Historically, I have never really been a creature that thrives on chaos. I suppose I would have always described myself as measured, practical… maybe even meticulous. Planning in advance, anticipating likely difficulties or challenges, and preparing appropriately. I’ve never been obsessive about it, it’s just part of my natural approach to life. And, I found some comfort in the establishment (and maintenance) of a routine. The ritualistic practices we develop (some of which might make us more efficient, and some which might make us less) that provide some structure and reliable context to our day-to-day lives.
I still plan ahead. When I am able to. But I’ve had to learn how to be more comfortable when I’m not able to.
You see, if I’m dealing with something that’s potentially stressful or anxiety-inducing, I like to figure out what I realistically can do, and what I can’t. I try not to fixate on the cant’s. And if there’s something that I can do, then doing it usually gives me some peace.
Here’s an example: While I was still in Columbus, I knew that I’d be heading to DC, and then to Seattle. I didn’t have any of the details about my travel to Seattle, or my accommodation once I got there. And there was nothing I could do to get the information – I just had to wait until it became available. Ok, nothing I can do about that. It’s not ideal but… well, I can’t change it. Better to just breathe and let it go.
What I could do in the interim was start to find some organisations and individuals to link up with once I got there, and start sussing out the queer community.
It didn’t make me feel a whole load better, but it was something. I’d figured out a step I could take (however small it may have been) that would allow me to feel a little less overwhelmed and a little more empowered.
Dealing with the uncertainty is a challenge. It’s something that stretches me, because so much of what I used to do centered around avoiding that uncertainty, or mitigating it before it became an issue at all, But in the past more-than-a-year, uncertainty has become one of the only certainties in my life. Leaving my job, pursuing activism, writing a book, getting a contract for that book, doing a bunch of freelance work, all kinds of travel and conferences and meetings, changes to my body… none of it has been predictable. Or plannable-for.
And these past weeks have been even more unpredictable. Heading off to the US for 3+ months? Not knowing where I’d be staying? Living in a dorm for six weeks, and sharing bathrooms (which is probably scary for anyone, but even worse if you’re trans!)… you can imagine that my comfort zone and I are well and truly separated by now.
I traveled to Seattle from DC on about 2 hours sleep. Leaving the hotel at 4am, dragging my heavy suitcases (a challenge, because I’ve grown kinda physically weak on HRT), stumbling around the airport trying to find the right gates and counters and everything…. and then an uncomfortable 6 hours in the air. On landing, I needed to grab the too-heavy suitcases again, and then puzzle my way to the lift-share pickup location, hidden away somewhere in the massive SeaTac airport parking lot. And then find my way to the apartment complex, check in, and drag the baggage up to the top floor. I was exhausted and drained.
I’d been worried about how I’d feel, being back in this city. I suppose maybe the exhaustion was a good distraction.
I collapsed for a few hours, my suitcases only half unpacked.
I landed on a Friday. The same weekend, a conference called Gender Odyssey was taking place downtown, at the Convention Center. Sometimes I joke that we (trans people) have “International Secret Meetings” – well, this didn’t feel far off from that. It wasn’t secret, of course. But it was filled with beautiful queer people, young and old. Friends and families, partners, siblings and allies. Activists, professionals, lay people, and everything in between.
It was kinda surreal, really. I’m used to feeling alone. Isolated. Even in the small safe spaces I seek out, it’s hard not to be acutely aware of that minority status. But here, I was among my people, in their droves.
Having said that… well, it’s all pretty complicated. Because there’s that really strong tendency to compare oneself to everyone else, especially to other trans folk. And it’s a bad temptation, one I work hard to overcome. But being aware of it means I can identify the unhealthy ideas underneath it and put some conscious effort into stopping that thought process.
I wish I’d been able to attend more of the conference. It began while I was still in DC, and they had pre-conferences for family, and for professionals & service providers, that I would have loved to attend. As it is, I attended a couple of wonderful workshops and discussions, and I met some great people.
One of those discussions I attended was on the subject of femininity, and the way we think about “passing”. I’ve mentioned before that “passing” is something I see as kind of a nasty word and an ugly concept. I don’t like it, because it implies we’re pretending to be something we’re not. I don’t like it, because it implies that we’re actively doing something when we pass, even if we’re just going about our days and nothing more.
Someone once said at a poetry evening I attended, every time she passes, a piece of her dies – passes away – because passing invalidates us and undermines who we are.
I prefer to talk about what people “read us as”. Because that puts the responsibility on them – as it should be; after all, they are the ones making the judgments and assumptions. “Being read as” isn’t something that I do, it is something that is done to me. It’s something that I have no agency in and I have not consented to. I’m a passive participant in all of it.
“Being read as” gives acknowledgment to the understanding that society enforces arbitrary standards on people, and that it treats them differently depending on how they measure up to those fabricated standards.
I shared these ideas with the room. A lot of people remarked that they’d never thought of it that way, and that it shifted their perspectives. That this had been a kind of blind spot that they’d had.
I was grateful, of course, to contribute, and to share, and to network.
And to be reminded that we all have blind spots.
Myself very much included.
Perspective is a funny thing. It’s fleeting. Elusive, even. But it’s not just that it’s difficult to hold on to it. It’s that it’s difficult to realise when you’ve lost it, too.
I have a tendency to lose perspective. I anticipate difficulties to be greater than they are, I fixate disproportionately on my failures and flaws, I sell myself short. I undermine my victories and achievements, and I misrepresent my self worth.
Some of it is misogyny, because deep down I was conditioned to believe that, on some level, women can never be good enough. Some of it is transphobia, because deep down I was conditioned to believe that trans people can never be good enough. Some of it is the intersection of both, because… well, you get the point, I’m sure.
Some of it is the aftermath of emotional abuse and abandonment that occurred throughout my life.
Some of it is the fear that I will push too far into arrogance, or become lazy, or stop being a good person if I acknowledge my positive traits, and abilities, and my accomplishments.
So what is the answer?
Objectivity, however hard it is to come by. Fairness. Balance.
Don’t we all talk about, or at least think about, this idea of seeking balance?
Balance. The word itself is unbalanced, if you look at it.
It took me a long time to understand this, but balance is dynamic. It’s not something that you seek out, and that you find, and that then you have. Balance is an equilibrium that has to be maintained, actively and continuously. Sometimes it is more resilient than others. Sometimes we can feel when it is going to give way. Sometimes it just slips out, unexpectedly, from under us.
And it has many ingredients. I can’t speak for anyone else’s balance, but mine involves work, play, social interactions, body image, exercise, dysphoria, self-esteem, altruism, and a bunch of other things. All complicated entities in and of themselves.
I don’t know if it was easier to maintain balance back before life was as unpredictable and chaotic as it is now. In fact, I don’t think that I had balance. Because, back then, I was on a downward spiral. But it was a predictable spiral. Smooth, steady, gradual. There’s an illusion of safety in that. There is an illusion of balance in that.
Now, I am juggling many things, and I am doing so within a context of ubiquitous inconsistency.
So much has changed between then and now. I lose track of it myself. I need to sit down, and reflect, and remind myself. If I plot it all out, or go through the list of what I’ve done in this past year… well, it amazes and surprises me.
There are challenges still, no doubt. And sometimes they seem really big. Maybe insurmountable, even. But it’s not as though there weren’t challenges before. I just wasn’t as cognisant of them. I didn’thave the same kind of awareness, and perspective as I do now.
Because, even being able to acknowledge that I don’t always have perspective, and that I do have blind spots, and that I need to work constantly and consistently in order to maintain this balance – that is perspective in and of itself. To realise that sometimes that balance will shift, and that’s just how life is, and that if it does, I need to recenter myself, and breathe, and find the resources to carry on – that is perspective.
And I think there is some truth in that for all of us.
Because it’s #TransformationTuesday…
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My book, Always Anastacia, is available at booksellers across South Africa. If you don’t see it on shelves, ask your local bookstore. Also available worldwide through Amazon. And catch up on all the latest #AlwaysAnastacia news, including interviews, media appearances and extracts here.