The holiday season is upon us, and I know just how difficult that can be for so many, especially those in the queer community. And I think that this year is perhaps especially difficult, given the nature of some of the events that have taken place in 2016. For many of us, end-of-year reflection and festivities are marred with reminders of who and what we’ve lost, what we desire so deeply but might never have, and often loneliness, ostracisation, or constant reminders of things painful to us.
I know some of that rings true for me. This tends to be a very lonely time of year for me, and it’s hard not to think about what I don’t have, and what I’m missing out on. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for what I’ve achieved; on the contrary, I am immensely grateful. And tremendously proud. But all those seemingly conflicting and contradictory experiences can coexist in the same space.
Anyway, one point I want to make above all else is that even if it is difficult (and I know it is), at the very least, you’re not alone. And I mean it sincerely, and I hope that when reading this, you’ll take it to heart. Family isn’t about blood or genetics; it’s about who gives a shit about us. And I give a shit – I promise. And I’m not the only one – I promise that too.
So, having said all that, I’ll share some reflections on a few of the things 2016 has taught me – about myself, about other people, about the world, and about human nature, among other things. It’s not a comprehensive review by any means, but neither does it need to be.
And so, on to (some of) the things I’ve learned in 2016:
As a queer rights activist, I won’t be out of a job anytime soon
Ok, so that’s a little misleading, because while there’s work to be done, it doesn’t mean that there are many opportunities for employment or remuneration, but you get the drift. For all the gains that have been made, there’s no room to rest – we’re still under threat. And it feels like for the foreseeable future, that isn’t going to change. Queerphobia, homophobia and transphobia are all alive and well, and the opponents of human rights don’t sleep – they’re always looking for an opportunity to strip us of hard won freedoms, rights and dignity. While it’s nice to know that the stuff I do matters, and that it will remain relevant… well, on the other hand, I’d be happy if I could reach a point in my life where I could say, “the work is done – prejudice and discrimination are things of the past”.
Now, I know some of this is hard to relate to, especially if it doesn’t affect your life directly. Over the past weeks and months I’ve heard numerous times how “LGBT rights are in a good place”, or how “it’s not so bad”, or that “there’s nothing to be afraid of”. Now, I’m not going to make judgments about the people who’ve said those, or similar, remarks. But I’d be willing to wager that none of them lost friends or family because of who they are. That none of them lost their jobs because of who they are. That none of them have been threatened or assaulted because of who they are.
So, I’d urge you – and I know it may be difficult, but please try – to listen to our voices, and respect our concerns, and recognise that our experiences are very different to yours. For many of us, our futures have begun to look progressively more uncertain, and that is a damn scary thing.
I don’t know what it is that I do, but I’m damn good at it
It’s not a secret that I used to think I was a doctor. That maybe I even was a doctor, in fact. It’s been a year-and-a-half since then, and in that space of time, I’ve reconceptualised what I do over and over again. I teach. I write. I speak. Even just existing in this world feels like part of my work sometimes. I maintain that all I do, really, is tell stories – and for the most part, this is accurate. But I’ve also had to recognise and acknowledge the power that those stories have. And, when you live in the constant shadow that is self-doubt and impostor syndrome… well, that’s no small task. Every so often, I’m reminded that I’m making a tangible difference in this world. That the stuff I do has a place in the bigger picture. That although there might be thousands of us doing this work across the globe, no-one is doing quite what I’m doing in quite the way that I’m doing it, and that my contribution is valuable too.
It still takes me by surprise, to be perfectly honest. I’ll admit that I don’t get nervous any more. Addressing a room full of strangers is NBD for me. But somehow it still shocks me a little bit when I connect with them. When they connect with me. When my little voice and my little story make some difference. Because I’m still conditioned to believe I’m not good enough, and that’s a lot of baggage to let go of.
So yeah, I keep having to remember. To actively remember and remind myself. To tell myself, “Stace, you’re good at what you do. You’re needed”. I have to keep pushing back against all those voices lurking inside my head that sow doubt and despair, that urge me to sell myself short, that try to prevent me from succeeding. Objectivity is a lofty goal, and after much deliberation, I think I’ve accepted that it’s probably an unattainable one. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop pursuing it.
I’m still growing, and changing. In many, complicated ways.
A year ago, I thought I knew myself. I did know myself, of course. But with all the radical, life-altering changes that had taken place, I figured – naively – that the earth was done moving. Sure, I expected a little tremor here or there. Those minor, constant changes and development that we all go through. Because in the absence of that, there is only stagnation. But I didn’t really think to expect anything dramatic or profound – I thought that was all behind me.
Well, turns out I was wrong. There were some big, pivotal moments where I learned things about myself. And then there were those gradual ones that snuck up on me, but which are still pretty significant (massive, even, one might say) in retrospect. I’m not the same person that I was a year ago. Nor am I the same person that I’ll be in a year’s time. I don’t know what’s still to come, of course, but if the changes are anything like this year’s, well… it’s sure to be exciting.
I use the term “grown into myself” with fair regularity, especially with regards to transition, but that’s because it’s an idea that really resonates with me quite strongly. In this past year, I have grown into myself. In terms of my personality and attitude and confidence, in terms of my presentation and expression, in terms of the way I understand myself and where I fit into the “bigger picture”.
I’m glad for most of it. I’m less fixated on what people will think about what I wear, for example – because I had the freedom to play around with it, and I found that it didn’t really make a difference to how I was read. I’m a lot less dependent – for the most part – on external validation now, and I’m thankful for that.
I’ve also gotten to know myself better, when it comes to the triggers and the baggage and the pain that I carry with me. Getting to this point wasn’t easy, to be sure. It’s one thing to understand that there is “something wrong with you”, or that parts of you are missing or broken, but it’s quite another to actually identify it all. Putting names on things is scary stuff.
But I did that this year. I owned up to self harm. I owned up to disordered eating. I owned up to a deep-seated and often-debilitating fear of abandonment that prevents me from letting people in. And I owned up to how that feeds into my dysphoria, and my predisposition towards poor self-esteem if I let my guard down and things go wrong.
They weren’t easy lessons to learn. And I’m pretty sure I’m not done learning them. But I know more now than I did a year ago. And knowledge is power, right?
I’m still undateable. And it’s only getting worse. But I’m okay with that. And in related news, I care about things I never expected to. Also, words mean different things than we think they mean.
Well that’s a mouthful, but I’ll try weave something coherent out of it all, regardless.
In 2016, I learned that “forever” actually means “until you’re far enough away to forget about”.
(To be fair, prior to 2016, I already knew that. But I’m given to believe in fairy tales and despite all the evidence to the contrary, I still wanted to believe that “forever” meant “forever”)
In 2016, I learned that “I’m okay with your trans body” actually means “you’re not cis enough. And not cis enough is not good enough”.
In 2016 I learned that “always” means “sometimes”, that “love” means “pain”, that “trust” means “foolishness”.
I quit the dating apps though, so that’s a step in the right direction. Just a little bit less toxicity in my life. It’s almost a year since I last wrote about how difficult dating while trans is, and the status quo hasn’t changed all that much, in actuality. I’m still inspiration porn, or a sex object, or a freak-show attraction that’s good for short-lived novelty and not much else. And this isn’t just when it comes to cis folk, but other trans people too.
But I’ve turned a corner in my understanding of it all. Because before, I wasted too much of my precious time and valuable energy on people who just weren’t worth it. And those days are behind me. Impostor syndrome is a thing in dating too – we’ll feel like we’re not good enough, like we need to pour in as much of ourselves as we can to deserve partnership, and that we have to put up with all manner of mistreatment, because we’re just not worth any better.
I can’t promise that I won’t fall into the trap again of believing in fairy tales and happy endings. But I can resolve to try to remember that I deserve better, and to put up with less shit.
The truth is that there’s a barrier-to-entry when it comes to getting involved with someone like me. And I get that. The trans thing? The rampant feminism? The opinions from the rest-of-society? The etc-etc-etc?
Instead of trying to make it easier, I’ve got to the point where I’ve accepted that there’s already so much to contend with, that I may as well just add to it and not give a shit.
So yeah, now you get to contend with that I’m a runner too, and that I’d rather wake up at 4.30am and run 10 miles than sleep in with you. That if you want to spend time with me, you’d better get used to wearing a lot of sunscreen, and have yourself fitted for shoes that correct your gait. That I’ll be planning for my next race, and probably forget our anniversary (ok, I’ve never forgotten an anniversary, but you get the point)
And now you get to contend with that I’m a vegan. Yeah, I know – I never expected that to happen to me either. But one day, I woke up and I thought “well human beings are so awful, and we do so much damage, and I just have to do this, because it feels wrong not to”. And I’m never going back. So when we go shopping, I’m going to scrutinise the ingredients of every item on the shelves. That I’m going to refuse to buy detergent that has dead animal in it to wipe down our kitchen counters with. That I’m going to say “I’m okay with you eating whatever you want”, but that I’ll be silently judging you if you continue to eat meat. Because it’s part of who I am now.
And, as I’ve already mentioned, you get to contend with my disordered eating and my body issues. You get to try to wrap your mind around the complex interactions and dialogues I have every time I interact with food, the consequences of me missing a workout, the delicate balance between intake and output that probably seems obsessive to you, but which is the only way that I know how to stay healthy.
It took me a long time to own this shit, and it ain’t going away. These are parts of me, and I’ve learned to acknowledge them, to give them gentle attention, to hold space for them, and to accept them. And if that makes me more difficult to interact with… well, it’s your problem, not mine.
Self love is a struggle. A complex, difficult, dynamic struggle. I haven’t mastered it, and maybe I never will, but I intend to keep trying.
The connections we make might be transient, but that doesn’t make them less valuable
This is something I wrestled with. The way we move into and out of each other’s lives, playing our roles, disappearing, returning for the odd cameo appearance… it’s difficult not to wonder what it all means, whether it has any value at all.
I’ve spoken already about some of my own baggage vis a vis abandonment, and how it sometimes makes it difficult for me to make connections. Or that if and when I do, I might view those connections in ways different to most. I used to harbour a lot of guilt over that. I thought I was a bad friend. I chastised myself for not caring enough. I felt really broken about it.
Sometimes I still do. But again, perspective is something that’s intimately involved here. Maybe the bonds that I form are ephemeral. Impermanent. Transitory. But that doesn’t inherently mean that they are worth any less.
I still believe that when paths cross, they do so for a reason. I believe there is value we add to each other’s lives. I believe that we have our roles to play. And I think I believe in not necessarily being mournful when those roles change.
2016 has taught me a great deal. Much of what I’ve learned were things I already knew; perhaps I’d forgotten or deliberately ignored some of them, but others were front of mind and have simply been reinforced. Most importantly though, I think, is the realisation that I am still learning – and not just learning, but learning a whole lot – and that this is not likely to change any time soon. But through all the turmoil and the chaos, through all the realisations, whether they are comforting or painful, there’s one constant.
Commonality. Kinship. The sharing of experience.
It’s the reason I write this blog, fortnight after fortnight. It’s the reason that I tell all the stories that I tell. It’s the reason that I don’t just face up to all these intimate truths in internal dialogue, but I make them available to the whole wide world.
To remind me, and to remind you, and to remind anyone who needs it – especially now – that we aren’t alone. It feels that way sometimes, I know all too well. In a lot of ways, the more fully I’ve grown into myself, the further apart I’ve felt from everyone around me. Every nuance and facet to my identity can feel like a barrier; after all, it’s taken me so long to understand it all (and even so, my understanding is still far from perfect), what hope could anyone else have?
But it’s those small moments. Those little flashes of resonance that make all the difference.
We’re complex creatures, remember? Each of us intricate and convoluted and idiosyncratic. But amidst all of those labyrinthine multiplicities that comprise us, there are threads of commonality. And I, for one, am going to try ever harder to embrace them.
Happy holigays y’all. I hope that amidst all the difficulty and hardship, you too have learned some worthwhile things this year.
And, thank you – for sharing in my story, and giving it meaning and value. I’m so grateful.
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.