Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bea*sons I Climbed the Mountain Pt. II, or: On the Prospect of Suicide

[Before continuing, I strongly recommend reading this, to which this post is responding.]

This essay is lovingly dedicated to Natalie C. Houchins, who unknowingly gave me the bravery.

Yesterday I woke up at 6AM after six hours of sleep and went to bed at 2AM.  I did not sleep at all throughout the day.

Yesterday was a chemical equation of vulnerability add slightly traumatic experiences add finally owning up yields panic yields abyss yields Help.

Yesterday I stared into a fissure in the logic of life and considered the deep blue of its endlessness.

Yesterday the lid blew off.

* * *

I arrived at The Drake Hotel promptly at 8 in the morning despite missing the first Purple Line I had intended to take from Evanston, still wearing my makeup from the night before so as to curtail my morning routine.  The men who greeted me were very nice.

A family friend who I've actually never met put my parents and me in contact with the director of a new documentary about how people might begin to overcome ideological differences in faith and in sexuality.  He interviewed me first, and then my parents, yesterday, at the Drake.

I've done a handful of interviews about my transgender identity since returning from Argentina, so I wasn't really nervous.  As you can probably tell from this blog, I'm a pretty open book when it comes to this kind of subject material.  And considering the amount that I've written/spoken on these stories and issues, I can speak objectively and articulately about what were and have been and are some very difficult experiences.

Of course, objectivity doesn't make for a very compelling documentary, he told me, so the director kept pushing to find the hard stuff.  He wanted me to speak vulnerably about my experiences so that the film's eventual audience would more easily empathize with me, many of whom will be newcomers to anything transgender.  It's sound logic, but all of a sudden I was treading uncharted waters, and I eventually hit the kind of iceberg he was looking for.

* * *

Sunday, October 13th, 2013: ten days since admitting to myself that I am transgender, four days since turning twenty-one:

I have taken a week off school to go backpacking through the Andes by myself, an accidentally perfectly timed trip, considering the revelation I had just had a few days ago.  After spending the first four days hiking and writing and traveling and meeting people and taking photos and seeing many beautiful things, I arrive in the small mountain town of Iruya, and go for another hike.

At this point, I have still only logically, theoretically accepted my transgender identity, but there is an unidentifiable emotional block that I desperately want to work through so I can get started on this new phase in my life.  For this reason I go hiking.

I neither know anyone in town, nor tell anyone that I am going hiking.  I know that this is dangerous to do by myself, to literally go off the map without any hopes of being found should something happen.

But there is something thrilling about letting go.  I try convincing myself a dozen times to turn back to town as I ascend, but I can't.  You could fall, I tell myself.  Not all these trails are safe.  It will get dark soon and the trails are thin and the mountain is steep and rocky and if you fall no will come looking for you.  You will die.

What then? I respond, and keep going.

Until today, I have never thought of suicide in any substantial way.  It always had a sort of harsh poetic beauty to it, especially when done by drowning, as in The Awakening by Kate Chopin or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  Most of my own plays feature suicides by drowning.  It has always been something artsy, and tragic.  Until today, when I am surrounded by hard land and I think that maybe there was something more to it after all.

I reach the top of a hill and have a revelatory breakthrough: suppressing my transgender identity for twenty-one years, I realize, has made me think it was something small and evil and that I was right for compressing it tight and tucking it away.  Forcing myself to be someone else, a man, has made me unhappy on some level always, has made me binge eat and diet, has made me seek love and  validation in the embraces of strangers, has made me run away to Argentina and then to the Andes, has brought me now to this particular peak.

I smile.  I cry.  Never has anything made so much sense before.  My brain is cool rain and freshwater pearls after always having been buried and caked in mud.  I praise God.  I return to town.

* * *

By the time I finished retelling the story, I was pretty shaken up.  I finished out the rest of the interview, briefly spoke to my parents when they arrived for theirs just after mine, and left.  My brain was the clearest water it had been in a while.  I felt cathartic, felt good, and only at 10 in the morning.  I took the train home, feeling good, feeling happy, feeling like someone had drilled through all the muck and the shit that we always overlay the heart of things, of ourselves, as we trudge through the day-after-day, and instead struck the untouched pearly center of my being.  I felt aligned.

Revelations are made for mountains.  They are tender, they are fragile.  They must be had far from society, from anything that might upset their precarious existence.

So as I took the train home from downtown, I thought about practical things, like discrimination and the probability of finding a boyfriend, and soon the muck and the shit accumulated back over the pure pearly center of everything, and the recent memory of what pure looked like made the muck and the shit all the more grotesque.  I got home feeling like I had to protect myself from such an open state of vulnerability, and so I searched in the familiar places of the embraces of strangers.

I wasted the entirety of my afternoon in this way, clicking around online profiles in the hopes of finding someone to tell me that I was attractive, that I was worthy, that I meant something, that I was lovable. 

The only break I took was a brief bike ride to my parents' house to pick up something.  It takes fifteen minutes to bike there and fifteen minutes to bike back.  The sun was out and shining and so I went only wearing a pair of booty shorts so as to tan.  In the thirty minutes of riding, there were three instances of people laughing and/or shouting insults at me.  I knew better than to heed their prejudices, but they still got to me.  

How could they not?  As an ex-fat kid and as a slimmer ex-gay man whose body still never matched the toned and perfect prototypes to which all gay men are meant to aspire, having a sense of pride and ownership over my body is only something that I've gained in the last six months, since coming out as transgender.  It turns out that I was always just holding myself to the wrong standards, and once I created my own, I stopped worrying so much about exercise and about calories.

But unfortunately, the majority of the population that does not [want to] understand my gender identity still holds me to body image standards to which I no longer subscribe.  And when they check me, publicly, on the street, when they find my body so abhorrent that they must break any semblance of social propriety to tell me of its perverse qualities, loudly, and I continue straight on without looking at them or acknowledging their existence nor especially what they have said, it is hard to rise above.

When finally I found a man who wanted to come over, I panicked and called my friend.  I had been down that road too many times in the past to know that it was not going to make me feel any better.  "Are you hungry?" he asked me.  

"If you're asking if I've had dinner, not yet," I said, "but I was going to go for a run first."  

"Okay," he said. "Go run and we'll get dinner after." 

"Thanks," I said.

* * *

Running normally works out the emotional kinks in my system.  I run when I'm angry, I run when I'm hopeless, and normally the cardiovascular activity empowers my heart.  I left my apartment in the same booty shorts and nothing else and listened to Lorde as my feet slapped against the pavement.  With each muscular contraction I could feel the emotional release swelling throughout my body.

I ran by the lake and looked out at the water.  It went on for so long.  I think that's why people are so drawn to lakes and oceans and seas.  They're impossible to fathom and people are a curious species.

As I ran on the grass by the shore I thought about suicide.  

It seemed easier.

* * *

I talked things through with my friend over dinner and felt better.  Soon we were laughing and talking about boys like normal, sitting in Whole Foods at 9:30 at night.  Not many people grocery shop at that hour; it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  We left at 10 when they closed and snuck samples at Forever Yogurt, faking an emergency phone call as an excuse to leave without buying anything.  We got outside and laughed and hugged and told stories about first kisses.  We parted ways, embracing.  I was happy to be alive.

* * *

By this time it was 10:45 and I was seeing a play at 11, a friend's semi-autobiographical feminist adaptation of one chapter of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  She had staged it in her apartment, so twenty of us crowded in the living room on the scattering of couches, chairs, rugs, and radiators.

It was a beautiful, intelligent, emotional piece of theatre.  She skillfully flipped between Faulkner's narrative and her own teenage years that paralleled the lives of the girls in the novel.

One of the major themes she dealt with both in the book and in her own life was suicide.  Brother and sister Quentin and Caddy consider committing the act together at several points as kids, Quentin finally going through with it on his own years later.  My friend, also, had struggled with the possibility, feeling the heavy weight of her own weightlessness as she tried to see herself as a person in her own regard, not solely as something that only became whole through the eyes of others.

I thought a lot about my own day as I watched the play, about thoughts I had only ever peripherally acknowledged as real.  I looked at them for what they were: weakness, wondering what if, the willingness to sleep instead of spending one more sleepless, never-ending day trudging through the muck and the shit and the day-after-day when we remember what pearls looked like once and know that we aren't going to find them in this fucking quagmire again soon.

I thought about how the people on the street who harassed me would probably be happy if I ever went through with something like that.  They'd snicker, I imagined, and say, "Good.  One less faggot."

* * *

When the play was over I wanted to break down and just cry for hours but I couldn't.  So I biked to the library after midnight and met with a dear and close friend.  I unloaded everything onto him, the entire account of the very long and awful day, and could I please spend the night at his place?  I almost didn't ask him but I reminded myself that sometimes it's okay to need people and to not be completely self-sufficient.  Besides, I really didn't want to be alone, especially not in my own apartment.

But he couldn't host me, and so I asked a couple more friends until I found someone who could.  It was heartening to see how intensely people cared about me.  I biked in the rain to another friend's apartment, told him the whole story as well, and by that point was feeling lighter.  I had crawled into the maw of nevermore and looked past its terrible teeth into a throat that thumped disgustingly and crawled my way back on out.

We talked about theatre and other things.  We held hands.  We got sleepy and went to bed.

And as I curled up on the couch in living room, having survived a surprisingly hellish twenty hours with the wisdom to choose what was better and with the grace of many friends, I breathed, and was glad to do so.

* * *

A Request For Everyone But Especially My Queer Family Out There:

Talk to people.  There is enough muck and there is enough shit and there is enough day-after-day to get anyone down when the wrong combination of things happens in a short time span.  Remind yourself what matters.  Remind yourself who matters, and talk to them.

Take care of yourselves.  Take care of each other.  Listen to the people who love you.

I do not like to think about how yesterday might have gone if I was under different circumstances, if I did not have so many loving people around me to help me bear the load.  If you do not have someone to bear the load, please message me, and I will do my best.  Also, try these:

LGBTQ-Friendly Suicide Prevention Hotlines

Trevor Project (operates 24/7):
1-866-4-U-TREVOR
National Suicide Hotline (operates 24/7):
1-800-SUICIDE
GLBT National Help Center (operating hours found here):
1-800-THE-GLNH
GLBT National Youth Hotline (regular business hours):
1-800-246-PRIDE

Skip on.
Wash the mud off your pearls.
Lean on others often and without apology.

love and glitter,
bea

2 comments:

  1. Your blog is beautiful and thought-provoking. I'm so glad you have so many wonderful people to turn to when you're feeling bad and I commend you for recommending resources to other people. Thanks for what you do -stay strong!

    ReplyDelete