from my past. A lot of trans people don’t talk about the gender swap fantasies they had while growing up; they are uniquely personal and can often be a source of shame or a hinderance to the process of transition. In fact, I know almost nothing of the swap fantasies of trans men; this is not a belittling of trans male struggles but a recognition that these struggles are so personal there is a reluctance to discuss them, even with those who would be likely to understand. I know more about trans feminine swap fantasies because I had them and because brave authoresses (like Bornstein, Serrano, Boylan, and Connelly) have written about theirs. It seems the scenario painted by the writers of House at the End of the Street is typical of the male to female swap fantasy, that is, the feminisation is almost always forced. This is not because we don’t want to transition but because the social stigma of someone perceived as male acting female is so great that we cannot admit, even in our fantasies, that this is something we want. In the fantasy the feminisation is forced because it frees our minds of having to accept responsibility for what we are feeling and we can enjoy the result without the guilt of acknowledging we are rejecting the “gift” of masculinity. The film’s demonisation of feminisation gives its fatal thrust in Josh’s last scene where, locked in his padded room, he accepts he is Carrie Anne.
These are the thoughts that intruded on my quiet Sunday movie escape. But, that’s the thing about escaping, eventually you need to return. As much as we say we want to get away from our weekly stressors we cannot help dragging them into our idyllic free time. Worship can leave us feeling we haven’t been doing our best (“forgive me for what I have done and what I have left undone”), our families drive us crazy with their when are you getting married and can you do me a favour questions, seeing McBuff at the gym reminds us why we had to go to the gym to begin with, and a good movie always leads you back into the world you thought you had left behind.
Balding, drawn, and haggard
Beat by time and life:
Testosterone the dagger
That took away her life.
Getting There is the Battle
by: River Eller
::getting ready to go to work. hating the prep time::
Shaving entails feet, legs, hands, arms, chest, under arms, shoulders, face, and neck; it is a tremendous pain in the tucked region and generally takes an hour and a half. I did most of it the night before so it only took twenty minutes this morning. It saves time to do it in stages, but that means everyday there is a different area that needs shaving and, every now and then (read: last night) shooting stars, planets, blue moons, and horseshoes align and I have to do it all at once. The exceptions to the stagger-shave rule are my face and neck, that’s everyday. I am still figuring out how much pressure to apply to each area, so I cut myself, a lot. I cut myself twice last night, once on a toe and once behind the knee.
After a scalding shower (it needs to be scalding to burn away my dysphoria), I towel dry my hair and shave my face. I also brush my teeth. I do this all by the glow of the nightlight. It is enough light to see by while being dark enough I won’t glimpse body parts I cannot handle seeing.
::a quick blast with the blow comb. hating my forehead; cursing mentally—and a little under my breath—fiddling with my hair::
I stare into the mirror. A brush in one hand and volumising spray in the other. I always flip my bangs to one side then the other then straight down. I brush them back to add lift …
::seeing my forehead again; struggling against the tears::
… and then back down. It wants to part to the right and leave the thinning spots distressingly noticeable. I brush it toward the left side. Better.
::still noticeable and oh goddess! that forehead::
I let the sides and back of my not-straight-not-curly-and-still-to-short hair flop down as it pleases. At least it is chin length now, which means fewer days in a wig.
::smiling at my reflection then frowning because I forgot to do my make-up before my hair; chastising myself; making myself feel bad because I deserve it, they tell me I deserve it.::
My foundation is powder. I tried the liquid but it clumps to the stubble as the five o’clock shadow comes in. Powder is lighter and can be re-applied quickly without a caked on look. I can do this because I am blonde and my shadow is almost non-existent.
::thanking the goddess I am blonde::
I apply some blush and, because I was feeling dysphoric yesterday, I decide to femme it up with eye liner (brown), eye shadow (green), and mascara (Lushes Lashes). I use just a hint of eye liner in my eyebrows to make them a touch more visible. Then the whole thing is sprayed with De-Slick, a mattifying spray.
::redoing my hair; feeling bitchy because it doesn’t look as good as the first time; still hating my forehead::
My outfit is cute; they always are. They need to be because jeans and a t-shirt get me clocked. (child: Mommy, why is that boy wearing make-up?) Today it is a dark, denim-like-blue, cotton skirt from Old Navy and a green and white, floral peasant top from Macy’s. I adjust my tuck to prevent accidental bulging.
::I thought it was supposed to shrivel from lack of use; it’s been a year, why is it still so huge? sighs::
I rub baby-boy Mulder, my black cat, on the head. “Be a good boy,” I tell him. “Or girl,” I add, “which ever you feel you are.”
::heading out; locking the door behind me::
Traffic is light, which is good because I left ten minutes late and have to speed to make-up the time. I push the car to seventy and hope that the people doing eighty are the ones who get pulled over. The posted limit is forty-five, but everyone does sixty. Well, everyone except the dump trucks, they do thirty and scatter themselves across all three lanes creating a string of weaving, merging vehicles at inconsistent speeds. I hate speeding or doing anything I could get pulled over for; I don’t want to deal with bigoted police officers. (cop: Sir, your license says female. Please, step out of the car, sir.)
::parking; rushing into the building::
I’m still late. Teachers are supposed to be there at seven; it is five after. On the way into the building, the wind blows my hair to shit. There are students gathered near the door and they see my bald patch. Some snigger, others turn away in disgust, and one grabs his friend’s backpack and pretends to vomit into it. Mr. Veep, the vice principal (read: bigoted asshat) is standing in the doorway, watching.
I smile. “Good morning, Mr. Veep!”
He looks away and down and mumbles a sorta “Good morn-nnmph …”
The office is crowded. It’s always crowded in the morning. Teachers, subs, administration, support staff, students, and parents. Today a group of parents take up half the lobby space. The men are big, I mean, BIG boys. The lightest of the three must weigh in at 225 pounds and his wife isn’t far behind him. The other men aren’t starving, either. Of the other two women, one looks like she could skip meals, plural, everyday for a few weeks and not suffer. The other is so skeletal I’m convinced the big’uns have been eating her meals.
“pardon me” I squeak. I keep my head down and avoid eye contact.
::willing them not to notice::
I slip between them and head to the counter and the staff sign-in sheet. Just three quick strokes, ‘CMS’, and I’m out of the office and into the hallway and sixty-one moderate steps later its the relative safety of a parent free room. dontnoticemedontnoticemedontnoticeme—
“The fuck is that?” the biggest big’un asks. His voice is as large as his stomach and resoundingly deep.
“Oh! That’s MISTER Song,” the skeletal one says. “He teaches literature.”
Big’un grunts. “I always figured boy teachers were fags. Doin’ women’s work.”
“Thank Jay-zus it don’t teach our kids,” says Mrs. Big’un.
Ms. Möbius, our smashing, sweetheart secretary, overhears them—they’re so loud neighbouring schools could hear them—and she says in a firm voice, “Good morning, Ms. Song. My but don’t you look nice today.”
“Thank you, Ms. Möbius. Have a great day!” thankyouthankyouthankyou!
“You do the same, now, dear.”
She’s a blessing, that Ms. Möbius. She also does a damn fine job subbing on those rare occasions I need to call in
::out of the office … sixty-one steps … shut the door::
- Trans* Love (caitlinsong.wordpress.com)
::feeling dysphoric and unlovable. feeling out of place with gender. feeling alone.::
The mirror is an enemy. It reflects lies. I can’t look like that; it’s not what I see when I close my eyes. I see smooth, clear skin and long, wavy, ginger hair. I see a face unmarred by time and the ravages of testosterone poisoning. I see me and I am beautiful. But the mirror reflects someone else. It shows a middle aged man in a dress with limp, thinning hair. The mirror shows a scarred and weathered face, five o’clock shadow and cheeks sunken from anxiety and radical diets. The mirror, my reflection, is an abusive partner. It shows what I hate and makes me want to self harm.
::picking up the sterilised shard of glass set aside for this.::
It is easy to picture the cut, performed with surgical steadiness. First it will just seem to be a line. Slowly, blood will bead on the line as my pulse causes it to seep out the sliced skin. I will watch it. The beading will become a rivulet, the rivulet will run down my arm, the blood will drop in perfectly circular splashes onto the hospital white countertop.
It would be gorgeous.
::dialling your number.::
Three, four, five rings. Voicemail.
::wanting to leave a message but not sure what to say.::
The tone. A breath. A long pause.
The phone rings; it’s you.
Three, four, five. The call goes to voice mail.
Immediately it rings again.
It is you. Concern colours your voice. I try to explain how I feel, but the words are jumbled and twisted. They abuse each other, consume rationality and meaning.
Your voice is soft, kind. You are on your way.
::sinking to the floor. Making my six foot one inch frame small and impenetrable.::
You use your key and find me pressed against the counter. You kneel beside me and wrap your arms about me. They are stronger than they were six months ago and the hair is thicker, coarser. You run the back of your hand along my cheek, wiping away tears.
::gazing at you.::
Your face is thinner and more angular. Your pores are larger and patches of brown hair are visible on your cheeks and chin. The brown fuzz overwhelms me with a dizzying combination of lust and dysphoria. You smile and my heart melts.
You stand, all awkward charm and help me to my feet. I sway a little from vertigo and you catch me around my waist. With tenderness, being careful not to cut me or yourself, you open my hand and take the glass shard. You set it back in its case and close the lid. You would never throw it out and that is one of the reasons I love you.
You guide me to the bathroom and start the shower, adjusting it to that perfect temperature of steamy, tolerable, scalding. Heat burns the dysphoria off. As the mirror fogs, you unbutton your shirt and drape it across the laundry hamper. You slip out of your shoes and shed your slacks and boxers. You stand before me in nothing but your binder. You give me a moment to take your tan, handsome body in, before slipping my blouse and bra off. They are deposited in the hamper, along with my skirt and the pantyhose I cut the legs off to secure my tuck.
::sighing. helping you remove your binder.::
We step into into the shower. It scalds. I take the pain into my heart, storing it away as pleasure to be reflected on and relished. You caress my double A breasts; cupping them in your small but powerful hands. You kiss my nipples.
::sighing. massaging your clit-cock.::
You moan, you kiss my neck. You slide your hands down my side and between my legs.
::shivering in anticipation.::
You slip two fingers into the soft, pink flesh of my scrotal sack, fingering a make-shift vagina. You gently knead the soft tissue while kissing the spot where I will eventually have cleavage.
::shuddering. weeping. climaxing beneath your loving touch.::
I do not grow hard and do not come, I have not done so in several months—this is the only reason I can let you touch me,—but I do climax. It is an internal tingling that pulses out from my core, enveloping my whole being. It is blinding in its intensity and I crumple into your waiting arms.
We hold each other as the searing water cascades over us, burning away everything we are not.
The first thing you need to know about Kate Bornstein is she is a compassionate person. She weaves A Queer and Pleasant Danger (May 1, 2012, Beacon Press) from great lengths of compassion and love. This isn’t just a book, she hasn’t produced a litany of entertaining anecdotes for mass consumption. Her memoirs are a love letter written for her daughter, Jessica, whom she hasn’t seen in thirty years and her grandchildren whom she’s never met. Kate is a former Scientologist and her daughter and grandchildren were born into Scientology and are still in it. As a former Scientologist, the church declared her a suppressive person, an SP; for her to contact someone in the church would destroy that person’s life. As much as she wants to see her daughter again, know she is safe, and tell her she is loved, Kate cannot bring herself to shatter the only world her daughter has ever known. That is compassion; that is love. And that is the purpose behind her book. It is an open love letter to her family in case they ever wonder about and try to find her. You and I, Sweetie, are just lucky folk who get to eavesdrop.
And the reader should feel lucky, because there is a serious lack of authors like Katherine “Auntie Kate” Bornstein in the literary world. Her compassion, honesty, service, and humour are rare and beautiful traits in a society supersaturated with anemic pop culture. She was the first person without a gender I met. Initially we met on paper, in the lines of her wonderful primer, My Gender Workbook. Like Kate, I had been designated male at birth and was living that way, had lived that way for thirty-four years. I scoured amazon.com for the best possible hey-you’re-a-girl-trapped-in-a-man’s-body-but-don’t-give-up-hope-you-have-options book on the market; there are surprisingly few books in this niche. As I surfed the electronic pipeline, I kept coming back to Kate’s My Gender Workbook. It seemed too light, too comfortable with itself and it’s readership, too fun. The book’s subtitle convinced me to buy it: how to become a real man, a real woman, the real you, or something else entirely. This spoke of compassion. Kate genuinely wants to help her readers figure out who they are. Now, fourteen years later, Kate is bringing that same compassion to her memoirs.
The compassion isn’t just for her daughter, grandchildren, and readers. Everyone that Kate writes about in her memoirs she treats with the same tenderness. The world is Kate Bornstein’s lover and she is a gentle partner. Perhaps, it comes from her time as a bottom, the dominated, in the S&M community, though, I suspect, it is from her being a bottom throughout her life. This is something else you should know about Kate: she has always submitted to and served others. From early on she formed herself to the will of others, the world’s daddies, starting with her own daddy. By today’s standards Paul Bornstein would be considered an emotionally abusive man, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who could have served as inspiration for Norman Lear‘s Archie Bunker. Kate recognises that Paul was a cruel man. She is under no delusions about that, but she also sees the good, sometimes just potential good, that was in him. Throughout Queer and Pleasant there is never a sense of judging him, just telling the truth about who he was and what growing up as a son who was really a daughter was like in his household. She doesn’t hide his attitudes and flaws; she accepts that this was who he was without sugar-coating, just truth. She does the same when talking about L. Ron Hubbard and life in the Church of Scientology. She lays the truth about Hubbard before you. She doesn’t demonise him, he does that well enough on his own, what she does is treat “the Old Man” with the same honesty and acceptance she does her daddy. Even as she reflects on Hubbard’s death, there is compassion:
“No one’s come forward online to say they were there when the Old Man was lost, or that they held his hand and cried with him. If I’d been there, I would have.”
I don’t think I could have called up that type of compassion for a man who treated people the way Hubbard did, but Kate is a bottom, and from the bottom it is easier to see just how messed up we all are. And that’s truth.
This is the next thing you should know about Kate, she has an unwavering commitment to honesty. She tells Jessica and us at the start of Queer and Pleasant that, despite the label of suppressive person and the implication of being a spinner of lies, she will tell the truth. Even when she exaggerates or tells you how she wishes things could have happened she still relates what really happened. This is the aspect of Kate’s narrative that drew me in like a walleye on a fishing line. I spent thirty years lying to everyone by pretending to be a boy; now that I’m done playing at boy and living as girl, I don’t have time for lies. And neither does Kate. She went through a myriad of personalities and ways of living, each, she says, its own unique way of being gendered; she married and divorced three times; she did some cruel things to people who didn’t deserve it; she touched a number of people in very deep and intimate ways. She bares all this to her readers with unflinching honesty. But, like I said, this is a love letter and love is honest even when it means showing your own darkness.
Her memoirs, however, are not a Robert Lowell confessional; they do not dwell in the darkness. Like her other works, there is a wry sense of humour that infuses Queer and Pleasant. This is the last thing you need to know about Kate, she possess a levity that enables her to see the humour in the bizarre situations she’s come through. Her pop culture riffs and Doctor Who allusions make her memoirs a joy to read. How can a person who has served in the church of a mediocre science fiction writer who espoused the idea we are all thetans from the Galactic Empire who were shot out of an erupting volcano into a soul catcher and joined with cave dwellers not see the humour in life? How can a female placed in a male body by a cosmic prankster of a God not approach her story with a little self-deprecating humour and a lot of irony? For all the trauma and trials she went through Kate is still remarkably vivacious. If you need proof just consider the book’s subtitle: the true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.
Reading A Queer and Pleasant Danger was a pleasure for me. I learned more about a heroine as important to me as my Mommy and Grandma, but more important I learned lessons about compassion, love, truth, service, and humour. Thank you, Auntie Kate, for being the lovely lady you are and for sharing that with us. And I promise, I won’t take the personality test.