First time in a long time.
Eimear McBride: “Think suffering’s worth it.”
If happiness is really coming, finally coming, then yes. It will all have been worth it.
When I first read this entry in Masha Tupitsyn’s wonderful Tumblr back in August, it made me look back. I remembered a conversation I had with a boy many years ago. He’d been through a lot and I’d been through a lot and it was the things that we’d been through that had brought us together and had helped us forge a connection, and I remember very clearly saying to him at one point, through tears, that maybe that connection meant that everything I’d been through up to that point had been worth it. But in fact, I was still living in two worlds. I wasn’t ready. It couldn’t have worked.
Today, I thought of this entry again, but now, I do so looking forward. Last night I, as a 37-year-old transgender woman, went out with friends in the Castro, and though I’ve certainly gone out and danced had nights on the town before, this experience felt new. I felt connected to the people around me. I felt like it’s not too late for anything. I am not exactly happy (or unhappy, certainly), but I am hopeful that one day it will all feel like it has been worth it. There are moments when it already does.
A kiss can be deadly if you mean it.
"I guess I’m tired of wearing masks."
On my Wednesday morning commute, my phone shuffled up this gem by the wonderful Swedish songwriter Jens Lekman, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
"I could sit and watch my life go by or I could take a tiny chance
'cause someday I'll be stuffed in some museum, scaring little kids
with the inscripture ‘Carpe Diem,’ something I never did.”
—Jens Lekman, “Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song
The song is inspired by the film Mask, which is about the life of Rocky Dennis. I’ve never watched the film, but one image from it I happened to see on television when I was in my teens—the moment at the 4:00 mark in the above video, where Rocky sees himself in a funhouse mirror that gives him a glimpse of what he might have looked like had he not suffered from lionitis—hit me so hard that I’ve never forgotten it, and even now, seeing it is almost enough to make me cry.
I can’t claim to have any idea what it’s like to live with a disfigurement. But I do know what it’s like to look in a mirror and see a face staring back at you that feels like a mask that prevents some people from seeing who you really are. And though I don’t think I scare little kids, I’ve definitely provoked plenty of questions from them about just what it is that I am.
We constantly talk about how attractive people are or aren’t, how hot or cute or sexy or pretty or ugly they are. I suppose this is normal and healthy, but I always feel detached from such conversations. It’s not that I can’t or don’t recognize physical attractiveness in people. I definitely do. But it rarely moves me. It’s only when I’m emotionally attracted to someone that their physical attractiveness becomes something real and affecting for me. I wonder if this is because my own experiences have led me to believe that appearances can lie, that a face can obscure or betray a person’s true nature as much as it can reveal it. Without a sense of connection to what’s below the surface, what’s on the surface is meaningless to me. I think it’s the fact that I’ve often felt so cut off from connecting with people that I’m so concerned with connection, and that I love the work of writers like Masha Tupitsyn who write about connection in ways that resonate so powerfully with my own longings.
Last night at Thanksgiving, I had my head on a friend’s shoulder as we talked about love. She and her partner have always struck me as an incredibly perfect match, the kind of uncanny coupling that just makes it seem as if there are still some things that are deeply right with this world, a reason to be happy. She said that she is a serial monogamist but had to go through her fuck-anything-that-moves phase to realize this. She asked me if I’ve gone through such a phase.
No, I said. I mean, opportunities for sex don’t exactly fall into my lap very often, but even if they did, I don’t think I’d be interested in them. Maybe I’m too old now for that phase, but I don’t think I need to go through it to know that I’m monogamous by nature. I told her that maybe I wish I could have had some of those experiences when I was younger, that I sometimes grieve for all the things I’ve missed out on, that I have moments of bitterness as I think about all the love and sex and cohabitation and shared travel and everything that I haven’t had, the building of a life with someone. That I get so tired sometimes of feeling like an alien, like my experience of this life is so different from that of so many other people.
Sometimes in my mind I paraphrase a line from the movie The Edge. “Never feel sorry for a man with a plane,” the line goes. “Never feel sorry for a woman who gets to write about video games for a living,” I say in my head. But sometimes I need to grieve.
But of course I’m still young. Nothing is over yet. And next year will be a year of many changes for me, if everything goes according to plan. I’m scared, but I’m ready.
"No fade in, film begins on a kid in the big city.
And no cut to a costly parade that’s for (her) only.
No dissolve to a sliver of grey that’s (her) new lady,
Where she glows just like grain on the flickering pane of some great movie. Hey, I didn’t watch it!
It’s just a house burning, but it’s not haunted.
It was your heart hurting, but not for too long, kid.”
You know how in movies people realize, change their minds, go after what/who they once let go—act? Love strikes, love emboldens, love returns, haunts, is more than just a random occurrence. Love changes being. You know how in the movies people realize they were wrong and then mend that wrong? Get in the car and on that plane and mend that wrong. The way mending wrongs—since we can’t seem to not wrong each other—becomes one of the odysseys we must all go on, and what movies are largely about. Worse not to mend a wrong than to commit a wrong. Shit happens. Lots of shit happens. But to not mend? Not knowing when and how you should mend? Not feeling anyone is worth mending and being mended for?
Life is not like that, I am learning. Life is a series of realizations that never happen or never lead to manifestation. Never take hold, never make themselves evident, then fade.
Life is regrets that we live with or don’t have at all. Life is people we should miss but don’t. Should love but don’t. Love but don’t love, as in action. Love as how you love. Love that we find but let go of for no reason because we don’t know how to be worthy of what and who happens to us. Because we think so much more will happen to us, because we think there is no difference between this and that, him or her, because we no longer think any experience or person is singular. Because we think we have so many chances, we don’t even want chances. Thinking of something or someone as a chance is a very romantic way of thinking to begin with. Try finding someone that thinks that way first. Try. Try. Try.
In the movies, we remember. We can’t help it.
In life, we forget. We know how to. We make sure.
In life, remembering (missing, truly wanting what we desire and living with it) is the problem.
from “No, That Was Not Our Happiness” by Masha Tupitsyn, p. 34 of Like Someone in Love
Of course, my life is mostly made up of mundane moments. Grocery shopping and laundry and some long hours at the office grinding away at this or that. But I know that cinema has shaped the way I process my life, and that most of this mundane stuff ends up on the cutting room floor. I look for story arcs in life, for resolutions, for moments of meaning. Writing my experiences out here in a way that seems to lend them structure is a way of working through them. I sometimes joke with a friend that her and I are secretly the stars of a TV drama, and whose storyline did the fans like more this week, we’ll ask each other, hers or mine?
I sometimes worry that too much of my life will be spent in flashback, as I look back longingly on the golden, blessed days I’m in the midst of living right now. I really hope I end up feeling like I made the most of them.
"I see myself on my deathbed saying ‘I wish I would have loved less.’
Last night I ran into my old life still waiting for someone at the station, someone who never made it into my new life. So I called up (Felicia) ‘cause she’s my only friend. ‘(Felicia), I don’t know anymore. Every heartbeat needs a reason.’”
—Jens Lekman, Sipping on the Sweet Nectar
At this thing I had to do a few weeks ago, two women asked me a total of maybe six questions in an effort to determine if I truly psychologically identified as a woman and would truly benefit from surgery. One of the questions was, “Any romantic involvement at the moment?”
I smiled. “I’m single,” I said.
As if she was recalling a happy memory, she responded, “I had a woman recently say that she was happily single, that she was just focused on her job and taking care of herself for now.”
Once I might have understood this. Now I don’t understand it at all. I spent seven years alone, single, basically wanting nothing. What kind of life was I living? What can such a life mean? Now everything that is just for me feels hollow. It’s as if one day I felt the weight of all my lonely days and years stretching out behind me and saw before me a montage of meaningless mornings and meaningless nights flashing forward through the years and decades ahead. I realized that even the tremendously self-involved process of transition would have been utterly pointless and meaningless if it didn’t bring me to a place where I was better able to connect with and love others.
An excerpt from Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Dog.
I read Masha Tupitsyn's remarkable (and free) book Like Someone in Love last week and found myself copying lines and passages from it constantly, so much of reading it feeling like it feels when I listen to songs that feel as if they speak directly to me about my life.
And I don’t understand how anyone can want to be alone when we are already so alone. When we can’t really ever know or feel ourselves unless we feel and know others. Unless we strive for this, reach for this, go for this. When today there is less connection, less time, less intimacy, less security, less love. How much more loneliness, isolation, and alienation can we possibly stand, live with, bear, court? Why can’t anyone really reach anyone? Why doesn’t anyone want to be reached? Why can’t we break down each other’s isolation? Why doesn’t it take love anymore? For if not love, then what? Why when people find each other, do they want to go the other way? Not towards, or for. But away. (Like Someone in Love, p. 27)
I’d started using Instagram recently and rapidly got pretty hooked on it. After a few weeks, I realized that often what I was chronicling was my own absence from things, the ways in which I didn’t know how to participate in what was happening around me, how I was behind the camera while everyone else was in front of it. But I’m making a conscious effort to be less alone and less isolated these days, with mixed results, but no disasters.
From Louie, “New Year’s Eve”
Someone kissed me last weekend, someone I love but am not in love with and who loves me but is not in love with me. I cried in his arms afterwards and told him that it was that rare brush against a world of experience that has been closed off to me for so long, that when you don’t have anyone to sleep with or kiss or hold hands at the movies with for seven years, it does something to you, or at least to me, that I sometimes felt unlovable, that I sometimes grew bitter about being left out of all of this. I felt a kind of breaking of the ice, or perhaps a brushing away of layers of dust.
A friend, facing the prospect of being single again for the first time in years, said to me recently, “I don’t have any game anymore.” I’ve never even played the game, not in the sense most people mean. And I can’t see myself starting now, with online website dating profiles and first dates and small talk.
Another friend says I need a fling. I’m so not interested in flings. I’m anti-interested in flings. Nothing is ever primarily about sex, for me. It’s about connection. Connection or nothing. I tell Felicia that I worry now that my heart might stampede into anything, might see possibilities in everything. But really, this isn’t true. Still and always, the number of people I want anything to do with—as friends, as anything—is extremely small. I’d rather be alone than spend time with most people. I want nothing from most people, and everything from a few.
The situation is hopeless when it could be hopeful. This is modernity: We choose to fuck things up. We choose to suffer. We choose to live with lack. We choose isolation. We choose to be without. (Like Someone in Love, p. 31)
I’m a better person and a better writer when I feel something, when my heart is humming or hurting, than when it’s idling, so if I need to spend another seven years single, I at least want to mind the hell out of it. I at least want to want more. I expect I’ll always fall only for people I think are amazing—such people are extremely rare, so my odds will never be good. But when love comes to town, I want to love, whether or not it comes back to me.
I don’t know if what and who I am looking for is even possible anymore, but the need to look and find is in me nonetheless—unwavering and resolute, even amidst the buildup of losses. (Like Someone in Love, p. 11)
In that song up top, Jens Lekman sings “I see myself on my deathbed saying ‘I wish I would have loved less.’” I can’t even imagine feeling that way. That won’t be me.
So no, I told the woman at that thing a few weeks ago. “I don’t think of myself as happily single.”
I’ve always especially loved this performance of With or Without You, U2’s most naked, vulnerable, sincere song, because of the way the sincerity of the Joshua Tree song is complicated here by Bono sans MacPhisto ears but still in the makeup and suit of his sad, empty, egomaniacal alter ego. In the wake of the ironic excess of songs like Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car, we shift gears into this. Bono, a master at creating a sense of intimacy between himself and the audience in even the largest arenas, has kept us at arm’s length but now seems to let us in at last. I used to feel like the sincerity of this song meant that MacPhisto had fallen away, that U2 were ultimately saying that all the overblown irony of Zoo TV had not smothered the beating heart of the band’s earlier work, that sincerity still had a place in the world, even in the early 90s. But now I think I had it backwards. There’s definitely still some residual MacPhisto affect during this song, and I don’t think that makes the performance any less sincere. The beating heart had been on display, part of the show, all along. I think it says that MacPhisto wasn’t much of a performance for Bono, or if he was, he was an honest one, and that maybe even in our struggles to be real, even in our most naked, vulnerable, sincere moments, there will always be a little bit of performance. And in those performances, there will always be a little bit (or a lot) of truth.
I tweeted the other day that Frances Ha may be insufferable, but it’s my kind of insufferable. It probably helps that I not only identify with Frances’ need to grow as a person and get to know herself better, but that I also think Greta Gerwig looks something like me. And that, like being loved by me, being loved by Frances isn’t always easy.
In the essay that accompanies the Criterion edition of the film, playwright Annie Baker writes,
Frances Ha is a romance. You could even call it a romantic comedy. It’s not a boy-girl romance or a girl-girl romance but a romance between the title character and her capital-S Self: at the end of the film, after a series of obstacles, Frances finally gets to know, and fall in love with, Frances.
I saw the film in the theater, alone, on May 25th. I only know the date because on the following day, I wrote this reflection on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, in which I talk about having seen the film the day before. At the time, I said this about it:
Yesterday I saw Frances Ha. Though she isn’t the most graceful person in the world, Greta Gerwig’s Frances is a dancer. After one open-hearted and awkward and lovely dance routine she choreographed, she says something like “I like things that look like mistakes.” Her life is full of them. So is mine.
The difference is that she embraces them, seemingly almost fearless. I try to avoid them as much as I can, mortified at the thought of the true extent of my goofiness, my awkwardness, my social ineptitude being made apparent.
I’ve done some things that feel like mistakes since then. But that’s okay. I don’t have time or energy to waste on being guarded anymore.
Of course, my particular experiences as a trans person mean that I’ve had a lot less time to get to really know myself than most women my age. I joked with a friend recently that I should wear a big sign with a disclaimer around my neck when entering new social or romantic situations, something like: I APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE FUCK I’M DOING. YOUR PATIENCE IS APPRECIATED.
There is one key difference between Frances and me. As Baker writes in her essay about the film,
Who knows if Frances and Benji will ever get together? It’s actually irrelevant in the romance that is this movie. Frances’s ability to live alone, and inch toward artistic and spiritual fulfillment, is the happy ending we get, and it’s totally satisfying.
Though I have a lot less life experience in some key areas than Frances does, I’m also a fair bit older than she is (as much as I still feel like an awkward teen) and at this point, having spent more than enough time alone, my personal growth means learning to interact with and rely on people more, not less. Earlier tonight, C asked me if I’d be at the office working all weekend, which isn’t unusual, and these are busy times.
"I’ll be working a lot," I said, "but I’m also trying to do more of that whole ‘human interaction’ thing lately. It’s rough. I’ve got a lot to learn. But I think maybe I’m starting to understand how you people talk to each other, and that’s good."
There are still plenty of mistakes left to be made.
Tomorrow, Monday, November 4th, 2013, is something of an important day for me. I have an appointment at the Regional MultiSpecialty Transition Clinic/Program at the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center. During this appointment, I will meet with their “Surgical Review Board panel of experts” and the attending surgeon, in the hopes of securing a recommendation from the board that Kaiser provide me with SRS.
For trans women in years past, situations like this have often had an oppressive, gatekeeper-esque aspect, with those women feeling like they’ve needed to conform to a specific sort of conventional hyperfeminine image in order to be perceived and accepted by the powers that be as women deserving of this step in treatment. I’m fairly confident that my appointment tomorrow won’t be that way. They have no reason whatsoever to doubt me. I’ve been living as a woman, very publicly, for years now. And though I’m not hyperfeminine by any stretch—I’m more inclined most days to wear a t-shirt and jeans than a skirt—I know who I am.
Still, I am going to wear a dress tomorrow.
Wish me luck.
The Believer Logger: True Lovers are as Rare as True Rebels -
An Interview with Masha Tupitsyn
“Love has been the ontological pattern for me. And also the withholding pattern. I am still on hold with regards to love. And the longer one is on hold, in suspense, on a search, the harder, paradoxically, it is to continue with a search. The search batters but it also emboldens because it becomes both the way one fails and the way one succeeds. That’s of course the test of every search and truth procedure. It’s also how, one becomes a subject. I am as much what I am because of what I still don’t have as I am because of what I have had and what I might still have one day. As much as it is about mourning, Love Dog is equally a meditation on having faith in a world that no longer believes in singular themes, concepts, or narrative arcs. At any moment I could give up, but I haven’t because love for me is an indispensable structure for being. One that has opened up a space of meaning, possibility, feeling, agency, and writing that might otherwise not exist for me. The struggle now—post-Love Dog, if there is a post yet—is whether I still have faith in people. That is getting increasingly harder to maintain. I just don’t see many people today choosing love. I see people passing it up a lot. Foreclosing on it, deferring it, sabotaging, letting go.” —Masha Tupitsyn
I love that so much.
Read the full interview here.