Even before USPATH I was saying to my friend Chelsea that I thought I needed some more space in my life away from trans stuff. I was thinking about joining a writing group. I was brainstorming hobbies I could get into besides yoga and writing. Yoga is a wonderful necessity in my life, but it’s not the kind of activity where you talk to new people a lot. Writing is solitary in the extreme. The burden of standup was being expected to talk to a lot of strangers every night- drunk strangers, often exceptionally stupid strangers. There’s some phenomenon that happens where right after a standup show people are at their most stupid. It has to do with the alcohol but it’s more pronounced than that. Laughter feels wonderful but it is it’s own kind of intoxicant, you aren’t operating at your highest cognitive level after laughing a lot.
Ideally I’d find some hobby where I’d meet people and we never had to talk about our lives. That has always been my strategy for managing stress- compartmentalizing it away. Back when I was doing comedy I usually didn’t reveal it at my jobs. First of all, the very first thing anyone says to that reveal is, “tell us some jokes!” Then the second thing is, “is that what everyone says?” Yeah motherfucker. Yes. Everyone says that and then I have to say yes, again and again.
But what I do now is so much harder to talk about than comedy ever was. I hated people’s ideas about standup, they were so simplistic, but standup is comforting to people, and what I do these days is mind-blowingly strange to people. It involves an unnerving personal disclosure, then they have to square what I’m saying with the feel good stories they see from National Geographic and Time, then increasingly what happens is they know a family who has a kid who is transitioning. Then they’ll quietly say they think kids shouldn’t transition, and then that’s the end of that conversation. At that point I am usually self-conscious to a kind of terrible degree. I don’t think I’ll really ever shake the suspicion that people see me as a third kind of person, not a normal person, but something a little other-worldly. That’s scary to me because I want so badly to be of this world- to be normal, to have the markers of a normal life. And I think when I went to the Philly Trans Health Conference I shut the door on that kind of life and I just can’t get that door to open back up now.
In some ways staying present with my life is easy because almost everyday something notably weird happens. Some reporter or producer contacts me, some in-group drama happens, someone from the gender-affirming side of things says something unhinged and scary about how easy surgery needs to be for kids to access. Some kind of pressure and momentum is building about the standards of clinical care for kids with gender dysphoria, and that is both wonderful and scary. Nothing will get figured out without that pressure and without a national spotlight on the realities of what medical interventions are at play. And at the same time, “pressure” doesn’t really capture the responsibility I feel about this stuff. Parents write me with horror stories of kids with terrible abuse histories being seen by therapists for 2 or 3 sessions and beginning the long march of disciplining their bodies into submission. The kids are too real to me. How can a kid not be real when you hear about them from their parents? How can they become a number when you’ve heard from the people who loved them the most?
But then here’s the confusing part: sometimes when I’m talking to a trans-identified young person, and they are saying all the things about their history and their identity that I used to say, my emotional connection actually sort of plummets. I’ll get this vibe, because of an accusation they make of me judging them, or an accusation of me trying to therapize them, that the kid thinks I have some massive stake in their choices. I really don’t feel that way when I’m talking to someone who is trans-identified. Certainly not with strangers on the internet. I knew someone in real life last year who started testosterone and from what I knew about what they had gone through I had some strong suspicions it was not the right move for them. Because I knew them in real life, that was a little hard. But I am pretty calloused when it comes to the choices of people around me. Watching that person start testosterone was way easier than watching another friend of mine stay with this guy who’s just such a total piece of shit.
(How come when friends stay with guys who are piece of shit, they’re not even exciting pieces of shit? You just want to shake her and say, “He’s boring! He’s into Bukowski! I’ve met a thousand guys with exactly his haircut and exactly his angst!” What is up with the lack of uniqueness to shithead guys? I guess if you’re getting your ego massaged by creating this void in people who love you you’re sidestepping thinking hard about life, like a cokehead.)
(Sidenote: why are people who use coke so basic? What is the mechanism by which cocaine makes people boring? Sometimes I meet people, and I get this vibe like, this person can feign deepness but can’t actually get there, and then inevitably their idea of partying is coke. So weird. Are they deep but the coke use has buried it more? Have they been in too many social situations where they felt like they had to perform and now they can’t stop performing? Or does coke just burn your brain out?)
Strangers on the internet sending me messages defending their choices just makes me feel like, you’ve got it so twisted hon, I am for sure not your mom.You didn’t come out of me and your choices feel pretty distant from my life. If you have a whole story about how it’s a great thing in your life, maybe that story is true. You’re the one who is going to find out if that story is true. If that story turns out to be true for you, my life will stay exactly the same. If that story turns out not to be true for you, then we’ll probably be in some kind of internet forum with each other at some point, which is also fine.
I’m not going to get space from this stuff. It’s not the right year to get space from it. Maybe 2018 or 2019. But this year is clearly going to be a year where something dramatic and surreal is happening every other day. And I’m just going to have to get more un-phased by all of it. More rolling with the nuttiness, more guess this is my normal now.
I’ll just need to notice and be grateful for the boring. For instance, I’m doing a two week cleanse thing at my yoga studio where I have to drink a half gallon of water a day. That means I’m going to pee every 20 minutes for the next two weeks. Fucking crazy. But this yoga teacher says being hydrated is going to feel transformative, so ok. Maybe all this negativity is just because my body is a husk, human jerky, a living mummy. My organs have actually been shrunken and dusty this whole time from trying to function bathed in coffee. Maybe I don’t even have any sense of the authentic me because I’ve only known the thirsty me. That would be wild. What if when I’m 90 and my grandkids ask me about the turning points in my life the most important story I have to tell them is about when I was 34 and starting drinking water? Aha, I hope that’s how shit plays out.