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Catharsis

This was difficult to write.

Not that particular sentence, mind you. It’s not as though I’ve taken up typing with my toes or some similarly acrobatic avocation. No, I’m referring to this post in general. I can tell by how reluctant I am to shape my thoughts into concrete forms, to drag them from the either and dress them in the tattered raiment of script, that it’s precisely the sort of thing that must be written.

There’s generally a fairly solid inverse ratio between how eager I am to write something and how necessary it is that I do so. That’s why there’s so much fluff and so little uncharacteristic sincerity on this Snoop Bloggy Blog of mine.

This is a post that touches on transition and my family, two topics that are sources of joy and vexation alike in the Clairemosphere. When combined into one contextual matrix, they give rise to weather far more complex than the Sunshine Day/Rainy Days & Mondays paradigm that usually dominates my emotional landscape. It’s the things actually embedded in the tiny charcoal heart that are hardest to extract and bring up into the light.

Is that enough metaphors for everyone? Right. Moving on.

So here’s the thing:

My life is in transition in a lot of ways right now. I’m between doctors; I’m working as a freelance contractor while I write my novel and short stories and the odd poem or two; I live in pretty much constant dread of living in my car like a hobo or Jewel. I’ve been making changes to my life that I hope will result in a better one. In this vein, I have started making weekly visits to see the Fam on Wednesdays. I spend the day with them and share fun and food and try to remind myself that I did not (tabloid claims to the contrary) spring fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus, but instead grew up in a specific place, at a specific time, with people who loved me and I loved in turn.

It’s been a success, for the most part. Maintaining connections in a world hellbent on isolating us behind computer screens and iPhone earbuds isn’t always easy, even with our nearest and dearest (and more difficult when there is lingering resentment or conflict). On my most recent visit,  I had a conversation with two family members that forced me to reexamine the story I tell myself about how my family works, and how that story will unfold in the future.

It started out innocently enough – a variation on that oft-played theme in the Jackson Family Jukebox, “We Are Very Different People Whose Blood Ties Are Not Always Sufficient Basis for Continued Harmony”* – and developed in a direction I wasn’t expecting. The specific topic was my refusal to alter significantly my communication methodology with regard to my audience/context (or, more properly, my perceived refusal to do so, and the various effects this has on my interpersonal relationships). This, after some spirited debate, evolved into a discussion of our respective viewpoints and the deep need each of us had for the other parties  somehow, through hook or by crook, to grasp them.

As the conversation developed, I realized that I was holding onto some things I honestly believed had been purged from my psyche long ago. For the first time in a long time, I found myself openly weeping and allowing myself to operate from an emotional, rather than strictly intellectual, context of expression; in doing so, I was forced to confront several deep-seated conflicts with these members of my family and how I felt about them instead of manipulating them mentally as intellectual, conceptual constructs.

It was not exactly Fun Times of Fun™.

But it was cathartic. And, ultimately, necessary.

For years, I have struggled as a transwoman with the emotional fallout of my decision to be honest with my family about who I am. Dealing with the larger world, full of people with absolutely no incentive to love me because we share DNA (but also mercifully free of the intrafamilial baggage (expectations, assumptions, fears) that every family accumulates over the drift of years) was a piece of cake compared to being honest with the people I love the most. The initial stages of the conflict around my transition were fierce, fiery and so scathingly awful that when we finally settled into a halfhearted detente some years ago, I had assumed that it was the new paradigm for my relationship with my family. I had broken my silence and the chains that held me prisoner as someone I was not, but it felt like I had broken free from all semblance of order, of unconditional love, of reliability.

I was finally free to be myself, and all it cost me was most of my already minimal sanity.

I was so angry for years – YEARS! – at my parents; their refusal to accept the truth about who I am, their stonewalling and venom, their slow (too slow, by my lights) slide into acceptance (which eventually became a diplomatic relationship that was, nevertheless, something of a Pyrrhic victory for both sides). I blamed them for failing to love me enough to recognize what I needed. I blamed them for breaking me.

You know the problem with blame? It’s like mud. You can’t throw it around without getting quite a bit on yourself.

As I’ve said before, my primary method of interaction with the world is contextual, intellectual parameter sets. I evaluate a given situation, the parties involved and any contextual criteria, and then modify my behavior accordingly.

No, wait, that’s sociopathy. Crap.

Anyway, keeping things in the realm of the intellectual and the empirical serves to protect my charcoal heart (which, in turn, protects my real heart, soft and useless and nougaty) by allowing me to render even the most unpleasant stimuli as a construct able to be handled (and kept at a comfortable distance) by the admittedly formidable machinery of my intellect. Things I can toss to the monkeys who live in the basement of my brain don’t have to be dealt with in a real way; more importantly, they don’t have to be felt; merely analyzed and cataloged and occasionally tinkered with as an exercise in mental agility. The conflict I had with my parents over my transition stagnated into uneasy detente because I never allowed myself to process the feelings this conflict engendered in me, mostly because I was afraid that acknowledging the damage done would finish the job of killing me that the wounds themselves began.

The monkeys in the basement of my brain had other ideas, however, and last night all that vitriol and sorrow I’d been hoping had disappeared into some mental sinkhole came up from my brain like a bubblin’ crude.

Grief, that is.

Black and cold.

Tax-us tea.

AND THE NEXT THING YOU KNOW, OLD JED’S A MILLIONAIRE!

No, not really.

What DID happen was that I finally felt secure and solid enough in myself (something of a wonder of another kind) to be honest about how badly I’d been hurt by the schism in my family. And how very, very sorry I was that my happiness engendered pain in the people I love more than anything.  Because home may be where they have to take you in when you have nowhere else to go, and blood may be thicker than water, but the other side of all that is the fact that nobody can truly wound you like the ones you love. The mechanisms we employ to connect with others serve as conduits for love and respect, but breach our defenses in order to do so, and therefore make us vulnerable to harm.

The most complex sentient organism on the planet has the emotional equivalent of a cloaca. Sad but true.

The upshot of all this familial drama is that, for the first time in a long while, I feel as though it might be possible to close the gap that has grown between my parents and myself since I began transition, rather than merely bridge it with cobbled-together emotional compromises straight out of Rube Goldberg. I was so full of blame and righteous indignation (never a good color on anyone) that I was blind to how my own obstinate refusal to actually process what had happened in honest terms was keeping us all from moving forward.

That’s the thing about catharsis. It sneaks up on you and leaves you exhausted, yet ultimately better prepared for the adventures ahead. In this case, it’s helped me realize that some bonds can be suppressed, but never broken, and that there’s real hope that the life I’m building for myself can be one that has a place for everyone I love.

Not bad work for a Wednesday.

*Number one with a bullet (sometimes literally!) for 1,890 weeks and counting.

Published in"The Gay."BlogBloggingClaire De LunacyEssaysFamilyI am not such a nice personPriderelationshipsTransgender IssuesUncharacteristic Sincerity

6 Comments

  1. Wow. Felt almost cathartic just reading it! While not trans I’ve felt similar things, as has about everyone, I think. That’s why the longest-running and most arcane stories- soap operas- are all centered on family.
    I’ve bookmarked this essay and will refer to it as background for a couple characters of mine with the same class of issues. I try very hard to get things right in Blender, not merely for verisimmilitude, but because there’s the possibility some reader will use it as inspiration. Thank you so much for your honesty and clear articulation. You are demonstrating how transition can truly work.

  2. What strikes me most about this post?

    1. You’re such a girl.

    2. The rest of us girls wish we could separate emotion from intellect and choose which to follow at any given moment so that may be one area where you, as a transwoman, have one up on us. Whatever you call us.

    3. You’re kind of still doing it. You don’t write for idiots, and any casual reader has to have some decent vocabulary in order to keep up, but this post was the most taxing on my tiny brain yet. It’s obvious it was difficult for you not because the thoughts are not clear, but because they are dressed up in word armor even more than normal for you. Relax and be okay with having a feeling, dammit. I have nothing to teach you besides how to be a big old baby and throw her feelings on the table once in a while.

    4. I am so excited that you have been able to maintain a relationship with your family and try to move through all of this instead of around it. I really think I wouldn’t be able to do it. I can barely maintain a relationship with my family even without the added dynamics you guys have. You may be strongest woman I will ever have the privilege to know. Whether by nature or circumstance, I don’t care. You kick ass, my friend.

  3. Thank you, my awesome friend. I suppose I’ll never really be free of my need to prioritize verbal precision and style over clarity of communication. My only hope is that it is regarded as an endearing quirk.

    Maintaining a relationship with my family is one aspect of transition where I was (and continue to be) unwilling to compromise. My family is too important for me to lose, no matter what the circumstance. I’m a big believer in “Where there’s a will, there’s a dead guy. And also a way.”

    Oh, and PS – you kick ass so hard. Takes one to know one, as we used to say.

  4. Thank you, Larry! I really appreciate the fact that you took the time to read and comment and share your own stories and work. 😀

  5. Sra SraNo Gravatar

    As a family member of a trans-person, it is challenging also for those on the family side to come to terms with the transition. I am a fairly young person, and have grown up in a fairly open-minded time, and so I was pretty ready for the news when I got it. However, had it come a few years earlier, I was not yet at the point where I understood transness (if that’s the word). Luckily, by the time I got the news, I had already worked through my mental lack of understanding, and was prepared to accept my family member with open arms. That said, it was still very much a challenge to re-wire my brain in the ways I thought about my sibling. The pronoun change is hard, the name change is hard, and just thinking about someone in different gendered terms is hard. Even if you consciously accept the change, getting your unconscious/subconscious to respond as well is hard. So it is nice that you are looking at the transition from your family’s perspective now. There can be some mourning in the process, almost like someone you used to know is no longer there. And people are not perfect. Even those who are relatively accepting or welcoming of the change will fuck up from time to time.

  6. Thanks, Sra. It’s not so much about the fuck-ups as it is the underlying conflict of which they can (and I stress “can”) be a symptom. Lots of room to grow on both sides in my case, but I agree that what matters is that both sides are working to preserve the relationship and understand the other instead of just chucking in the towel. Thanks for always being supportive and awesome, my friend!

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