CN: Discussion of masturbation and pornography. Probably NSFW. Links whose destinations you don’t recognize are definitely NSFW.
I wrote recently about how I recognize the importance of the media that made me the atheist I am today even as I acknowledge its glaring flaws, because it filled the particular void I had. I meant that discussion to be a lead-in for this one, but it took on a life of its own.
My social circle has been remarkably supportive of the traumas and challenges I’ve faced over the past year. A few of its members, however, haven’t yet grasped the nature of the rift that has emerged between me and my parents. They keep telling me to watch how viscerally I criticize them and to intersperse my rage with acknowledgement that the people who raised me are doing “the best they can” to wrap their heads around my situation. At their worst, they tell me not to “air the family’s dirty laundry,” failing to grasp that one of the foremost weapons against their particular secrecy-based abuse dynamic is the cleansing light of day.
Every time I hear those phrases, my mind flits back to the worst nightmare I ever had, in June 2015. This was around when my parents first started losing their minds over seeing my long hair and painted nails over webcam, and sent the first of an onslaught of Emails that stabbed directly at what I was going through. I was terrified that, in their bigotry, they would do something extreme. They threatened to cut off my financial support if I breathed too loudly in their direction; what “punishment” would they impose for joining what my culture regards as its most outré abomination? What would I face if I ever again put myself at their mercy by sleeping under their roof, as I did for two weeks every year?
Those are the fears they tell me to put aside when they plead for reconciliation.
Those are the fears I dreamed about that night.
Those are the fears I wept about that morning.
Content note for oneiric horror, kidnapping, and emotional trauma.
I find it strange and a little funny when people comment on my fashion sense. I have no doubt that it’s genuinely praiseworthy, but some of the compliments I’ve received come with a little extra subtext I’d like to put to rest.
This fashion sense is the work of years, not months.
I’ve been paying vastly outsized attention to women’s clothing for my entire life. I’ve been able to render informed opinions on clothing styles and makeup hues since high school, if not earlier. I had weirdly specific ideas about what I wanted the women in my life to wear. I fantasized about and utterly failed to seduce partners who approximated that style in my misguided quest to surround myself with the precise sort of femininity that it turned out I actually wanted, not to be around, but to be. I did not face my more authentic clothing with the anxious confusion of an empty cistern. I turned that spigot and enough fashion came out to dress ten svelte Hispanic ladies. I was not intimidated by no longer being able to dejectedly match any T-shirt with one or another set of jeans and call it a day; I was liberated.
And because I came into this battle well-armed and, after an outpouring of support, well-provisioned, I’m sharing here what wisdom I have about how I look good in women’s clothing.
“Female-bodied” is a term that is endlessly harmful.
It reduces cisgender women to their uterus. While childbearing is a massively important component of patriarchal harm, it goes far beyond that. It is also harmful to insist that childbearing or a uterus is what makes a woman a woman, both to trans people of all genders, and to cisgender women who are infertile for any reason. It compounds a major source of psychological distress to cis women who cannot have children. By the standards of “female-bodied” to mean the uterine body plan, a cisgender woman who is missing any aspect or has a dysfunction by any part, is bound to feel like less of a woman. Thus, this term directly attacks the womanhood of a variety of cis women as well as trans women.
Parents who want to do right by their children have a lot on their plate, and I do not envy their task. It is far too easy for even the best of us to end up duplicating the errors that were inflicted on us, or picking up new ones from parenting trends with little basis in reality.
One reality that many well-meaning parents don’t know how to acknowledge is how to make sure that their children don’t fear disclosing their membership in gender and sexual minorities. This society is hideously transantagonistic, and children notice this well before they have a word for it, and that can make them scared even when they shouldn’t be.
I hid them in a garment bag. I couldn’t bear to look at them anymore.
Much of how I maneuver within womanhood was determined by my current environment. I’ve been watching women and building preferences for as long as I’ve been alive. The core of my style was settled long ago, pretending then to be a statement of preference for the other women in my life, with a tactile longing I only recently came to understand. But its current expression owes much to where I am now. Nearly my entire wardrobe is from the heaps of donations I’ve received, filling my closet to bursting and slowly being evaluated for whether and how I’ll actually wear each item. The friends who provided these items have fairly different styles of their own, and I accepted their largesse knowing that I’d be picking and sorting through it as my style evolves.
Most of those friends are Canadian. None of them are Hispanic. And it makes me wonder.
How different would I look if I had recognized myself in Miami, instead of in Ottawa?
I learned that you’ll always default to trying to be my emotional inverse, calm and collected when I am urgently emotional, shrieking and yelling when I’m quiet, because you never had any higher end than trying to make me doubt my own feelings and replace them with yours.
I learned that I can make a tiny request, that means more to me than anything, and the measure of your response will be how inconvenient it is for you.
I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies. What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.
My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0. He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work. I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.
Long, long years of loud rooms full of people I never learned to like, who couldn’t be bothered to learn to like me either. Long years of being at parties but not part of them, dreading the part of the night where the group splits into smaller groups that head to different places, not having enough of a link to any moiety to make any path make sense, too determined to have “life experience” to give up right then.
Long, long years of being only minimally able to care what I was wearing, because none of it seemed worth excitement. Long years of burying myself in oversized Hawaiian shirts and their kin with East-Asian-inspired prints and jeans that just barely fit into the rough, unkempt aesthetic of the 1990s. Long years of intensive patterns and cycles maintained because as long as I maintained them, I never had to think of what might replace them, never had to face the yawning, perfumed void over which they stretched, never had to know why.
Long, long years of holding a beloved pet behind a locked door and weeping softly, without knowing why.
“Please get a hair cut and take that nail polish off, I gave birth to a boy six pounds five ounces on November 27, 1987 and it was the most glorious day of our life. We love you and went thru a lot to educate you and try our very best, best, best to love you and cherish and supported you in all of your accomplishments. We are extremely proud of you but we cannot accept this thing that you are going thru now. Please dont let Yeyo see you with painted nails and long hair, hes 86 years old let him remember the way you were when you left to Canada.”
Six months later, it still hurts. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t brought it up every few weeks since then. It would still hurt even if you didn’t invoke the specter of saddening Yeyo most of those times. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t shouted at me about how I should just go ahead and start wearing dresses and makeup, if I was going to do absurd things like grow my hair or paint my nails. It would have hurt even if I thought you were keeping this knowledge away from Dad out of trying to protect me, instead of out of shame. And it still hurts.