Monday, November 30, 2009

More than Myth: Suicide

Albert Camus once wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” There is much stigma attached to the act of suicide; people think it is an action reserved for the mentally unstable. After all, why would any sane person actively decided to literally destroy their own life? Others I have heard suggest that suicide is simply the end result of losing all hope—it’s what comes of being overcome with sorrow and suffering and having no other hope, coping mechanism, or alternative left. Camus simplifies matters a little in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus; he suggests that the absurd is an inescapable essential force in life—that man is inevitably faced with the dialectic of on the one hand wanting meaning, significance, and clarity and on the other hand facing the silence and coldness of the universe. In effect, individuals are left with a choice between suicide, taking a leap of faith, or recognizing the absurdity of our live/situations and embracing that.
Choosing the first option results in an immediate escape of absurdity—it’s a confession that life is not worth living. It’s here that on some level I have difficulty discussing more, as very recently I was informed of Mike Penner’s suicide. I doubt any readers are unaware of who Mike Penner was or of his suicide. The news has affected me more than I initially thought. Speaking as someone who has walked to the brink of suicide—who has had two hospital visits because of suicide attempts—I know what it’s like to conclude, albeit temporarily, that life is not worth living. Mike recently came to that same conclusion, only his decision was much more final than mine once had been. In the existential use of the term, I cannot think of many things more absurd than the transsexual narrative—the need to be one thing when the world tells us we’re something else, the need to find our identity when there are no immediate answers to the question, “Who am I?”—the need for acceptance and stability, clarity and meaning in a society that offers none. Suicide in Camus’ view is an admission that life is meaningless and therefore not worth living. For what it’s worth, when one is in the grips of a depression or is otherwise not able to accept the absurd, suicide becomes an understandable, although unfortunate, option.
The second option—the leap of faith—is equally controversial. I hesitate to write much on this if only because many of my friends and family (and some of you super awesome people reading this) are religious. I, on the other hand, am anti-religion. Like Camus, I find leaps of faith to be a denial of the absurd. Abstract beliefs are assumed and a set of hopes is established to bypass dealing with the absurdity of the reality of human existence. In effect, it’s a denial of the reality of the human condition, a deferment to the hope that some absolute meaning or purpose exists. Often, this takes the form of a belief in God, though not always. It’s more a leap of faith that, despite rational observation, refuses to accept the absurdity that individuals experience, instead trusting that there is a universal something more—a blind faith that life is not meaningless. Camus described this as a kind of philosophical suicide because it is an active choice to escape rationality. Do you see why I feel awkward talking about it (given the strong religious views of many family/friends—sorry if it offended anyone)?
The third choice is to embrace the absurdity—embrace the suffering. In the myth, Sisyphus is punished by the gods, forever made to push a boulder up a hill, each time he reaches the top the boulder rolls down the other side and Sisyphus must begin his toils anew. His life is a constant struggle, much like our lives are constant struggles. What Camus notes, however, is that in becoming aware of our circumstances, and aware of the hopelessness of our situations, we become free. Our lot in life—our suffering—only is horrible so long as we juxtapose it with something more preferable. On the other hand, if we accept our lives without any preferable alternative, suddenly things aren’t quite so terrible. Instead, in the acceptance of our life and our fate as entirely our own—as all we have and all we’ll be—we can be truly happy. This is owning our fate, being above it, taking control of life and giving it whatever meaning we personally designate.
I recognize that a lot of what Camus puts forth in The Myth of Sisyphus is highly controversial. It is, however, something I turned to when I was going through my gender dysphoria-spurred existential crisis. This wasn’t really meant to be about Mike Penner’s suicide, nor is it any kind of remembrance post of his behalf. Honestly, I’m some emotionally spent that I doubt I could write such a thing right now. Instead, it’s a summary of Camus’ argument about dealing with the fundamental philosophical question. The awareness of absurdity begets freedom and genuine happiness. What Camus describes is, in actuality, a radical acceptance of our suffering. He asserts that through this embrace we become free.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I lost you

I lost you though I never had you.
I miss you though I never met you.
I love you though I never knew you.
In your death I made your acquaintance,
Looked in your eyes and saw my own.
I recognize you when none claim you.
Mark your passing when none notice your absence.
Forever remember you when none knew you existed.
Nameless face—faceless visage.
I hold vigil for you tonight.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So this is awkward. I was planning on writing about religion tonight...or maybe (should that topic prove uninspiring) write about Julie Bindel and Janice Raymond’s 2nd-waver BS transphobia. But no, something else has popped up at the last minute that I need to talk about. I have to write about some disturbing things that have been happening in my life recently, and the awkward part to all of this is they involve someone I know. Someone who I know has been reading (monitoring?) this blog. So, with that in mind, I’ve reinstated comment moderation for a while, for my own peace of mind. I still, of course, would love to hear your comments. Consider this me trying to reclaim my safe space.
I had a friend. As sometimes (and awkwardly) happens with friends, she developed a crush on me. I thought this was alright—I didn’t share the feelings, but I figured we could still be friends, right? What transpired was a long series of tug of war, in which she would try to block me off, and then shortly afterwards frantically call me. There was even one instance where she called me at 3am, and another instance when she got into my townhouse to slip a letter under my door (the townhouses require card access, so she had to get one of my house mates to let her in). Then this week she ambushed me outside my home and verbally harassed me. At this point I called a telephone counselling service and explained the situation (the late night phone calls, the text messages, the harassment and ambush outside my home, etc.). With their help I began to realize that this girl was stalking me and harassing me. Sure, it wasn’t anything physical, but nonetheless this was violence. “Domestic abuse,” is what one of the counsellors called it.
I thought I had put an end to it, but again tonight she sent me a text message. Immediately I began to stress out: my heart beat rose dramatically—my heart felt like it was trying to burst through my chest—I found I couldn’t sit still. I called the telephone counselling service again, and while I was on the phone with them, she called four times. It was an 8 minute phone call. I had to send her a text back. I asked her to please stop contacting me. My phone has been silent since. I think it might be over.
As an extra precaution I’m going to the police tomorrow just so there’s a record of instances, just in case she continues to harass me. I don’t think she will, but I guess this is what they call “protecting yourself.”That’s a weird thought. Since I came out as trans and queer, I’ve slowly learned to fear the police. But setting aside the queer identity, what gets me is that the idea of going to the police—what bothers me about even just calling this “stalking” and “harassment”—it makes me feel more like a victim. I thought I would feel empowered, but no. I feel like a victim. I feel scared. I feel vulnerable. Unsafe. I feel...dirty.
Shit. I don’t know what else to say. My head is spinning. I want to sleep, but can’t. I want to scream. I feel like there’s something creeping under my skin that I can’t get out. I feel like I’ve been tainted.
I want someone to talk to, but this fucking country still has me feeling so alone. Damn. I hate feeling this weak.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Post-Op Blues (or gimme my harmonica)

Shuffling around the cold hallways my bare feet hit the hard floor, numb. The new-fallen snow outside the wide windows glitters under the parking lot lights like a pristine, fresh and frozen world completely separate from me in my hospital gown. In my hand is the cherry Jello cup I had managed to snag from the nurse’s station—the readily-available gummy dessert has to be the best part of the post-operative recovery. As I sweetly suck down the fruity gelatine, feeling the immense weight of the pressure packing around my surgery site, I realize that I can wear a bikini without tucking. The realization that my first thought is of swimwear, while outside it is snowing, quickly follows. I raise an eyebrow at my own reflection in the dark window, and continue to imagine how now this lengthy journey is over, the quest is over. I thought, “This is it. I’m now officially a girl.”

Two years ago, the realizations I had while walking the halls of Mount San Rafael Hospital didn’t really touch on the real complexity of emotions I now have about being “officially a girl.” So much of my time and energy over the last several years of my life has gone into either repressing my gender dysphoria, coming to terms with my transsexuality, striving for acceptance (both from friends and family as well as from myself), or trying to secure all the necessary resources for transition. Along my journey I also became interesting in the science and social activism surrounding the transgender community, and so I additionally donned the hats of an advocate, and activist, and an educator. Through it all, transsexuality has been a dominant force in my life for at least the last nine years. Maybe some part of me back in those hospital halls imagined that being in that post-op recovery ward meant that my transsexual identity struggle was over—that now I was just an average girl like any other.

Those thoughts are problematic. On one hand being an average girl was pretty much the entire point of the transition: I did not embark down this road to be a boy, or a transsexual—I did this to be a girl. What’s the purpose of doing this if that was not the inevitable outcome? On the other hand, I shudder at the thought of being “average.”A lot of transition websites talk about the reintegration of trans people into society post-transition. When I first read these sites I admit I was a little offended at the choice of words. “Reintegration”? What, are we prisoners being released on parole? We’re supposed to find our niches back in the world of men and women—essentially re-insert ourselves into the oppressed gender roles as before, willingly limit ourselves to the restrictions of our “new” sex? But these sites do make a good point. After years of dealing with being trans, might there (logically) come a time when we simply deal with being men and women, when our gender become less a consuming force of our energies and time, and we re-allocate all those resources to just living our damn lives? Indeed.

It leaves open a major question, though: What now? After spending some much time and energy to make my outside match my inside—after transitioning to being a girl—what kind of girl am I?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

She is the one...

It was a horrible show about young women who magically turned into meretricious super heroines—vapid, shallow, dense, and poorly-developed girls who week after week defeated ridiculous monsters in the most formulaic, predictable and uninspired fashion, and at the end of the day we got a lovely little contrived moral wrapped up in a bow (assuming we were watching in English). I am, of course, talking about the misogynistic travesty that is Sailor Moon.

I completely stand by my statement that Sailor Moon is a horrible, poorly-written, and poorly-conceived manga/anime. That said, I still love Sailor Moon. It’s a guilty pleasure—I know the franchise is moronic, but it still holds a very special place in my heart. As a feminist I’m disturbed that the bulk of the series involved a bunch of underage girls running around in miniskirts (that barely cover up their underwear) and high-heels—even more disconcerting are the transformations (which occurs in each episode) in which the girls essentially become naked glowing bodies. All along the way we’re treated to the absolute ineptitude and incompetence of the girls, the vast majority of whom are completely boy crazed. Speaking of boys, male intervention is frequently necessary for our heroines to save the day, dashing any hopes of a self-dignified “girl power” message. What blows my mind is that Sailor Moon was conceived by a woman; it makes me wonder if the objectification of the female characters and sexist attitudes conveyed in the series are simply her pandering to a chauvinistic male audience (which would be weird, seeing as the target audience seems to be young girls—or at least I hope it is), or if she really thought super-short mini-skirts and high-heels were conducive to fighting crime.
We’re supposed to identify with Usagi (Japanese for rabbit...because (maybe) she looks like a playboy bunny in-training...I’m trying to not make my inner feminist cry). The problem with this is Usagi (who, as it turns out, is Sailor Moon, leader of the Sailor Scouts) is a total moron. In fact, most of her friends are also total morons, with the possible soul exception of Ami (Sailor Mercury...the scouts are named after the planets, in a somewhat created mythological tie-in that is, ultimately, under-developed). Ami relegated to the stereotypical role of the brain; we also have Minako (Venus), the beauty queen (also a moron); Rei (Mars), a total bitch; and Makoto (Jupiter), the tomboy/closet domestic/future house wife. Of all these, Makoto is the most multi-faceted, being more than justa domestic girl and more than just a stereotypical tomboy. Outside this core cast, there are outer scouts: Haruka (Uranus), Michiru (Neptune), Setsuna (Pluto), and Hotaru (Saturn)—and here’s where the series actually gets interesting. Uranus and Neptune, in the original Japanese version, are partners—both in terms of being a crime-fighting team and in the more literal sense that they are lesbian lovers. When the show was imported to the US, it was assumed that American children could not handle lesbians, so they were re-written to be cousins (with the disturbing effect of, instead of abolishing the image of lesbians, we got implied incestuous homosexuality...good one, Dic). But the really awesome bit here is Sailor Uranus. When she was first introduced, all the inner scouts thought she was a boy. In fact, several of them developed crushes on Haruka! She goes beyond being a tomboy and actually crossdresses much of the time—that said, when she transforms into Sailor Uranus she still kicks ass and looks completely appropriate in a mini-skirt and heels. You don’t get much queerer than that...

Only the series does get queerer. In the last instalment of Sailor Moon we are introduced to the Sailor Starlights—a group of men who magically transform into female super heroines (dressed even more meretriciously than the central Sailor Scouts). Overall, there is too much to really analyse in any one, discrete blog. Each character really deserves her own in-depth treatment. I don’t intend to dissect the series in that detail. Sailor Moon is, really, just a terrible show with moments of awesome queerness—all the same, the anime was instrumental to my coming out. I was in middle school when I became friends with a girl named Maya who, like me, was something of a geeky outcast (then again, who the hell did fit in during Middle School?). She was the one to first get to watching anime (which remains an occasional guilty pleasure of mine), and the very first anime she introduced me to was Sailor Moon.

At the time I couldn’t quite articulate the impact this series had on me. Watching it I was very aware that it was an incredibly girly show—as a boy entering into puberty, I knew I wasn’t supposed to like this. This was girl territory—run away! All the same, I watched it every day after school; when characters died or experience heavy loss, I cried with them, when they fell in love I fell in love, and when they fought the big baddies I thought it was truly badass. Sailor Moon was a gateway into my inner girl—I had previously decided to repress my femininity. I had no knowledge of transsexuality and I couldn’t imagine I could become physically female, but watching this anime I began to re-examine my femininity—I began to pretend that I, too, could magically become a girl. Hence began my long, long journey to self-realization.

I’ve talked to various people in the queer community, and a surprising number of us have the common guilty pleasure of watching anime. Many of us watch Sailor Moon, specifically. The author of Khaos Komix, Tab Kimpton, seems to have had similar experiences, as he has integrated Sailor Moon and anime iconography into his comics about a group of teens growing into their respective genders and sexualities. It makes me wonder how many of us were affected by this series? How many of us saw Haruka and Michiru, and suddenly being lesbian was an option? How many boys watched the anime, realizing then they weren’t heteronormative? How many watched the show and began to rediscover our cross-gender identifications?

Yes, Sailor Moon sucks. At times it’s even offensive to me as a trans feminist. However, it completely reshaped the path of my life, and dammit, I love this anime. Gross and embarrassing though that is to admit.