Good Omens

Living a genderqueer life

Category: sense of self

An infinite November

This must be the slowest November ever. It’s never taken so long for a day to go by, even though I feel like sleeping at eight every evening. Right now I feel I don’t have any routines left, no timetables, just watching the dreary rain, trying and repeatedly failing to write my thesis or play the bass (it’s so hard to start, even though I know that I’ll like it when I manage to).

I’ll be moving to a flat by myself next month. So will R and K, to their respective new homes. Living together didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. We were too tired all the time, exhausted by our own troubles, to be able to lend a figurative or sometimes even a physical hand, so it all went downhill when negative feelings started gathering momentum. There were lovely, lovely moments and periods, and I think I’ve learned so much, it’s easy not to have any regrets about trying. Now that we’ll have our own places, we can figure out ourselves, our relationships to each other and our shared history.

On a positive side, I feel that I’ve reached a point in my life, where my queer gender is the least of my troubles. In therapy, in the wearisome process of digging up old things and trying to deal with them, my re-phrasing of my (non)gender experience seems to have been the start of everything getting better.

PS One of the reasons this month feels so slow is that I’m growing a Movember moustache, in the spirit of “it’s not only men who can grow one”. It’s more like the first whiskers of a teenager than moustache, but there it is. I’m looking forward to 1st of December.

(I’m so happy that) Every teardrop isn’t a waterfall

Before this morning, I don’t remember the last time I cried. I mean, cried without a specific situation. I always cry at weddings and funerals. (And in April this year, I did cry one night, when I’d had two beers and sauna’d for hours, and there was somebody there that I trust.)

I cried from shock a few years ago, after a (not serious) car crash that the other party blamed on me, and I couldn’t say I knew it was their fault. I remember crying when I was maybe ten, it was in a school break, a child from a parallel class pushed me into a staircase railing so my teeth hit the iron. When I was eight, a new kid came to our class; during lunch, I had the habit of saying a little prayer before starting to eat. The new kid noticed it and said loudly, “So you’re some kind of believer?” And I knew I couldn’t pray in public any more, and after school, I may have cried, and I certainly stopped praying at all. I think I cried a lot as a kid, when I was lost or hurt. What happened then?

This and last year have been a time of my becoming aware of myself. Of gender things and sexuality things, and those are what this blog was to be about when I began it nearly a year ago. But also of weaknesses and limitations, of strengths, and of things that make me happy. This summer, I found that I couldn’t cry. I would get to a point where I wanted nothing more than to let go, but even when I thought of it, I pulled back. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t not control myself. It’s maybe two months since I realized this.

And, like so often, with becoming aware of the problem, the solution is already there. When I let myself admit it, the first step was taken. Not very long after, there started to be tears. Just a few, with no apparent reason. When I noticed them, I tried to loosen my control and still couldn’t.

When I first realized that it’s hard for me to let go, I started hoping for a storm of cleansing tears, like the climax of a film where the protagonist finally is freed from themself. I waited for it, tried to get my thoughts in a shape that could fit such a change… And while I was waiting, slowly, the tears fell, a couple of them at a time. One day, I found the corners of my mouth twitching downward, then staying there for minutes at a time; last week I sat on a bus on the way home looking like a sad smiley without knowing it, and that was good, I wouldn’t have dared to if I had. I had rediscovered an expression I had forgotten even existed.

On a discussion forum I read every now and then, there’s a quote in somebody’s signature: A water drop hollows a stone. I’d thought of it as a good reminder to work steadily at whatever I do. Now, I have another meaning for it.

Three weeks = ∞ ?

Three weeks on holiday, and I feel like it’s been a year since I left home on the early morning train to Tampere. I normally wouldn’t do this, but let’s go chronological.

Week #1, Monday

The train leaves Helsinki at 8 am, by 10 am I’m at Tampere, meet my favorite wolf for picnic at the Tammerkoski park, we go food shopping at the local Stockmann and end up stealing plastic spoons from yoghurt cans, to spread the hummus. I’ve missed the wolf, it’s so good to be near him.

The next train leaves at noon, R and the dog meet me at the station, they’ve been visiting her parents in Northern Carelia. The train is old and noisy, we travel to the west coast to meet K and spend a week at their cabin. I play the viola at the back of the train, the low rumbling makes a comforting ambience that hides the out-of-tune music, or so I hope.

We step off the train somewhere I’ve never been, our one-third is waiting for us, this is the place where their parent lives, we drive north along the coast to arrive at the country’s official Slow City. Seeing the place, it’s easy to understand why.

We empty the town’s supermarket and drive to 200 meters from the cabin. The rest of the way we carry the stuff, along a pathless forest path, the ground was shaped by the last ice age and left there to grow moss. Then suddenly the trees fade away and we see the sea, and the cabin. Time stops.

Tuesday to Friday

A holiday, why do I need a holiday? I’m fine, I’m not tired at all, see? I just can’t stop doing things, but that’s nothing new is it? Still, I switch off the mobile phone. It feels good to be out of touch.

After a few days, breakdown.

I lie on the rocks, I’m weak as a kitten, there’s nothing in the future, there can be no future, I’ll never get up, why did I end up like this again?

I’m in bed, read John Irving’s In One Person, immerse myself in the life story of a fictitious character, a while back I called Finnish Student Health Service, said I’m not okay, not at all okay, they gave me a date with a psychologist in two weeks. Until then, stay alive.

The sea is icy, but I swim anyway, or at least dip myself in the water, the dog whines and tries to understand what I’m doing, she doesn’t like people swimming. When the cold gets too tight a grip on me, I crawl to the rocks like a blind Gollum looking for my glasses, and towel myself off, I do feel alive.

Then we go home. I don’t stay there for long, just enough for some laundry. But it’s not good at home now, too many things waiting to be done, needing me to do them. It’s time be off again.

Week #2

R stays home, K joins me and the dog for a while at my grandparents’ place. Grandpa isn’t home, of course, so the place is very quiet.

When K has to go back to town, after three hours alone I’m bored, in six, desperate, then I go to sleep. Every day, I’m more and more comfortamble by myself. If last week was rainy and unstable, this is a heat wave, we don’t want to go out too much. I finish the Irving and turn to Conan Doyle, gulp down the Hound of the Baskervilles, I’m alone in a big dark house and the heat of the day comes crashing down in an endless thunderstorm, they’d left a kilo of chocolate in the fridge, well there’s not much left of it now.

This place is a perfect hideout for me, a place of rest. I don’t pick any berries, I pick myself up from the ground, sweep the floors for pieces of me, take time to settle them in a new order. Here, a year ago, I tried on the new name; here, in the darkness of the tiny sauna at the back of the yard, I am reborn time and time again from the womb of my becoming-aware. I need this place to be there for me – I need this place to be me.

On Thursday, I head home. A week and a half of holiday still left!

Microseconds that matter

Two kinds of people: some know my birth name, know my whole history; others don’t.

Two kinds of people: some, calling me by my name, hesitate for a microsecond before saying it: “How about you… Enne?”

So there’s actually four ways of saying the name. With somebody knowing and hesitating,

I get hurt. I don’t have the courage to say, “did you notice what just happened.” I don’t know why you did it, and probably never will, because it’s so difficult to ask. Was it a momentary lapse in your concentration, a sign of you thinking of me as something that is no more, and just pretending to respect my wish? These silent microseconds hurt me the most because they make me try to find them on everybody’s lips, hearing them even when they weren’t there, making me doubt even myself.

With people not knowing what was before, using the name I’ve given them to use,

I feel good and secure. This is my life as I want to live it, not as dictated by somebody else. I have the means to steer my life in directions I find meaningful. Sometimes it means steering away from difficult things in the past, and those things must be reckoned with at some point. People who don’t know who I’ve been, because I’ve decided not to tell them, can’t help me with those things.

With somebody not having lived it but knowing what I’ve decided to tell them,

I am open and fragile. I want to tell them everything about myself, and at the same time, I know that with telling, they may begin to think of me differently. Letting a new person know my old name is one of the most difficult things I know. But with the old name come so many stories, places, names, feelings, that have made me what I was and what I am. If I am to open myself to somebody, if I want somebody to understand me completely, I can’t separate my history from my present.

With people knowing everything and still saying the name, the name, like it is my name,

I feel loved and humbled. I am so important to somebody that they have wanted to let go of their old images of me, to understand me in a new way, not compel me into a shape easier for them to understand but let me be free and breathe again, freed from the prison of minds, both theirs and mine.

I (want to) live in a world full of trust and love

What if I told you that my trans experience isn’t something I had been looking for all my life, but something I heard about and wanted to try for myself, and found that I liked? Would that make my experience less true?

When I first started studying comparative religion (in a galaxy far away called year 2007), on the second day of the study year, all new students gathered in the department’s seminary room with the professors and other faculty members. We had sparkling wine (the university still had money back then), and were asked why we wanted to study the subject. I remember saying that even if the natural sciences or psychology discovered exactly where it is that religious experience originates, be it evolution biology, cognitive neuroscience, psychoanalysis, sociology, whatever, the experience itself would remain. And because of that, it is people’s experiences that I’m interested in, not the reason for them. I’m not interested in biology, and I’m not interested in the existence of God. What interested me then and still does, is what people feel and how they make their feelings & experiences understandable to other people.

For me, it’s the same with trans experience. I don’t want to need to know if being trans is something born with us, or if it’s something we choose, or something else again. All I need to know is that the experience itself is there, for me at least, and that other people have told me they also experience it. After that, it’s a question of trust. Do I require some proof from you, because I think I know better, or do I try to live knowing I don’t know everything, and might as well know nothing?

As a last school thing before summer, I’ve spent some time writing an essay about early Christian conceptions of God colliding with those of the Hellenistic world. In the latter, the word God refers to a perfect being. To be perfect, you need to be complete and unchanging. And to be unchanging, you need to be detached from everything else. Is that something I want?

It may well be that being genderqueer is something I wanted to try, tried, and found out it suited me better than being a man. When I had freed myself from the tight confines of being a man in this culture, I found I did not fit back in – not because I had been trans all along but because I had found freedom in it unlike anything before. Or it may be that I have been genderqueer all along, and finding the concept, I slipped into it, not by choice but because it was what I am.

But as I said, I’m really not very interested in the question. What is important to me is that living genderqueer has opened to me a world of good I didn’t know existed. It is a world that doesn’t reach everywhere yet, but it will eventually – a world of trust, of shared griefs and joys, of absurd moments when it collides with other worlds. Not an easy world, but one full of love.

Pebbles

I’ve tried to post (at least) every two weeks, but since the last post, I’ve had so much to think about, that I haven’t been able to decide where to begin – and so I haven’t written anything here.

One evening, I had a long conversation with a friend, which showed me some things inside me: difficult things, hidden things, long-lost things. I was left weak and crying, but fortunately I wasn’t alone, the friend was there to help and comfort me. In the following days, I felt like I had let my mind’s walls down so fast, too fast, that what had been contained within – my sense of self, or parts of my identity –  had spilled from my grasp like too many pebbles from a child on a seashore. I had to begin gathering the pebbles from the ground again, and doing so, to look at them and decide which to keep.

There are some pebbles it’s easy to keep. Good memories, relationships with people, worldviews… Positive things that give me hope and make me happy. Others are lovely and important too, but having too much of them will exhaust rather than invigorate; most of these involve doing something, like meeting people, studying, working, cycling…

The third, most difficult group of pebbles is the one with all the questions in it. It is at the same time the most crucial of all: every pebble here is one I can’t afford to throw away, even if I’d like nothing better. These are the ones I reserved a time for a psychologist to talk about, because I’ve at last started to come to terms with not being able to handle all these by myself. Some of these are:

Gender identity. An assigned male at birth transboy? What the hell? What I’m going to do with it, go through the treatments and start binding?

Gender presentation. My presentation is gravitating towards “dapper butch” again as summer gets nearer, but I hate it that people will take me for a well-dressed man. I mean, I’m not dressing like this because I want to “present gender”, but because I like to dress like this!

Sexuality. I’d love not to be so embarrassed by knowing what penises are usually used for. It’s like I’m ten again and just read the school biology book for the first time. Yuk!

Being good at things. My identity seems to center on being good at things, and looking at the world in a positive, optimistic way. This is of course very nice. But (a bit like Hyperbole and a Half writes on “not giving a fuck“) I’ve come to realize that this isn’t just about having loads of positive emotions – for me, it’s also about not being really able to handle the negative emotions, and instead storing them away until you can’t do it any more.

I think I’m going to spend a long while on these pebbles. It’s going to be good.

Biblical ponderings

My love and I had lunch with two friends on Friday. The company included a theologian, and myself, a student of comparative religion, both interested in the relationship between religion and ecology. So it’s maybe not so surprising that we found ourselves talking about just what exactly it is that happens in the second chapter of Genesis, that is, the Bible’s “creation 2.0”. And as we had to admit we weren’t quite satisfied with our knowledge of the subject, of course the book was opened.

Having created Earth, Higher-Power wants the proto-human (person/ze in the English translation, human/3rd p. pronoun in Finnish) not to be alone, so Higher-Power starts to create animals and birds (Gen. 2:18-20) from the soil, so that the human being would have somebody to be with. But instead of finding a suitable partner, the human being names the creatures presented, but doesn’t find them suitable company. (According to some philosophers of language, naming includes and indicates assuming a stance of power in relation to the named – how could the human find equal company in something that is presented to them as in need of naming?)

But if we don’t take account the power of naming, this myth presents the creation of living beings as aiming to being in relation to another. The human needs a partner, so a variety of choices is presented to them, until a suitable match is found – by Higher-Power splitting the proto-human in two. Only in meeting themself, looking at them as at oneself does the human find peace. A theology of meeting merging with a theology of existence?

Looking at the first chapter of Genesis (Gen. 1:26-27), this time I found the phrase “likeness of Higher-Power” strongly associated with the meeting of Moses with Higher-Power (Exodus 3:14), where Higher-Power describes Themself by claiming “I am who I am.” To me, this association was a whole revelation in itself, even though I’m not very much into believing in (a personal, written in capitals) Higher-Power right now. That the Bible describes a human being as the image of a Higher-Power who doesn’t have to define Themself to anybody, is to me a very powerful indication of the above mentioned theology of meeting. Not defining people we meet by our standards is only possible if we make an effort to get to know them – know them well enough to see them as whole human beings, existing (created, even?) in and of themselves, not because they (might) mean something to us. I am who I am, so you are probably who you are too. If only I could understand it fully enough to live by it!

I had a gender once, but I got over it.

Last week, I read a zine sent to me by one of its writers, j. The zine’s name is

Null & Void, or, bathrobes: a conversation about gender (or the lack thereof)

and I suppose you can buy one by contacting j. via their blog. You should definitely read it, this is good stuff.

One of the things mentioned in the zine is being “post-gender”. I fell in love with the concept immediately. Like Chris, the zine’s other writer, says,

“i want to be ‘post-gender’. I want to not have a need to engage with the concept at all when it comes to defining myself.”

These two sentences opened into something new and wonderful in my self-perception. It’s like I’ve been looking at things in a different way since reading them. In a way, I feel I’ve come a full circle from where I was a couple of years ago, but have grown and changed in the process, so that the old place seems changed too. I’ll try to explain, but I’ll need to think first.

You know how there’s a difference between doing something because you can’t imagine not doing it (not knowing options exist, maybe), and doing the same thing after you’ve learned there are options, carefully weighed them, looked around for more, and then, still, decided to do like you were going to in the first place?

For instance, from the age of 2 until maybe 18, I was a vegetarian because I was brought up as one. Then I began questioning my un-choice, began to taste different kinds of meat, found out I quite like many of them – and then went back to being vegetarian, nowadays vegan most of the time, this time because I’ve chosen it to be so.

I used to think gender doesn’t matter to me at all. Then, by my studies, discussions with friends, personal experiences and all the other things that life has brought, I was taught to see the intricate webs of meaning, power, and violence, that my being brought up “according to” my assigned-at-birth gender has tangled me in – and how so many things I’ve thought “natural” to me really come from being taught from an early age on.

In trying to extricate myself from the web, I became aware of the consequences of (hypothetically) succeeding in the attempt: I realized that a total detachment from society’s grasp always comes with the terrible price of complete freedom. For a time I tried it, feeling I stood alone in a world of white under a burning sky with no shelter but my own pride, and I learned the hard way that as much as the world of language needs me to keep going the power relations of oppression and indoctrination, I need it to be able to resist it, and shape myself in doing so. And so I put away and forgot my original idea of gender not mattering to me, and tried instead to find a gender labeled in a way I could have as my own.

But reading Chris’ words last week, I realized that what I had really been looking for wasn’t not having a gender label forced on me by others, or even being able to define or leave undefined my relation to gender – it was not needing to or have others think about “my gender” at all, “not have a need to engage with the concept at all when it comes to defining myself” – just people doing things together and giving each other shelter in whatever storms life might bring.

House-elves and werewolves

My love and I began listening to Stephen Fry’s audiobook reading of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series last summer, and with an average rate of five chapters a week, we’re now halfway through the last book, Deathly Hallows. I’ve read and re-read the books maybe once every two years since they were first published, but the real magic of the series is that the story grows with the reader. The various facets and levels of the – at first glance simple, even naïve – story are so manifold that I believe I could go on reading the books indefinitely, and still find new points of view from which to look at them.

Listening to Stephen Fry’s aural painting of the familiar scenes, I’ve felt compelled to visit the dark underbelly of the magicking world in a kind of anti-patriarchal, queer feminist reading of the series. Not being forced to adhere to the simple survey of the actual events happening on the page, my thoughts have been on what is left unsaid, which things are taken to be so “natural” or so self-evident that they need not be explicated.

In previous re-readings, I’ve found myself partly mirrored in Harry, growing up quickly in a world difficult to understand, or Hermione, trying to solve all of life’s difficult situations with booklore, or any of the half a dozen “real”, in-depth characters of the series. This time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nameless, unimportant “evil” characters that abound in the series – especially werewolves, living on the margins of the society, being able to pass as fully human at will, but ultimately lacking the motivation to do so. And I’ve thought about house-elves, willing slaves to a ruling class able but not compelled to show mercy to its invisible servants.

And I’ve thought about myself, genderqueer in a world of people and people, and about people I love, and how I would love to “contaminate” them with the same invisibility I experience every day – about, ultimately, preferring the company of people like me to that of those, even loved, that can never understand my “condition” fully. And of all the people living their whole lives happily, without ever questioning the systems of oppression that patriarchy forces on us, until change is forced down their throats like a potion of clear thinking, unasked and unwanted, when there’s a flaw in the plan and systems come crashing down.

Change name [X] Stop thinking about it [ ]

The teacher practice ended on Friday, and I’m blessedly free of long-lasting responsibility until the beginning of March and my last period of practice. Of course, I’ve a lot to do in the meantime, going to lectures, two sessions as a studio bassist, and such.

I received my new health insurance and debit cards this week, so the name’s really official now! I still have to go to the local police station to apply for a new driver’s licence card and passport, but I think that can wait for a couple of days.

I’ll have a naming party on my birthday in February. I decided to do it even though I don’t feel like it myself. I had grown apart from the old name, and I’ve been using this one since September, so it’s not as though it’s anything new to me anymore. But some relatives seem to have trouble accepting my name, so I thought that maybe a ceremony of sorts will make things clear for them. I even invited my grandparents to the party. I’ve been kind of avoiding them since all this started, but I can’t go on doing that for the rest of their lives. Avoiding a little discomfort will add up to a lot of it in the long run, and I’m trying not to do it any more than I absolutely have to.

I’m happy with having changed my name officially. Still, I think that the name change was only the beginning of something bigger. I’m not ready yet, or complete – I don’t even think this is the name I’ll be using for the rest of my days. I’ve already begun experimenting with variations of the name in my signatures, just as I did with the old one. But this is a good official name, that’s something I’m certain of. I will get no dysphoria being called by it; it is, like my gender identity, unfamiliar to most people, and so highly interpretative according to the person using it; it is also a name bringing about frequent double-takes in people hearing it for the first time: “Your name is WHAT?” This is good: people have to really listen to what I say my official name is, not just listen to the first half of it and then fill in the rest.

I’ve met some truly wonderful people in the last months, with some of whom I look forward to doing interesting things this coming spring and in the future: activism, chatting over tea, seeing new places – sharing life’s beauty in any of a hundred ways. After a long dark winter, the sun’s showed up again. It’s definitely getting better.