Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

rejecting the violence of the mirror and disarming the violence of the world

       A few days ago i left my apartment with a friend of mine. We were going downstairs to have a cigarette. They were rather shocked that i didn’t lock my apartment door and asked me why not. i told them that i try not to live in fear. i’ve thought about and talked about this idea a lot, but this instance was cause for further reflection.

        For years, between periods of queerness, the biggest source of violence in my life was myself vis-a-vis the mirror. Frequently i would gaze into eyes that i knew to be my own and fail to recognize who/what i saw. i would get lost a convoluted time warp, losing hours to the mirror. i’d often ignore the mirror altogether, knowing full well that i wouldn’t find myself there at all, knowing that the experience would be sapping. On rare occasions i was able to find myself in the mirror, but i would spend my time wondering why i didn’t have the courage to live the way i felt i needed to.

       In moments i really wanted to transition, i would look into the mirror and hate and cry and hate. These were among my hardest moments. But for a long time i didn’t transition because i was terrified of the violence i would experience. i was afraid. i was afraid for good reason.  My gender transgression had been met with very real violence on many occasions.

       My method of avoiding that violence meant trying to live in my assigned gender. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the basic act of looking in the mirror became an infinite well of loathing. This became increasingly, unbearably true, so i did what i felt i had to do to reject the violence of the mirror. i got on hormones. i learned to sew dresses. i bought eyeliner.
To go out into the world feeling comfortable in my current gender i had to learn to disarm the other type of violence. i put away my fear. This doesn’t mean that the possibility of violence in my life has disappeared, it hasn’t. i catch shit on the regular. There are uncertain moments in almost every trip out of my house.

       But i can’t carry that. i won’t carry that.

       For a while i tried to skirt the line between openness and fear-filled watchfulness. This allowed me to leave my house, but i was always hyper-vigilant, ever-worried about possible attackers. Chemical serum constantly dumped into my veins leaving me in a perpetual state of fight or flight. My muscles were always tense and ready to run. i grew incredibly tired and couldn’t get enough sleep. Skirting this line was not healthy.

       i also don’t think that this made me safer in any discernible way. i don’t believe that i could successfully thwart off an attacker… besides, i’m a pacifist. The only thing this strategy did was to limit my choices and trouble my soul.

       So i learned to notice moments of fear. i’d feel them as deeply as possible and i’d take a breath. i would consciously refuse to alter my gate, my gaze, my actions. i learned to live with my fear, keeping it beside me. Soon enough, it started to dwindle. It’s not completely gone, and might never be, but i get so many moments that aren’t laced with fear.

       This doesn’t mean that bad shit stopped happening to me. People still have adverse reactions to my queerness all day long. But these moments of being comfortable in myself and living without fear are an incredible blessing that i’ve cultivated for myself.

       This brings me back to my apartment door. Sure, i lock it when i’m inside. People perceive my transness. This includes those who live in my building, only one of whom i know personally and trust. i’m especially vigilant about this when other folks are in my apartment because i couldn’t live with myself if someone i love paid the price for transphobia that was intended for me.

       Disarming my fear hasn’t led me to open myself or others up to more moments of potential violence, simply to accept those that i cannot change. i have to accept them so that i can live as freely as possible. So, when i run out for a moment, i actively resist my fear. i shun it to the back of my mind. i kindle new neuro-pathways of trust and of willful disregard. i build my capacity to tolerate risk.

       To be comfortable in the world, i have to live with the possibility of violence. In fact, i acknowledge that it’s inevitable. But i need to go out in the world; i need to be out in the world. So i smile at my fear as i put makeup on my face. i willfully put it out of my mind and i leave my house.