Adapting to the anarchy

I wonder if it’s just me, or if these Tuesdays seem to be getting closer together?

I suppose having traveled forward in time by 9 hours in returning from the West Coast doesn’t really help, either.

I haven’t yet been able to fully process the past three months. So much happened during that time, both personally and professionally. I went to a lot of different places, met a bunch of people, learned things about myself that I never knew, learned things about the world that I never knew, faced up to some painful memories, made a handful of new ones… and that’s really just the start.

While I can’t parse it all as yet, I’m more or less certain that when I look back on this time of my life in days or weeks or years to come, I will recognise it at being transformative. A time of redefinition and reevaluation. I don’t think “life changing” is an exaggeration; and although the exact ways in which that change will manifest might not be totally clear as yet, I do have some inklings or ideas.

By now, I know better than to make firm plans, of course. Less than a year and a half ago, I was still sitting in a nicely air-conditioned office in leafy Norwood, Johannesburg, wearing a shirt and tie, seeing patients day in and day out.

If you’d told me then that I’d be flying halfway around the world, meeting and working with some of the most accomplished queer rights activists in the world, I would have probably had a hard time believing it.

So much has changed. I wrote a book, developed a love for pineapple and coconut (foods I used to hate!), saw my body change in the most wonderful ways, learned how to run a half-marathon, made new friends, lost old ones, watched in disbelief as my confidence grew, the list goes on…

There have been difficult times too. And there continue to be. There are demons with which I’m still wrestling, and perhaps there always will be. For all the learning, and the growth, and the understanding that I’ve gained, there are still some things that I just can’t fully wrap my head around. Some aspects of this life that still don’t make sense, or just feel unfair. Some challenges that appear insurmountable.

Now, I wouldn’t say, necessarily, that I used to be meticulous in my planning. But I was, I suppose, fairly diligent. I used to have a reasonably clear blueprint of where I thought things were going, and the means by which they were going to get there. I’ve always been one to think a good few steps ahead, and to prepare for eventualities. And if, somehow, things went awry… well, I’d prioritise getting them back on track. Sometimes that also involved redefining what the “track” actually was, but that was all part of the process.

I employed the same philosophy when it came to my transition, in fact. I had a time frame planned out, for the way I anticipated it all to unfold. I had an idea of when I planned to leave my workplace and stop presenting as male, and I even had ideas as to how my career plans would tie in to all that. It was, by all accounts, a masterful scheme that took into account such factors as the anticipated progress I’d make with laser hair removal, the expected duration for which I’d be going for speech therapy, the timeframe for physical changes on hormones, the process of amending my name and gender marker – I had it all slotted into place.

Soon, I learned that transition doesn’t follow any timeline except for its own. A whole variety of factors (greatly worsening social dysphoria not the least amongst them) conspired to accelerate that timeline by several months. I wasn’t entirely caught off-guard, though – there was definitely part of me that had anticipated something like this might occur, and I’d already taken some steps to prepare myself. I started scouting for potential job opportunities a good few weeks before I left my old job. I’d hoped for the best – in the ideal case, prospective employers would’ve recognised how it might benefit them to have a trans-identified doctor on their staff, especially when they were in departments that were providing services to trans patients.

There are other places where you can read about how those experiences played out, so I won’t delve into it here; it should suffice to say that the medical establishment in South Africa was far more tolerant of me before I came out than after.

That realisation, when it became concrete for me, left me feeling not just bitter and upset, but actually terrified. The one thing I’d been trained to do, the only career I’d ever been qualified for had rejected me. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know what to do. And not just that, but it was my livelihood. I had savings that would see me through a few months, but that was hardly sustainable. Especially considering I had the added cost of transition to worry about, too.

Back when I was first entering university, I had decided on medicine because I was altruistic. Maybe even self-sacrificial. But one of the tangential advantages to it was the promise of job security. Or so I thought. So much for that.

In the weeks and months to come, while still searching for some stable kind of work, I started doing the activist thing. Making noise in the media, developing my workshops and seminars, trying to find a foothold in the field. It’s wonderful work, supremely rewarding and uplifting. I’m always grateful for the opportunity I have to change hearts and minds, and to make a difference in the world. But, for all that, it’s also quite unpredictable. You never know when the next engagement or opportunity will show up. The next project to work on, or the next article to be commissioned. It’s almost impossible to make any kind of actual plans amidst that sort of unpredictability.

In short, it’s chaos.

And everything else on top of that has just contributed to the chaos. The book, the fellowship I’ve just been on, the tentative ideas for where my future might take me – all of it characterised by uncertainty.

Of course, I’m grateful for all the opportunities and successes I’ve had; I don’t mean for even an instant to suggest that I am not. I’m just acknowledging that everything that has happened in my life over the course of the past year-and-a-bit, be it good, bad or indifferent, has been… a little bit very anarchic.

I’ve had to learn to live with the chaos. It has not been easy, mind you – but it’s been less difficult than I thought it would be. I get anxious and worked up and tense, but it doesn’t happen as often as I would’ve expected it to. My life isn’t exactly in equilibrium, but there is some sort of tenuous peace that I have made with the uncertainty.

When I reflect back on my entire history, maybe there are some clues to suggest that this coexistence with pandemonium would be more bearable than I’d have predicted. Much of my childhood was characterised by having to expect the unexpected; something I learned the hard way. I have never really had a sense of “home”; somewhere I could feel secure, safe, unthreatened. In a lot of ways, that holds true to this day.

Something else that holds true for me is a difficulty in forming any sort of close attachments. So many of the experiences I had in my relationships with others throughout my life left me with a fundamental acute awareness of the impermanence of it all. It’s hard for me, except in rare circumstances, to see the role I play in anyone’s life as anything other than transient. As for the exceptions? I’ve been burned by them, and that just reinforces the pattern.

I’m not a Buddhist, but certainly there is some part of me that seeks to avoid suffering by avoiding attachment.

rkit / Pixabay

Now, I’m the first to admit that I am a cold-hearted bitch, but I think this makes me sound even colder than I am. I don’t mean to say that I don’t get invested in people, or that I don’t try to do my utmost, or that I don’t want to contribute to their lives. I’m loyal and generous and I give wholeheartedly – and I think there are people who would attest to this – but somewhere underneath it all, I feel like I have an understanding that if it all just goes away, or suddenly stops being… well, that it’ll be okay.

There are many peoples’ lives through which I have passed. I’ve played my role and invariably drifted off. Or been drifted off from, perhaps. I don’t think any of them lost any sleep over it. It’s hard to describe, but it… just sort of happens, I suppose. Even when I’ve tried not to let it. And it’s happened often enough that by now, it’s become an unspoken expectation. Our paths might cross for a short while, and during that time, we will hopefully each be a good thing in the other’s life, until some day it just ceases to be. Not with a bang; not even with a whimper. Just… silently.

In fairness, it’s a symmetrical process. For as impermanent as my attachment might be to others, so is theirs to me.

And I don’t know all the hows or whys and I don’t claim to understand it completely… but, nonetheless, I suppose it’s a predisposition that proves rather useful when one’s entire life seems to be in a state of perpetual flux.

I wonder sometimes, what it might feel like to have that stability again. The assurance and the predictability. I feel as though I long for it, but in truth, I’m unconvinced as to whether or not I really do. Whether or not I’d even be able to tolerate it?

I don’t know. And perhaps it’s just totally irrelevant in any case. Because, in all honesty, for me there is no going back.

Before, I used to be a doctor. Maybe, some day, in a galaxy far, far away, I will be again – I don’t know.

But back then, when I used to be a doctor, I was nothing more – and that is something that is no longer true.

Today, I am a teller of stories, a teacher, a writer, an activist, a revolutionary-in-the-making. And a whole list of other things that I don’t even have words for.

And while the future might be uncertain, I am quite sure that those are all things I will never stop being.


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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