winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

Someone asked recently whether it's bad to seek "signs" of being trans from the past, and why or why not. This question is one which deserves to be more widely circulated. Within trans circles a fair number of people have an understanding of the situation and it's complexity, but it's something I think non-trans circles should also be aware of— especially given the recent publicity surrounding trans lives.

The problems are twofold:

A lot of people look for signs because they're seeking some sort of validation. The problem here is that you end up misinterpreting and overanalyzing your own life in search of that validation. It's not that the past cannot provide validation for your present, it's just missing the point. What we want (more often than not) is acceptance of who we are now and recognition for our current experience. There's more to current identities, pains, and experiences than the past that gave rise to them, so validation can come from sources other than the past. Moreover, it's all too easy for people to "validate" your past while simultaneously invalidating your present, so validation from the past is not stable. Altogether, none of this is trans-specific: it's a general problem with seeking retrospective validation; and it also applies to people who've suffered abuse, experience mental illness, have changed careers, etc.

The second problem is that, in overanalyzing our pasts in search of validation, we all too often end up reinscribing "standard" trans narratives. If our pasts do not fit the "standard" narrative then we will not find the validation we seek, thus we will call our current understanding even further into question, and this sense of invalidation will only make us feel worse. If our pasts only partially fit the "standard" narrative then, in search of validation, we will highlight those memories and background the others; thus denying ourselves the full actualization of our personal history, and invalidating at least in part who we are. And if our pasts (somehow) completely fit the "standard" narrative then, in holding that history up as "proof" of our legitimacy, we end up marginalizing and invalidating everyone with different narratives. Again, this isn't a trans-specific problem (cf., "standard" narratives of gay lives or depression prior to, say, the 1970s.); though it's especially problematic for trans people because of the dearth of public awareness that our narrative tapestries are as rich and varied as cis narrative tapestries.

There's nothing wrong with seeking support for your current self from your past memories. Doing so is, imo, crucial in coming to understand, respect, and take pride in our selves. The problems of retrospection are all in the mindset with which it is pursued. We shouldn't rely on "born this way" narratives in order to justify the fact that, however we were born, we are here now and in virtue of our presence alone are worthy of respect and validation.

Fwiw, I do very much value my "signs", and often share them as amusing anecdotes— both to foster understanding, and to destabilize people's preconceived notions. But I do not seek validation in these signs; they're just collateral: symptoms of, not support for, who I am.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

A lot of ink has been spilt over trigger warnings lately. And I don't want to write about it because I feel like I don't have much to add to the conversation. But when I stop, that feeling nags at me. You can't think with your mouth open; and as someone who always had issues keeping her damn mouth shut, it took me a long time to learn that to listen you must be silent. ... And yet. ... And yet, when someone experiences strong emotions about her own marginalization, but feels compelled to self-silence: that's when you need to listen harder.

Because there are a lot of voices I know full well, and I don't hear them talking.

I know them because they're the voices of my friends, and among friends we talk about things we don't talk about. In the workaday world we put on our faces and never hint at the behemoths raging through our china cabinets. And when we let down our hair, those faces stay on, because you always know who might be listening. And behind closed doors, still, we keep them on because elsewise love would be too tragic. But in secret spaces, we talk. We are, every one of us, damaged. I may not know who hurt you yet, I may not know your story of pain, but I never assume there isn't one; because every single person I've known, when we get close enough, they tell me things we don't talk about. Sometimes it takes years before they feel safe enough, sometimes they never feel safe enough, but if they've ever lowered their guard to me, they've told me. Every. single. person.

We are born and raised and live in a world drenched in abuse. And that abuse doesn't leave scars, it leaves open wounds waiting to have dirt rubbed in them. The first rule of what doesn't happen is that it cannot be spoken of. So healing only happens in those secret spaces, one-on-one, in the dark of night, far far from friends and strangers alike. This privatization of healing only compounds the problem of abuse. When we cannot see past others' faces, when we cannot see the living wounds they bear, when we do not hear their daily resistance against reiterations of violence, we come to think that somehow maybe they haven't been hurt as badly as we. When we see our own people succeed, or see leaders of resistance and "survivors" and "healed" voices speaking up against the injustice of the world, we think that somehow maybe they must be stronger than us, more resilient than us, more determined than us. When we cannot witness their struggle, we think that somehow maybe when they go to bed at nights they need not take the time to scrub out that daily dirt from their wounds. And when we cannot bear that witness, we see ourselves as lesser, broken, impostors.

These are the voices I do not hear speaking out, or hear speaking in only roundabout whispers. These are the voices for whom trigger warnings are writ. As so precisely put by Aoife,

Here's something I need you to understand: the vast majority of students when 'triggered' don't write howlers to department heads or flip laptops over in crowded classrooms for YouTube counts.

On the contrary, they most often shut down and collapse into numbness.

That numbness, that collapse, is the last tool our minds have to keep our faces in place when some sudden shock reopens sore wounds. The second rule of what we do not talk about is that wounds never heal, not entirely. We —some of us— can manage not flinching when someone raises their hand. We —some of us— learn to laugh along when someone touches our back. We —some of us— learn to feel safe in a room alone with a man. We —some of us— learn to turn blind to the "tranny" jokes, to the blackface, to the jibes about trailer parks and country living, to the "sex" scene where she lay sleeping, the scene where he takes the other man 'round back, the man who slaps his wife, the mother who cuffs her child, being told to go pick a switch, to the child starving on the street, to the college kids playing "tricks" on the homeless. We —some of us— learn to live as stone. But stone don't heal, and we all have our rituals of self-care we won't talk about. But when everywhere all you ever see is stone, you know your flesh will never make it if the light still shines in your eyes.

And I too am guilty of this silence culture. Because the fact of the matter is, in this day and age, to speak is to jeopardize my career. I can talk about being trans or being a dyke, and I can at least pretend that the laws on the books will mean a damn. But if I talk about my childhood, I won't be seen as an adult. If I talk about my abuse, I won't be seen as stable. If I bring up my mental life, I won't be seen as professional. If I talk about spoons, I won't be seen as reliable. And so I stuff it down and self-silence and hide what it's like, that daily living with depression and PTSD, til some trigger sets it off and out comes that rage which grows on silence. Some full-force punch to the gut, some words like "I'm not sure suicide is ever the answer" and my eyes go black, and words come out, and they sound nice enough, but every one means "I hate you".

Not to be rude, but sometimes suicide is the answer. It may not be the best answer, but it is an answer. And, unfortunately, sometimes that is all that's required. Sometimes a terrible fucking answer is the only answer to be found.

I say this as someone who's spent more of her life being suicidal than not, as someone who's survived multiple attempts, as someone whose friends have almost invariably spent years being suicidal. Yes, it sucks. And no, it doesn't "solve" anything. But think of the suffering of the victim. It is incredibly difficult to overcome the self-preservation instinct. Profoundly difficult. Imagine the volume of suffering it takes, the depths and duration of misery required to actively overcome the single most powerful compulsion any living creature can experience. There comes a point, long after endurance has already given out, when the full weight of that volume cannot be borne.

Whenever this happens, my thoughts are always with the victim. I cannot help but empathize with that terrible terrible suffering

Because the fact of the matter is, I'm too scared to talk. We live in a culture where suicide is "the easy way" and you're supposed to "take it like a man", but the fact of the matter is noone can take it. We are, every one of us, damaged. We privatize our healing because the first rule of abuse is that it must never be mentioned, must never never be discussed. The learning of silence is the first abuse: it is how we are taught to abuse ourselves, to never never hear that we're not alone.

This isn't about suicide and depression. Isn't about rape and racism. Isn't about violence and neglect. This is about silence. About the words we don't use to not say what you can't talk about. This is about learning to speak using words. About how we must open our mouths in order to listen.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

1. The illnesses I live with are:
Chronic major depression
Migraines
OCD
PTSD, Dissociative-NOS ("recovered")

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:
According to my records, 1998 for the mental stuff. Not sure about the migraines.

3. But I had symptoms since:
Before 1994, which is when my coherent memories begin. Most probably before 1991 when things get really hazy.

There's some 27-odd other questions on the version from [livejournal.com profile] cheshire_bitten, but I can't really get myself to bother answering them. Most of them target people who've acquired disabilities late in life, late enough to remember the "good old days". My father can tell you when he got diabetes, the pictures can show how his diet changed, his children can tell how his temper waned. My mother could tell you when she was diagnosed with bipolar, but she wouldn't because secrets stay in the family. My girlfriend will tell you when she acquired her wrist problems, how that changed the way she lives her life, how she gets around it at work. But when it comes to her anxiety issues or to my depression, what is there to say?

The most invisible of invisible disabilities are the ones we're born with. Because these are the ones we don't know how to live without. I can tell you how I live my life differently than how you live yours. And you may ask whether that's because of who I am or because of the depression, but that question is without meaning. Who I am is someone who lives with depression. To try to separate it out is like trying to separate out that I'm intelligent or that I was born in the States. The person without those traits would be so different that I cannot fathom where my life would take them.

The disabilities we're born with are the most invisible because all too often they are invisible to ourselves. Countless people cope with issues like depression and anxiety for years before realizing that perhaps it's different for other people. Even those who know it must be different often can't imagine what different would feel like. When I started on anti-depressants a whole new world opened up before me, a startling realization that happiness can be a way of life rather than a rare brief moment. When my girlfriend started on anti-anxiety meds she was dumbstruck to find the metaphorical pain of a panic attack was real physiological pain, and that suddenly a wrong turn or change in plans no longer evoked it despite the instinct to brace for the blow. She'd been telling people the pain was real for years, and yet on some level even she didn't believe it.

Too many of us are quiet, not because society frowns on admitting illness, but simply because in our suffering we do not know that it can be any other way. It is important to gain recognition from our peers that, yes, life is in fact harder for us. But for me, the bigger issue is to help our peers recognize that, yes, what they feel is real and they are not alone in what they know not how to name.

Update (Sunday, 21 September 2009): I think I'll tackle this one though,

17. The commercials about my illness
The iconic silhouette of a marine with the inscription "it takes a warrior to ask for help". ... Chesh's bobblely headed blonde twentysomething running through untrammeled plains in a floral sundress. ... An asian woman declaring "I'm glad I failed (to kill myself)". ... A teenage girl in a darkened room staring out a rain-soaked window. ...

Now, I know people who fit these descriptions and have the associated illness (except the blonde), but I know also a lot of people with the illnesses who don't match these images. Yes, soldiers are one of the main demographics for PTSD (aka "shell shock", aka "battle fatigue") but do you know who the other main demographic is? Rape victims and children who've grown up in sexually abusive households. Yes, teenage women are one of the main demographics for depression, but men with depression are more likely to commit suicide.

These commercials are a disservice in many ways. By presenting the soldier and teenage girl they only reaffirm these stereotypes, continuing to marginalize and deny the experiences of victims of sexual assault/abuse and depressed men. And woah, talk about mixed messages! "Not only can't you deal with the stress, but you're a failure as a soldier 'cuz you can't even ask for help." "Yeah, look at you: the failure. You can't even off yourself properly." While I understand the marketing engine behind these punchy lines, for all that they grab the attention they undermine the message they're trying to send. Patronizing, mocking, and teasing are not ways to earn the trust of someone who is suffering. These slogans only serve to reenforce the silence and isolation of those they're trying to reach.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

What ever happened to happiness, unblemished, unqualified? When did skepticism become the norm? Or is age the fading of our old questions, the forgetting of old uncertainties, and mitigation of our concerns. Has it always been this way, or is it our stories to ourselves which become faerie tales as we grow apart from them? Or is it merely once more the chill portent of that childhood legacy. Everyone says the wings are black, but they never remember how fuzzy the feathers, how cruelty can be soft. Cool means refreshing, and yet cold is just another word for numb.

The worst part of chronic depression is how it's always changing. If it were a static thing we could grow accustomed to it; acclimation is the natural course of the body and the mind. We heal what we can, and null the rest hoping that distance and decay will cure what fever and fortitude cannot. For a splinter, a severed limb, a love lost, this works as well as anything. But scorched earth tactics cannot defeat a parasite. Like any virus it evolves to survive.

Our bodies autonomically quarantine the infected loci, a basal response beneath conscious appreciation. In the early development of the disease, it eventually bursts through these walls in crippling waves. But such catastrophes can be damaging to the host, and in time it learns subtler methods of control. Even in its maturer forms, symptomatic threads are eventually uncovered by the mind's eye. Once higher consciousness notices, however, it soon finds that the majority of its support has been damaged or sacrificed to the cause. The synthetic forms of thought are the most wrecked, for they are the most powerful adversary to depression, and also the most alike with the disease and so its best fuel. What remains is but an analytic shell, powerful struts to keep higher consciousness suspended above the battlefield, but the weakest weapon to turn against the now rampant foe.

Long-time veteran of these wars it's hard to remain objective. Each time we hope, naïvely —knowingly naïvely—, that this time will be the last. Or that the next time we'll get to wage our skill against new recruits, inexperienced youths, on the other side. We pray to only have to kill children, but we inevitably murder men. And the next time is more of the same: always different, always subtler. Against such an opponent the only alternative to naïveté is paranoia. But what they don't tell in the textbooks and health classes is that these two are of the same coin, two names for the same denial, the same inability to let go of the fingers at your throat.

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