On (Alternate) Realities

*Note* this post is in parts reflective, in parts analytical, and dwells in the abstract

Yesterday I canceled my subscription to the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game I play (Eorzea, I miss you already).


Partly because I want to do other things. I miss reading casually, new stuff, in the afternoon, in bed late into the night. I miss being fit, and doing fit person things, a casual jog, a quick walk after dinner. I miss eating well. I have been wanting to learn to cook new things, for years: Thai food, Mexican, Greek. I miss my real life friends. I miss having what feels like a real life. I have let the game consume all these things.

Partly because the appeal of alternate realities, alternate identities, alternate systems of effort and reward…I think I have let them color my real life more than I was aware.

Party because I want to stop believing that not-reality is superior to reality.

Rather than participate in an alternate reality as an attempt to attain what lived reality does not provide (gender congruence, financial stability, no fear of discrimination, direct recourse against it if it occurs, cisgender privilege and/or passing privilege, feelings of independence, of strength, of toughness, of forward motion, of control, of accomplishment, of esteem, of belonging), I want to take the energy I devote to the game and apply it to my real life again. I want to locate those things within it, and not need to jump into a proxyverse to get them. I want to get them in the life I wake up to instead of the life I log in to.

Here is my bias: waking reality is garbage, overall. We’re duped into trading our health, our youth, our time, our labor, our lives, for pittances that don’t provide what we are promised they will. Industrialized societies force humans to partake in sociopolitical systems that dehumanize, isolate, exhaust, and break us, as individuals, as groups. The few benefit at the expense of the many. We work and work and get nowhere and nothing changes. American life is a scam. Our species is destroying the biosphere in the name of cheap profit–we cannot live without a biosphere; profit is meaningless without a biosphere; yet on we march deeper into suffocating oblivion. The legal system, the stories we tell each other, the expectations we are taught about people, the language itself, our American culture has no room for trans people in it. We are fighting for room. We are making it, slowly. The constant fight sucks. It frustrates. It exhausts on top of all the other exhausting things.
 
Still, knowing all this, I also know I used to enjoy reality much more than I have in recent years. I want to believe I can do that again. Even in these apocalyptic times, I want to believe reality can sustain me, like it used to. Even with all the garbage.

I am not sure how this will happen. I keep thinking of that line from Rogue One, “rebellions are built on hope.” My rebellion here is returning a significant portion of my being to reality. My hope is that reality will not crush me and drive me away like it so often has. Or that if reality crushes me, I will become better from the experience of learning how I fall apart, and how I come back together, and how to remain coherent in all this disorienting madness.

Forgive me for being abstract and figurative. I suppose I am rather abstract and figurative.

Redistributing my realities means more than “I’m stopping playing video games for a while.”

Staying as deep and as long in game as I have means more than “I haven’t been the same person since my father died four years ago and I used video games to create some form of solace after, and I miss the person I was before.” More than “I get to be as close to cisgender as I will ever be, in-game, which consoles my gender dysphoria in a significant way.” More than “The small achievements I earn in-game convince my major depressive disorder to cool out.” More than “Social interaction from a relatively safe place at my keyboard behind my avatar in a world designed around cooperation and sharing helps my anxiety disorder avoid triggering.” More than “I get to be around affirming people in an affirming environment as long as I stay logged in.” More than “In-game realities have, for years, made more sense than out-of-game realities, so I stuck around.”

Leaving that behind means I am attempting to reclaim my lived experience from a force I consciously sacrificed much of it to in exchange for comfort.

This experience, then, will be necessarily discomforting. I hope the discomfort will be useful. I hope, after some time, I can learn to feel more like myself again, without the necessity of an avatar.
~Z
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Fear and Passing In Gameland

1.

Know what? Ever since I got back from Minneapolis last weekend, I haven’t worked on my voice at all.

I don’t want to. I feel like I have to (in order to pass, in order to feel safer, in order to access the privileges afforded cis women). Feeling like I have to makes me not want to do it.

I don’t want to feel like my transness is some kind of performance, like performance is an innate part of it. I don’t want it to feel forced, I don’t want it to feel like something I can fuck up. If it feels forced and tenuous, it stops being fun, it stops feeling…something like authentic, whatever that means.

I don’t want my appearance, or my manner, to feel like something I do, especially something I do to appease anyone, something for anyone besides myself.

So I don’t know where I’m at with my voice anymore.

2.

A friend told me years ago that the most radical thing (or one of them) an oppressed person can do is to live as if ze is not oppressed. Meaning to afford oppressive forces no quarter on shaping one’s existence, or to disregard those forces and demand to be treated fairly when they arise.

I’d like to live in a world where no matter what kind of body you have, or voice you speak with, or clothes you wear or can afford, people treat you with dignity. I do not think this world is that world. I think it wants to be there though.

I see trans people on facebook, on twitter, and often I see images of trans people who look super natural and at ease in bodies that aren’t easily categorized. They look like they can touch something vital  and good and fulfilling that way. I am assuming of course. I am assuming they are not-passing intentionally. I assume if they wanted to, they could pass, though I know this is wrong of me, to make an assumption about someone, and to assume passing is possible where perhaps it is not.

I want to be one of those badasses who lives as if ze doesn’t waste any time caring about passing. I used to know what that was like, before I started transitioning. It was infinitely easier. OF course, then, I didn’t have to try. I didn’t even know what passing was.

I want to be radical and let my body act as a message, as confounding evidence against the gender binary, as evidence of the value of femininity, as evidence of gender equality, of gender fluidity, against biological determinism, yatta yatta. But I don’t actively encourage those messages in my appearance. Maybe they’re there whether I want them to be or not. I would like to be IN YOUR FACE trans. For now, I am not. I am afraid, anxious, somewhere on the spectrum between reasonably and unreasonably fearful/anxious. Maybe that’s the anxiety disorder doing the thinking. Maybe that’s the transphobia I internalized when I was growing up in a transphobic home.

Considering I am trans, I would like to unlearn that very pointed and particular fear. I would like to reach into my skull and pluck out the bad circuits, the ones that get caught in paralyzing feedback loops and keep me indoors and afraid of nothing more than phantoms I invent and situations I recreate in my mind’s eye.

No good comes from this fear of and disdain for myself that keep me from celebrating myself. I would unlearn them as swiftly as possible.

3.

I have been thinking about fear a lot recently. How it shapes me and my decisions. I am learning fear is a significant dimension of my transition so far, larger after the PULSE massacre, larger when examining possible futures after the presidential election (i have not decided how to vote yet). I would like it to be a smaller part of my life. More useful, less of a barrier.

Recently, the leader of my guild (a loose group of gamers who share a chat box and help each other out in-game) said some transphobic stuff. This was a tremendous surprise, because this was the nicest, most welcoming, and most helpful group of gamers I had ever met online. I probably jumped between twenty or so guilds before I stopped playing World of Warcraft this spring. I left them all because of insensitive and hateful language that nobody seemed to care about. I don’t play games to invite more hate and judgment into my life.

She wanted me to not post about anything related to my trans experience in guild chat. I had mentioned something about trying to change my voice in guild chat, since I was out to the guild already, but some people were curious. Many players thought I was male. Some said it was because of how I write. I guess I don’t pass even when my body isn’t a factor.

When I pressed the guild leader for why, she invoked religion. To her, trans people are violating our bodies–given to us by god under some sort of unspoken contract–by changing them, because god makes everyone perfect and so undergoing a gender transition is sacrilege and *gasp* offensive. I told her that made me feel silenced and hurt. My attempts to educate her (I was trans all my life before I started transitioning, you don’t need to change your body to be trans, what about puberty, what about illness, what about healing, what about medicine, doesn’t Jesus’ apparent message of love apply to everyone, lepers, sinners, prostitutes, the ill, thieves, etc) of course failed. I expected them to. Her mind was made up before we started typing at each other. And if the Trump nomination means anything, it means that in some circles, information, facts, and truths no longer change people’s minds. At one point, she said something like, “I don’t hate you, I just think you’re defying the will of god.” I told her I would probably leave the guild, and did.

I felt awful. Existentially disappointed. This was the best guild I had been in ever. It felt like a family. I’d been in it for three months but I felt like I knew people enough to be open with them, to be out with them, vulnerable.

I spoke to some other guildies who were on, because I needed help figuring out how to leave, and they expressed surprise and mild outrage, said they wanted to have words with her.

I learned from a friend a few days later that there was a voice chat (like a conference call through a separate communication client) between the guild leader, a bunch of officers, and other members about what had gone down. Some officers (high-ranking members of the guild with responsibilities like recruitment, raid organizing, managing the guild bank, etc) stood up for me, called her on her hate, and left.

A few of us banded together (classic RPG lingo) and formed our own guild, to make an lgbtq-safe space. I’m still friends with the folks who went a separate way after they left, and we chat on occasion, help each other with in-game stuff, run dungeons together. You know. Normal gamer stuff

I did not expect people to stand up for me. It was really refreshing to learn they did. Gamer culture is notoriously awful at inclusivity, at sexism, at queer-bashing. Women are basically invisible in gamer spaces. Trans women and other lgbtq folks  might as well not exist outside of the epithets players insult each other with. To be a part of a space where I don’t have to fear that is a big deal.

Words hurt. They have consequences. As a writer, my existence is a consequence of words.

I spent the better part of three months deciding when would be a good time to tell the guild I was trans. I asked for female pronouns a few weeks in, but I worried about outing myself, though I wanted to be out, to have more authentic, whatever that means, relationships, to not have to erase parts of my history or mark them as unshareable.

Visibility matters. The more visible trans people are, the more acceptance we create, the more normal we seem, the more immediate trans issues and lives can become to people who don’t otherwise know or encounter any of us. It’s a very, very small way to help the movement for equality, but it’s there and it’s real.

I don’t want to worry about being out any more. Yet I feel I have to. The trans people I admire don’t appear to.

Now that I’m in a safe space in-game, where most of my social interaction occurs these days, that’s that much less worrying to undergo. That fewer things to fear.

4.

I need to go shopping for clothes tomorrow for an interview. Though I would like the clerks to treat me a certain way and to call me certain things and not others, I will try not to care.

Dysphoria

From Queer Voices. http://queer-voices.com/2015/10/dysphoria-bodily-mentally-socially/

The article categorizes three forms of gender dysphoria: Social, Mental, and Physical. Before hormones, I would get a lot of Physical dysphoria. Treating that is the reason I take hormones, which help immensely but not completely. Mental dysphoria I used to deal with more pre-transition as well, but it’s easier now that forces beyond myself (friends and sometimes family) are helping validate my gender (and that my physical form and my inner narratives are now more validating of it too).

Social dysphoria I still get all the time. I don’t pass as female as often as I pass as male, so people misgender me lots still, which causes its own sort of pain beyond social awkwardness.

I was in a bowling alley a few weeks ago watching two high-school-age women in the seats across from my team. They were being…I think the appropriate phrase is “TOTES ADORBS.” Sitting in each other’s laps. Hugging. Giggling and fawning at cute things on their phones. It was a display of proto-femininity I found difficult to ignore, partly because I have always wanted to express my femininity so easily in public, partly because I was envious of the acceptance and invisibility they received from their friends and passersby while behaving like…like themselves. Partly because I envied it so much it hurt to watch.

Watching the girls ended up killing the evening for me. My mood plummeted, I noticed I was tearing up when I gutterballed, I withdrew from conversation with the friends I was bowling with, and I started to despair, to feel lethargic, to want skip my turns or leave the alley completely.

But I didn’t say anything, because my friends were enjoying themselves, catching lucky strikes and telling Star Trek jokes. Later on, David spoke in the car: “That was fun.” Ben said, “AGREED,” doing his best Picard. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, nexus of car conversation, so I had to respond. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, or like I was sad because my scores were bad, or like I didn’t enjoy socializing (though that’s becoming increasingly true) since we hadn’t gone out much in the past few weeks. So I said yeah, it was fun, which was a lie, and therefore disrespectful of my friends.

Had I said it wasn’t, would that have seemed disrespectful too? I didn’t want to talk about why. I had told Ben earlier about my mood and the women. He said he could understand why social situations were hard for me. As much as I appreciated his words, I knew he couldn’t mean them fully.

Does the Buddha say Desire is the source of all suffering? Am I wrong to desire the type of easy outward public femininity the high schoolers were displaying? Am I a coward for avoiding the scorn such a display would invite? Whose lap would I sit in? Who would I take to http://www.cuteoverload.com to gush over images of baby polar bears and hedgehogs and hedgehogs again? To be honest, so much of these feels feel so instinctual it feels wrong to resist or interrogate or question them. How can one not desire what one is drawn to?

I bring this up to illustrate social dysphoria. Something as simple as encountering femininity in the world can trigger it.

I suppose I am lucky that I do have respite from the dysphorias. Hormones mitigate the physical dysphoria to the point of restoring function to my life. When I say “my life,” I mean the whole thing. Being alone is the easiest way I’ve encountered for mitigating the social dysphoria–the job I just received lets me work from home, and I love that. The mental dysphoria, feeling “trapped by gender confines,” interplays with all the others, but I don’t have to go through the crippling self-doubt that kept me from transitioning until two years ago anymore, at least.

Anyway, there is that. Thanks for reading.

List of Plans

1) Read more.
2) Get a car that moves.
3) Read more.
4) Get a job I don’t hate.
5) Read more.
6) Read more poetry.
7) Take more risks with my relationships.
8) Take more risks with my genders.
9) Write more bad things.
10) Be afraid of things and do them anyway.
11) Be a better ally–the struggle affects us all.
12) Legal name change.
13) More yoga, more often.
14) Read more.
15) Deathblow to the beard remnant.
16) Read more.

Short Essay on Dismissing/Dating Marginalized Folks

“When I hear someone say their rationale for not dating someone is because of their “insecurity,” or some other easy pop psychology reasoning, I always hope they’ll have a flash of understanding and compassion, and say, “Though I imagine their insecurity might stem from a set of cultural oppressions which I can’t begin to imagine.” We cannot expect progressive social models to ever take hold if we accept the denial of an arbitrarily defined subset of people to the basic right to access love and sexual expression. This zero-sum thinking is the essence of capitalism, and encourages us to hold tight our own privileges while denying the exclusion of others.

When we stigmatize the symptoms of cultural abuse and marginalization (which is what most of the described “insecurity” is), especially in relationships where that same cultural abuse and marginalization privileges us, we are agents for that system of oppression. To identify ourselves as proponents of anti-oppression yet still engage in language and attitudes which apply negative value judgements to people without acknowledgement of the roots of those judgements undermines the very point of anti-oppression activism. It denies the impact of that abuse.”

https://gudbuytjane.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/dating-from-the-margins-%E2%80%9Cshe%E2%80%99s-kind-of-insecure%E2%80%9D-or-the-catch-22-of-marginalization/

Question that Misses the Point

Another good one from Everyday Feminism and Kat Blaque. “If Gender Didn’t Exist, Would Trans People?” Shortly, yes. Being trans is NOT about wanting to alter appearance to fit a norm. It’s often about recognizing and actualizing and expressing gender identity. There is more to gender than the social dimensions of gender and more than individual perceptions of others’ appearances.

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/12/if-gender-didnt-exist-trans/

On the Pronoun Spectrum

1.

I arrived in St Louis yesterday. I grew up here, then I left, with little desire to return. My mother’s house seemed surprisingly tiny, and surprisingly dingy. There are more cracks in the ceilings, more scuffs on the walls, stains on the carpets, more clutter and cat hair. The cabinet doors lean sloppily on hinges whose loads have become, over time, more than they were meant to support.

Ben, a dear friend, accompanied me. Ben is cisgender and an amazing ally. Ben sat in the passenger seat for seven or eight hours from his east Tennessee house while I drove here, where I plan to stay temporarily but indefinitely, until my financial circumstances change for the better. My family and I tend not to get along, but we say we love each other. This sort of behavior makes me wonder what other people mean when they talk about love. I am pretty sure this part of my family uses that word to speak of reluctant but blood-bound obligation, something like duty or honor. I pull into the driveway with my shields up.

Continue reading

On (Not/) Passing

I think about passing a lot because I don’t pass. I mean I don’t look/act/talk/sound/walk/dress in a way that invites an easy, coherent gender label. I don’t look traditionally female or male. Not passing creates problems for me. I notice I take a lot more anxiety with me into public spaces now, because I don’t know how random people I’ve never met before will treat me. It takes me a lot longer to get ready before going out as well, most often because my limited wardrobe doesn’t offer me a wide sampling of outfits or looks that I think look good on my current (not-)male-and-(not-)female body. Clothing is way harder to find now, but so is having a face that looks coherently feminine. When I look coherently feminine, I’ve noticed people treat me better, they give me female pronouns without me having to ask, and I generally feel more at ease (until I start speaking). Passing acts like a bubble of additional safety I can take with me into unfamiliar places and situations. Therefore, passing–presenting a coherent and single binary-aligned gender–comes with privilege.

So when I read something like this, it thrills me. I would love to not have to worry about passing as much as I do. I wish our culture afforded people with non-binary, genderqueer, and transgender appearances the type of recognition that would help me feel less like an outsider in public. I wish our culture simply accepted other genders than male and female as, well, existing. It’s getting better, but there’s still passing and not-passing privilege, which indicates our culture still values unified binary genders more than ambiguous or dissonant genders.

So an article like this really grills my cheese.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/im-proud-of-being-trans-and-i-dont-care-about-passing