The Pain of Being Real

I read an essay on The Establishment by a non-binary person explaining why they quit testosterone. There’s so much in it about race, the ways race and gender build on each other, and then feeling condescended to and feeling unseen, so there were experiences in it I could relate to and experiences I couldn’t.

So much deep stuff in there. But there’s just one part I want to talk about, and it is maybe the least deep part. They write, “I’m a black, trans, anti-colonialist, pretty boy, flower-child, alien from outer space.”

I’m just going to talk about the “alien from outer space” part.

Gender non-conformity and alien stuff are popular themes to link. Bowie and his Space Oddity stuff. And oh gosh, don’t so many of us who find performing in the gender competitions impossible feel like we’re on the wrong planet?

That’s a lonely, hard way to feel over and over. So many kids feel that way, and then we grow up into adults who feel that way, like everyone else knows the secret handshakes and customs and somehow no one told us how to wear these human suits correctly.

I’m not an alien. I’m a white woman in her thirties, born on a numbered street (home birth, actually) in a mid-size midwestern city on a great lake. I got a specific set of genetics, so that my body specifically looks like the body of a long lineage of women in my family. My parents named me a name whose popularity spiked in the three year period I was born.

I feel strange and alien. To other people I am painfully ordinary- not rich, not desperately poor, I earn my money running people’s food from a restaurant kitchen to their tables, I’m pretty but I wouldn’t be pretty on a tv screen, I’m smart but other people generally want me to know I’m not as smart as I think I am. My student debt load sure makes me look dumb.

It’s hard to be an ordinary person. It’s painful. For some reason being ordinary can feel like your pain doesn’t matter. Every day I meet people who are more successful than me. Every day I meet people who are more special than me- in every way. More soulful, more strategic, more unique, more attractive.

This person who wrote this essay was born somewhere- at some specific hospital, to a specific mother, who earned her money in a specific way, who fed them specific food (mine wouldn’t let us have sugary cereals in the house, and for some thought she could get a 5 year old to eat fried liver).

The specifics of my life remain scary to me. Because the specifics are where real judgment can come. You say the number of the street you were born on and people can think to themselves, “Ugh, that trashy street.” You say the college you went to and people can think to themselves, “Ugh, not smart enough to go to a good school.” You say how your mother earned her money and people can say, “Just another secretary’s kid.”

Just another ordinary person. No reason to listen to an ordinary person telling us what life is like. No reason to think an ordinary person has an important thing to say.

Except if you don’t own your life, talk about the street you were born on, how your mother raised you, what people do that makes you feel strange, how the people on your street celebrate and what makes them crumple, no one else will. You have to be the one to declare your ordinary life worthy of note. You have to be the one to say, I was born here, at this longitude and latitude, when the stars were in these specific positions, and this is the body I live in and this is how this body is treated in this world.

I’ve been thinking about worship. I’ve been thinking about this body as a temporary loan. Built and ordered by my mother’s body, from the food she ate and the water she drank, metabolized by her blood. My mother was a hippie when she was having babies. She worked at a food coop. I’m built from a lot of yogurt.

I’ve been thinking about sacredness. I’ve been thinking about it because I’ve felt estranged from it. A friend of mine is getting famous and there’s nothing like someone who know leaving you behind in ordinary life to make you feel like so much nothing. That’s the great myth of our age- that some people are more interesting than others, that some people are more important than others.

My friend is special, but increasingly, as he gets farther away, I feel like it’s hard for me to judge whether I know that specialness. I know how my boss is special. I know how the guys who work in the kitchen at my work are special. I know how my mother and father are special. It’s hard to judge whether you had any special insight into someone who can make strangers love them. Maybe you only felt what the strangers feel?

We aren’t aliens. We were planted where we were planted, and I think it’s because God wanted us to see exactly the views She/He/They/However you want to refer to the Divine had planned to unfold for our eyes. The Divine wanted you to watch your mother trying so hard to keep it together when you were young, keeping the sugary cereals out of the house, rolling her eyes at her coworkers at the coop. The Divine wanted you to hear the neighbors you heard fighting in the street, hear the salsa music blaring at top volume out of cars, be terrified of the pit bull next door and not as terrified as you should have been of the long haired chihauhua across the street who liked to bite.

It is so hard to live a specific life. It is so hard to worship your neighborhood, your family, your workplace, your body. It is so scary, these things the magazines tell us are boring/nothing/dirt, to look closely, to breathe in deeply, to write down all the details.

You are an alien, in that you are a soul, and you didn’t choose any aspect of the circumstances of your birth. That distance, that strangeness, the feeling that you are out of place and looking for your real home- I can’t call it an illusion, it greets me every morning before I open my eyes. Choosing to cross it, to close the distance, to embrace this life that is not shiny or interesting enough to be shown on tv or what you would have made up if you were running the show, that’s a spiritual choice to make. It’s a choice I learned about, and then recently forgot about. The awe of this life is all around me but it’s not on the tv or in the magazines, so it’s hard to remember it is amazing.

I saw a cliche I loved immediately. It was, “trust the author of your blessings.” That can feel like stepping off the edge of a building.

I feel like an alien everyday. If aliens landed here, do you think they’d be struck dumb, overwhelmed by the strangeness/beauty/violence of this place? Do you think they’d cry? Do you think they’d laugh? What would they write down about being here?



13 thoughts on “The Pain of Being Real”

  1. Maria … have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ essay “the Weight of Glory?” I think you would find it interesting. His thinking about the ‘not our true home’ feeling, and the eternal value of every human you’ve ever met, has some commonalities with the things you are saying here. If you use the search term “weight of glory pdf” you can find a free version online. I always enjoy what you write. I feel the weight of the sacredness as well. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maria, I am still following you although I have not commented recently. It’s been a year since my daughter left home. We have not seen her much. She is completely on her own now and full speed ahead on testosterone we think. It’s hard to tell since we do not see her much. Her partner is still there unfortunately. The last six months has been so difficult on my youngest daughter who has been really struggling. God is blessing you with your words and thoughts and you are so special to Him for coming back to the true you, regardless of how difficult it can be. Feeling irrelevant isn’t fun, especially during that melancholy third week of your cycle. I finished a book, one of many that I read and never send to my oldest. It’s called Becoming Myself, Embracing God’s Dream of You by Staci Eldridge. It was great. You are living God’s dream of you right now! You are awesome! Also, the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska is a good read as there was a very human side to her that suffered. God Bless you and if you think of her, add my daughter to your prayers please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooohh, thank you for the book recommendations, those sound great. Could you send me an email? You are far from alone in being a parent caught in this situation of feeling that your child is making big mistakes, and I’d like to connect you to some other parents going through that.


  3. This is a wonderful essay. I am not religious, but I think your points about how difficult – but essential – it is to live this specific life, in this specific body, are brilliantly made. I only just discovered your blog (via Reddit) and I am looking forward to reading many more of your posts.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Maria,
    I enjoyed reading your posts. I am much like Marie above. My daughter is a year on testosterone, living in a house of young adults who are completely immersed in all of ‘this.” I call it “this” because anything I say that may deviate from proper lingo is attacked mercilessly by my daughter.
    I am happy you are accepting the body you were given. Actually sounds as if you are now trying to embrace it and love it as you find more and more peace inside.
    Please pray for my daughter as well.
    I never thought I would feel so estranged from her. Feel as though my heart is a shell. I feel powerless against this problem. My words carry no value to my precious girl. Others’ words do. She wants me but she dictates exactly what I can say ….so I say nothing…which just increases the pain and distance. She lives far away too.
    I hope she escapes somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Saint Magdalena,
      Would you want to connect? I am sure you are going through the same things we are. It’s so sad but you need to have hope. I do hope in the best for her. At least we could pray and share some resources. Just give Maria your email and ask to connect. God bless you and I will add your daughter to my prayers. Who knows, perhaps we are somewhat close geographically.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, sorry so long to respond! I am new to blogs and the paths to communicate on them. I would love to connect.


  5. Honestly this is one of the best things I’ve ever one could have described it better, that feeling of Being so far away from the Life you happen to be living and yet being so inevitably part of it. That’s how it starts..that weird mind-escaping. It could be for any reason, for me it was a way to cope with a violent and abusive household.I
    couldn’t bear the thought that my life would
    never be more than the hell I was living in. I convinced myself this wasn’t my real self and
    that I had to come From an other planet(
    where I was a male of course) I am Pretty
    sure a part of my brain shut off completely at a very early age as a result of the High level of abuse I was exposed to on
    a regular basis.I remember thinking to myself I would never let this happen to me, would never put myself in my mum’s position.This post reminded me of
    that lonely and angry child I used to be.I wonder how many adult women might have been triggered by the Same type of trauma.Thanks for writing this.God bless your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy, lots of good vibes to you. To make the connection between the conditions you grew up in and how your perceptions have been affected is huge and I know must have taken a lot of work. If you can do that you can do so much.

      Liked by 1 person

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