Queer and self-loathing in Columbus

So, I’m in Columbus, Ohio. On something called the Mandela Washington Fellowship. There’s a good chance you knew this already, if you keep up with all my antics.

Unsplash / Pixabay

I started this trip off on a good note – with an amazingly awesome Pride parade that made me feel quite at home.

Well, as much as it could, being that home is thousands of miles away.

Being here is an amazing, incredible, wonderful opportunity. And one for which I am immensely grateful. But, at the same time, this whole trip challenges me in a lot of ways.

I have a lot of still-painful associations with the US – there’s a lot here that reminds me of things that I’d sooner not have to remember. But there’s more to it than just that. I’m with a great group of people – a bunch of young, vibrant, smart and dynamic individuals, each of whom is already a leader in their field. But, in honesty, despite all the respect and admiration I have for them, I don’t always feel like I fit in.

Part of that is impostor syndrome, sure. Because for all that I’ve achieved, I still have the voice of self-doubt in my head telling me that I don’t belong. And part of it is just that I’m queer. And yeah, the queerness also feeds the self-doubt sometimes. Because like most folks who are different, I’m conditioned to think that my queerness makes me lesser.

So, I’ll come clean, in case you forgot this about me – sometimes, I get really scared and insecure. For all the being out and loud and proud, for all the selfies, for all the positivity that I try to maintain… usually, there’s some self-doubt lurking just beneath it all, waiting for an excuse to show itself.

My identity informs a lot of that self-doubt. But so does my personal history and upbringing. Whatever the cause(s) though, it’s something I continue to struggle with, and probably will for a long time.

Columbus has been a unique experience for me, because it’s simultaneously been both liberating and terrifying. On the one hand, I’ve been able to do things I never thought I could do. For example, I go to the queer yoga class here. Queer yoga. Back home, we don’t have anything like that.

And you know what? Going to queer yoga made me realise that I can even go to not-queer yoga. I used to work out at home in South Africa – I didn’t even try to join the gym, because of the delays in getting my ID sorted out. Going to group classes? Forget about it. In fact, I never used to leave home without makeup. Here, I’ve rolled out of bed on a Saturday morning, put on some shorts, and gone for a group run, without a second thought.

It’s incredible. And I’ve loved to be able to do that. To get out and do things that I’d have been too scared of before, and for it all to be okay… well, it’s wonderful. And I’m proud of myself for taking those leaps. And it’s been affirming too – I don’t get a second glance (except when someone is checking me out because they think I’m hot), and I don’t get misgendered. And that’s been huge for me. That I’m still read the way I want to be, even when my makeup and hair aren’t done, and I’m not all prettied up… these are things that I have spent much of my life dreaming of.

I hate the word – and the concept – of “passing”. I really do. It’s a damaging idea, and it’s a ciscentric idea, and it’s something that causes a lot of pain and a lot of distress for so many people. Having said that… well, I acknowledge that I do pass. And this is something I have to own up to: I’m read as cis, and my life is easier for it. I’m read as cis, and that makes me more comfortable in a lot of settings. I’m read as cis, and it changes the way people treat me.

20160704_184413(Side-note: I’m also almost-always read as straight, which also changes the way people treat me. And makes it harder for me to stop being single. So I’ve taken to buying a bunch of rainbow-flag accessories to try make things obvious.)

There’s a lot of conflict embedded in that for me. Because, I shouldn’t have to “pass”. I shouldn’t even want to “pass”. It shouldn’t make a difference. But I do, and it does. And part of me feels guilty, because here I am, with my neat little binary identity, and my “passing privilege”. It’s only been one year since I went “full time” (yeah, another phrase that I abhor), and I never get misgendered. Sure, I went through hell to get my ID amended – but that’s done now. And sure, I put in hours of hard work with my voice – but that’s done now. People are always surprised at how quickly things have gone for me. And they have, I acknowledge that. I paid my dues – as all trans people do. But some of us have to pay a helluva lot more, and for a helluva lot longer, than others.

I guess I’m one of the “lucky” ones. Because of that binary-ness. Because of the relative ease with which I transitioned. Because of the natural femininity (I mean, what even is femininity, and who defines it?) of my features. I often remark that I never really passed as a boy – and I suppose that there is some semblance of remediation to be had therein. Knowing that for the first three decades of my life, I never passed – is it really that unfair that now I do?

But I still have guilt.

Survivor guilt.

And it’s all fucked up, on more levels than I can even count.

It’s not my fault society is messed up. That it’s cisnormative, and binary-oriented, and broken. And it’s not my fault that I’m seen as fitting into that. That I’m comfortable in a space of “conventional” femininity, in terms of my identity and my expression. And it’s also not my fault that society punishes or abuses those who are more perceptibly different than I am.

I don’t support it, of course. And I speak out against it, of course. And I try to use my platform to amplify the voices of those who suffer because of all this.

But I shouldn’t feel guilty over it.

tookapic / Pixabay

Except that I do. I have privilege. And I have survivor guilt. And I have impostor syndrome. Two scoops of it, in fact.

One, directly because of the survivor guilt – because I feel like maybe I’m not trans enough.

And that is such an indictment on society cisciety. Because it means that suffering, and being persecuted, and having a generally shitty time of things are seen as the qualities that define and validate trans lives and trans experiences.

I feel like my life is too easy (and FFS, my life is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination) to be trans.

And, it makes even less sense in the context of the second scoop of impostor syndrome. The one that says that no matter how good I am at life, no matter how pretty or smart or compassionate or amazing I am, that I will never be good enough. That I will always be denied the things I want in life – love, companionship, a family, professional and personal success – simply because I am, and will always be, trans.

In some twisted, messed up kind of way… I suppose I feel like I am the uncanny valley.

And yes, I see all of the contradiction and hypocrisy inherent in this. And yes, I recognise that it’s a manifestation of my own internalised transphobia that I have not yet managed to fully overcome. I mean, at least I own that, I guess. I’ve encountered a lot of people who can’t admit to their own prejudices, so I count it as a victory that I can and do. And hopefully, that’s a step towards ultimately overcoming them.

I want to feel good enough. From both sides of the coin. I really, truly do. And all of the affirming, confidence-building stuff helps with that, which is part of why I’m so grateful to be here, having these experiences. It’s good for me, to be out of my comfort zone, and to push myself.

But owning up to the insecurities, and the loneliness, and the self-doubt is also a big deal. Acknowledging that some of these situations are difficult, that some of the thoughts and feelings I have are scary, and to recognise that they’re valid. To try not to feel guilty for feeling this way.

And that’s where you come in. Thousands of miles away from home, in this new place, among people I don’t know very well… this blog is therapy, and catharsis. Somewhere to talk about the feelings and the insecurities, when I don’t really have anywhere else to do so. Somewhere I can acknowledge what I’m feeling, and articulate it, and put it out there into the world.

It still surprises me, really. How I feel more comfortable and at-ease disclosing all of these intimate, personal details on a publicly-accessible blog than I sometimes do with those closest to me. How in this space, I can somehow manage to say “I’m not doing okay”, when in the rest of my life, it’s all about putting on a brave face.

Anyway, there you have it. The conflict, and the complexities. The confessions and the confusion. Sometimes, it’s all we have, I suppose.


IMG_20160512_235529My 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.

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