Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Asterisks and Rewards

Once I was able to make peace with my father's death, I went a few years without talking to therapists. Having made it through transition and finally being able to experience life being gendered properly was more than enough for me - once I had gotten past that particular roadblock, I was ready to go experience life and didn't think anything could stop me.

I might have been extremely shy when it came to sex or relationships, but I've loved dancing for years now.  Flailing my hands like I'm surfing is my signature move.
Of course, that's not the way the world works.  Life didn't just get easy all of a sudden once I was living as a woman.  It just led to a new set of challenges.  So, in the early months of 2013, I decided to book an appointment with a therapist to see if I could get some new perspective with a problem that, in a way, felt just as difficult as transition.  At that point I was fully aware and appreciate at how much it helped for me when I needed it years ago, so I was excited at the prospect of being able to talk to someone who could help me.

I decided to book a new therapist this time, one closer to the office.  She was nice, probably younger than me, and I felt an immediate rapport with her.  Trust was built up rather quickly and I had no problem filling her in on who I was and why I felt I needed help.  She tried her best to steer me in the right direction.

With all that said, my appointments with her lasted three months, tops.

I was going to continue on what I started in my last blog post by continuing talking about my therapy sessions, but in all honesty they didn't help me all that much.  So rather than talking about those, I'd rather reflect on what it was that brought me there, and how I leveled up in the process.

One of the classiest pictures of us taken in 2013.

The main thing that brought me back into therapy was that I was frustrated at "being an asterisk".

I don't remember how that term specifically came out, but it was how Kayla and I referred to how I was unique in certain ways that changed the rules for me a little bit.  Despite the fact that we had a pretty wide circle of friends, I was the only person in the group (to my knowledge) who was transgender and in her thirties.

On the surface, that doesn't sound like much.  It really isn't, and I was mostly happy with my life to that point. I had just been hired at Gentle Giant and liked me job.  I had just moved into Six Eleanor and was still in the honeymoon phase where I noticed the good things about living there and was able to turn a blind eye to the bad ones.  I had more people in my life that I considered friends than at any other point in my life.  It was the first time I experienced popularity, and I found I rather liked it.

The only thing that I felt like I was really missing from life was the sense of intimacy that comes from a long-term relationship.  And, just like with gender dysphoria, it started to slowly encompass my thoughts in a way that felt like it was actually literally driving me crazy.

I spent most of my life in social groups that were nearly always male-dominated - in environments like Magic tournaments and arcades and I.T. jobs - where I never felt inferior for being single.  But now that I had essentially finished the process of transition and had tons of friends, I felt like I basically had no excuse.  I was Forever Single in a sea of attractive partiers who were all ten years younger than me, and they didn't need to figure out a way to shoehorn "I wasn't born female" into the conversation without worrying about freaking the other person out.

I could rock femininity when I wanted to, but it never really allowed me to feel like myself.
Here is my best attempt to analyze what was going on at the time in my head:
  1. I had grown up around certain images of transpeople that were affecting my perception of myself. Off the top of my head:  Ace Ventura, The Crying Game, Jerry Springer, porn, multiple episodes of South Park (a show I otherwise love) and a specific episode of Family Guy (ehh) where a character vomited for thirty seconds straight after finding out he slept with a post-op transwoman.  As much as I tried not to internalize that stuff, I started to develop a fear of touching other people - specifically, that it would cause them to recoil away in horror.
  2. Sex terrified me.  My strategy to get through it was "neither move nor say anything and hope for it to end".  I generally only engaged in it for two reasons - because I felt like I was "supposed to" at the end of a date, or because I felt like I was somehow broken and wanted to show tangible proof that I was attractive.  My sex drive went completely into hiding and I was more than happy not to pursue it.
  3. My ratio of age : experience completely undermined any sense of confidence I had that I could find someone.  Who wants to be some 33-year-old's first relationship?  This was reinforced by my spectacular string of first dates that didn't lead to second ones - I think I hit double digits there.  It just got to the point where I fully expected every date I went on to suck, and that proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
  4. The closest person to my in my life at the time, Kayla, was newly single and seemed to have no trouble finding interested guys.  She's extremely confident and attractive.  These were obviously net positives through the course of our friendship - she was instrumental in helping me find these qualities in myself.  I did my best to not feel envious about that because she's my best friend and ultimately I was happy she was happy.  Unfortunately, envy isn't the type of thing that you can just choose not to feel.
  5. All of my friends, it seemed, were either in relationships or happy to play the field.  I remember noticing one night that I was the only person going to sleep alone in a bed that night, which started me off on a night of "you're going to be alone forever"-based insomnia.  And while I had no desire for sex, I started to become very aware of how little physical contact I had with other people. Seeing so many people engaging in cuddling or massaging or sleeping next to each other or even stupid stuff like play-fighting would cause my insecurities to flare up.
  6. The combination of envy and loneliness was causing me to develop inappropriate crushes on basically anyone who would show me positive attention.  These were usually friends, almost always awkward, and were more a result of me wanting to feel worth being loved than any actual romantic interest.
  7. As Kayla once put it, I didn't put out "sexy vibe" when I talked to guys.  I had no problem meeting people and making friends and forming platonic friendships - in fact I was rather good at it.  But there was something about the way I was putting myself out into the world that specifically seemed to show a lack of interest in sex.  Kayla once asked me if I thought it was possible for someone to find me sexually attractive and my honest answer was a straightforward "well of course not".
  8. I started to worry that my role in life was to always meet new friends in their twenties while my old friends found relationships and outgrew me.  This thought terrified me - I started to internalize this idea and it affected my self-esteem.
  9. As one might glean from my writing, my brain sometimes has a tendency to sit there and over-analyze situations.  Questions like "will I ever experience romantic love?" and "should I just accept that I will be alone forever and embrace it?" and "what even is my sexual orientation?" and "what is wrong with me that makes me unworthy of human touch?" and "am I missing out on a fundamental part of the human experience?" basically formed a running narrative in my head.
My housemates went out to see a DJ friend of mine spin.  I very well think I may have been the oldest person in the room.

Kayla was instrumental with getting through this without cracking.  At that point, we basically shared everything with each other and she was fully aware of how I was feeling throughout all of this.  She was there to give me advice or feedback or encouragement when I needed it, and I needed it often.  Accepting my identity as an asterisk* was basically a struggle that culminated over three total years - basically my last great struggle - and Kayla was with me through all of it.

Unfortunately, I didn't have any outlet by which to vent my insecurities out into the world, and so I started dumping my problems off on her in a way that wasn't fair.  I'd get sad and start crying over minor infractions like her seeing a boy instead of hanging out with me on a given weekend night.  Or I would spend all night venting to Kayla about my problems selfishly without stopping to think about hers.  Or I would spend weeks complaining about the same things without making any tangible changes to my life.  The frustrating thing for me was that I was aware of the fact that I was being kind of a bad friend, but having trouble stopping.

Dark Star Orchestra played a show at Hampton Beach that summer - we spent the night partying on the beach after the show.
So, based on my previous successes, it felt like a reasonable time to try out therapy.

I decided to book an appointment at a new place closer to my job.  It had been years since my last session with my old therapist, I no longer felt like the same person, and I didn't want to sit in an hour of traffic each way anymore.  Rather than gender issues, this woman's specialty was more along the lines of life coach, which was more what I felt like I needed.  I'm pretty sure she was new to the practice and younger than me.

I told her about all the stuff above.  She listened and asked me appropriate questions.  She gave me some reasonable solutions, one of which included telling me to find pornography that appealed to me to try get my libido back.  She told me to put myself out there more and to be more forward with people who I find potentially attractive - granted, that was good advice, but a lot of it was common sense that I had already been trying to apply to my life.

She was giving me a place to vent my problems, but I realized that venting my problems wasn't really making me any happier.  In fact, it was making things worse.  Since I now had a place to devote an hour to talking about my issues, they started to weigh on me more heavily.  I spent the time in my therapy sessions talking about any small interaction with anyone who showed the slightest degree of interest in me, which in turn reinforced the notion that my worth was tied to my relationship status.

Staying up all night at a festival pretending to be a mouse taught me more about myself than three months of therapy.
After a few months, I came to a conclusion that felt almost undeniable - this woman had no idea how to solve my problems.  How could she?  She didn't seem to have the first clue about what a lifestyle like mine was like, and so I started to question what authority she realistically had by which to give me advice.  It's not like I didn't think about this stuff all the time - I spent hundreds of hours on the internet reading studies / watching videos about human psychology and sociology trying to figure out a solution to how I was feeling.

Professional technician isn't a job.  It's a state of mind.  At some point you run into problems that other people haven't solved yet, and you need to figure them out yourself.

After cutting ties with the therapist, I made a few important changes to my perspective:
  • I stopped bullshitting myself and trying to act like other women for the sake of securing a partner.  For years I had based a lot of my gendered behaviors on what I saw my friends doing, and I finally acknowledged to myself that typical femininity wasn't for me.  Whenever we went to a show, my female friends would enjoy the process of putting on makeup together and getting ready.  I tried to force myself to be that but it was clear that I wasn't that type of person.  I started embracing androgyny, shedding things like makeup and dresses in favor of flow-y pants and ponchos.
  • I tried to fill my life with everything else in life I wanted that I actually had control over.  I stopped worrying so much about my relationship status, and that led to one of the more adventurous years of my life.  The conclusion that I had come to - which is advice that I often give to other single and lonely people - was to focus my attention on the other things in life that make me happy.  That way, if I meet someone who might be compatible with me, they would be able to see me in my true element; and if I never did meet the right person, at least I would live life doing what I want to be doing.  I went on a handful of live-music related adventures that included a five-city road trip with Kayla, throwing after-parties at our house for touring bands when they came to Boston, and eventually making a last-minute road-trip to Atlantic City to catch Phish over Halloween.
  • Once I stopped putting so much weight behind the fact that I was feeling lonely, I re-approached dating with the mindset that a bad date was better than no date.  Bad dates only take up one awkward night and sometimes lead to interesting stories; being lonely and not making a conscious effort to fix it lasts an awfully long time.
  • I forced myself to go out into new social situations and expand my horizons, specifically for the purposes of meeting people to date.  Much like my experience with going to concerts when I first started, I went to places like "kareoke night at a bar" and "lesbian night at a nightclub" and " group for single queer people".  I started online dating again and focused more on enjoying the process than worrying about finding someone (anyone) who wanted a relationship. A date is basically just two people trying to enjoy each other's company and doesn't need to be anything more than that.
In November of 2013, by forcing myself out of my comfort zone, I met Cody.  He ended up being the love of my life.  The courting process took a little long because I had a lot of inhibitions going into it, but the things about me that probably made me un-date-able to other made me unique and interesting to him.  After years of enviously looking on at others' physical affection and feeling like an outsider, I had found someone who genuinely made me feel attractive to them.

It's been years, but I haven't forgotten the feeling of "going months and years without physical human contact" any more than I've forgotten the feeling of "not being accepted as a woman".  There are times where I do my best to consciously remember that sense of loneliness that I had or a really long time, because I feel like I owe it to myself not to take it for granted.

Oh by the way, I won my fantasy football league that year.
As for therapy?  Ever since then, I haven't really felt like I've needed it anymore.  I feel like I do a good enough job of reflecting on life's problems by myself, and hopefully this blog is a reflection of that.  Sure, there are times where life feels like a struggle or where I don't know what to do, but that's all part of human growth.  If anything, I do my best to make myself available for those who might find themselves stuck in similar phases of their life.

* the asterisk is often a symbol used to denote a footnote.  When using it to refer to me, we meant it in the sense that while I was confident and outgoing and way younger-looking than I actually was - I still might as well have been a virgin.  Rules like "there's plenty of fish in the sea" and "you'll eventually find someone if you stop looking" and "you don't have to worry about admitting you transitioned to everyone you date" didn't apply to me.

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