Orbiting Around “Other”

I got another tattoo yesterday afternoon – my 6th – at a parlor in downtown Birmingham. My artist’s name was (we’ll say) Alex. For about 2 months prior to me walking into his shop and getting inked, we had been communicating via email, exchanging ideas and booking a date.

It took about 2 hours (not as long as I expected), and I had two friends there with me. We were in a small, black-and-green room on the second floor of the studio where the tattooing process was underway. We all chatted, our voices rising and dipping above and below the incessant buzzing of the needle, and I learned a good bit about Alex; he loves tacos and horror movie classics but can’t stand truck drivers. He probably learned far more about me than he cared to, quietly listening as I offered endless details about my job, bunny rabbits, ritto love, and crippling left-handedness. During the session, I relayed to one of my friends that, during the work week, a co-worker had (to my delight) likened me to her nephew — remarking that, physically, I resembled him. My friend laughed and congratulated me; Alex appeared to be listening but said nothing.

After he’d finished inking my right arm and had sanitized/bandaged the area, me and my small posse trekked downstairs into the lobby and I checked out at the front counter. I asked him a question as I was adding a tip onto the receipt and, over the noise in the room, he couldn’t hear me clearly.

“I’m sorry, ma’am? Wait — SIR! I.. don’t know.” His eyes got big as he fell quiet. I laughed good-naturedly. “Ohhhh Alex.. either is fine. Honestly!”

 

My rabbit, Hiro, piloting a dalek in outer space.
Tattoo numero seis: My rabbit, Hiro, piloting a dalek in outer space.

 

Related: A co-worker actually flagged me down Friday afternoon and asked me, very directly, about gender pronouns.

“You said ‘hey lady!’ when I called you on the phone the other day,” she began, “and I honestly didn’t know how to respond to you.. like, do I say ‘hey girl’ or ‘hello sir’, or..? Do you have a preference?”
I appreciated her candidness. “Honestly? I get a kick out of it when people use male pronouns — I definitely prefer them — but I have no expectation of getting those, because I know that I don’t look like a guy to most people.”
She surveyed me for a second, and then lifted her eyebrows. “Honestly? I don’t know what you’re going for, exactly — you DON’T look like a grown man, sorry — but you definitely look like a teenage boy to me.”

Score. She made my DAY.

 

Just for kicks, let’s hear from the audience! What say ye, folks: boy or girl?

 

download_20160327_104605       2016-03-14 20.19.12

 

 

Boy, girl.. as you might recall, I’ve officially decided to identify as “other”, finding the term “gender-neutral” more palatable and less painful to read, think about, and hear than the words woman, female, she and her. It’s a little unrealistic (“BUT YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE, and you have to choose ONE! Honestly, you can’t REALLY even “choose” because you’re born one of the two ways and THAT’S what you’re stuck with”), and maybe it’s stupid of me, but it’s how I cope. Anyways, other; that’s me.. and then, continuing to follow this loosely-related stream of consciousness, a friend’s recent blog post got me to thinking about how we all label and categorize ourselves (and in great detail; in ways that go far beyond simply identifying as male or female or other) and how we then relate to others via similar categories, labels, and shared beliefs/backgrounds/interests. We have finally arrived at the actual premise of this post, so let’s talk about all of that for just a minute.

 

Me; Jace. How would I label myself?

Jace is.. other.

More specifically?

Transgender. Gay.

Okay; remove transgender and gay. Now what is Jace?

Jace is.. agnostic.

Okay — remove agnostic also. NOW what is Jace?

American/Caucasian/English-speaking.

Remove all of that; and?

Liberal. Maybe a democrat.

Remove those. And?

A musician, writer and skateboarder.

Remove all of that — now what’s left?

An animal-lover; a vegetarian; left-handed; 108.6 pounds; hazel-eyed; short-haired; tattooed and pierced; outdoorsy; natural; loving; thoughtful; conscious; inquisitive; imaginative; sensitive; increasingly brave; alive; breathing; flesh and blood; human.

 

So, for me, that’s what that particular stream-of-consciousness ultimately led me to: human. I went from pulling myself out of large, broad categories (encompassing gender, orientation, religion and politics) to extracting myself from some pretty defining hobbies, pursuits and passions. I then proceeded to peel away the physical descriptions of myself, eventually moving onward to character and personality traits, and FINALLY reduced myself to the very basics (flesh and blood, with a functioning heart and set of lungs) and then I found myself, long at last, to be just this: human.

But do you see how we label and categorize the hell out of ourselves without even REALIZING we’re doing it? How we contort and conform our bodies (and MINDS) so that they’ll fit nicely inside of these many, varied boxes? It’s almost like creating a Venn diagram, with a circle denoting a person’s characteristics, beliefs, identifying adjectives and the like, and then seeing which part of their circle overlaps with someone else’s circle. Once you’ve identified the “shared parts” of the circles, you’ve found it: your common ground. Your own personal set of brassy armor against “other.” Here’s an example:

 

bullshit venn diagram
Venn diagram comparing and contrasting Jace with Donald Trump.

 

Apparently, all that Donald Trump and I have in common, using the information provided, is that we’re both human. Moving along.

 

Let’s take this a little further.. this classification removal game.

You’re a girl. Age: 13. In your 7th grade PE class, it’s not a rule or a policy, but it’s generally and widely understood that girls play volleyball or walk track indoors and boys are routed outside to play football. You nervously tell the teacher one morning that you’d actually rather play football, and they look at you kind of weirdly but say “Okay.. sure.” Liberated, you dash outside, kicking up the grass behind you as you speed your way through it, all the way across the lawn to the playing field. The boys look at you in a way that makes you feel like you’re not supposed to be out there, and one of them – who is named Dylan – throws a football directly into your face, almost breaking your nose (and thereby dispelling any speculation that your fear was unfounded, or that you had only imagined it). Guess what? Girls, boys.. they are ALL “other” to you, kiddo. And you, my darling, are “other” to them also. They know which side of the street they naturally fall on — which group they, by social design, belong to. Meanwhile, you’re creeping curiously along the solid yellow line, solo.

 

Next up, you’re a christian. Congratulations! A mega christian, at that.. one who is very involved and active in their religious community and devout in their own personal studies, habits and prayers as well. Religion isn’t just another “label” to you; it’s a pervading theology that directly influences and impacts your whole entire lifestyle. So, naturally, you hang out with the other christians, because they’re moral/decent/well-behaved and like-minded.. as you are. But wait; get this: years down the road, you suddenly dip out of religion, critically fragmenting all of those superficial, jesus-based relationships that you enjoyed so much, and you then, purely out of necessity, take a dive from the deep end and join the lively, bubbling sea of atheists, buddhists, wiccans and etc. They’re accepting, but you don’t exactly identify perfectly with any of them, either (because, while you certainly no longer believe in the portrayal of the christian god or the veracity of the bible, you DO speculate that SOME kind of divine entity exists.. otherwise, how could the earth, outer space, laughter, the concept of beauty, the science/chemistry of love and etc all “just HAPPEN”?), so you’re now existing on another plane, in another dimension, on this whole OTHER level of “other.” Where are your peeps? Beats me, boo. You’ve gotta keep looking.

 

Politics. Here’s where you’ll surely find your home. Are you a democrat or a republican? Trump or Bernie? It’s a pretty simple question, right? So #basic. People generally gravitate towards one or the other.. but what if you don’t really take the time to research political matters and figures (like you should) and find yourself unpersuaded, unconvinced and undecided, lazily straddling the red, white and blue fence? Well, then you’re out this round, too. Plus, people think that, by failing to vote, you’re doing a country a disservice, so bravo, kid. You’re winning fans and commanding respect all over the place.

 

Orientation. This is a good one. A real good one. You live in Alabama – smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt – and you’re a transgender gay person. Are you kidding me right now? Poor thing. Have you tried cheaptickets.com? Might be able to find a discounted ticket to elsewhere-ville. You’re better off just about anywhere.

 

Football — who’s your team? Auburn or Bama? NEITHER? WHAT?! Do you watch football at all, EVER? Okay, that’s super freaking weird, but how about baseball — soccer — basketball — competitive bowling — TENNIS? NOT EVEN TENNIS? We’re benching you, mate.

 

The list goes on and on. People search for something relate-able in others (which makes sense)..

Oh, you mountain bike/frequent coffee shops/play poker/skateboard/knit/shop at trendy stores only/watch the Walking Dead/support our troops/purchase vinyl/eat vegan/meditate/bowl competitively/take pictures/play ps4/prefer Target over Walmart/bake from scratch/shop at Whole Foods/have five children/monogram the shit out of everything? ME TOO! You’re so in.

 

and then they feel safe. Not only is there now a go-to conversation starter omnipresent in the mix at all times (“let’s talk about kids/being vegan/snowboarding in Switzerland because we’re rich enough to do that every year”), but there is also this comforting sense of “us” and its natural outgrowth: the opposing “them.” It (categorizing/labeling/grouping) literally creates a group (or pack) mentality.

 

I visited a local high school a few weeks ago and listened along, sitting on a metal chair in the back of the library, as the pledge of allegiance was recited by each student and teacher when, for the first time EVER, it hit me: it is important to deeply appreciate freedom and it’s nice to be proud of your country, yes.. 100%.. but it’s also so instilled in us, from early school years onward, that America is different/better/best that we, consequently, view all other countries and peoples as the “other” — and this other sometimes takes on an ungrounded, and totally unfounded, malignant outer-layer. I know for a FACT that some of us even view them (these other countries and peoples) as being less important, less civilized or inferior SIMPLY BECAUSE they are arbitrarily existing underneath this heavy blanket of “other.” At least, I know that I was trained, via public school and the media, to view the world that way (us versus them), and I am certain that the majority of people actually do. You hear “Europe” over the radio or television and you probably associate it with adjectives like classy and artsy. You picture a different class of sophisticated, refined people perusing around town in eco-friendly cars and rolling down the countryside on adorable, basket- boasting bicycles. I, personally, picture quaint and winding cobblestone roads gently interrupted by villas, cafes, and tiny shops that sell rare wines and aged cheese. You can probably picture that pretty easily, yourself. You see the word Australia in a newspaper or magazine and you probably imagine kangaroos, crocodiles and koala bears. Right? Am I right? Do you remember Steve Irwin? And then, at the other end of the spectrum, you hear the newscaster broadcasting about Pakistan on FOX news and all you can really think is scary.

 

But, good, bad or ugly, they’re all “other” to us, aren’t they? THEY aren’t like US, and anything happening to them — however bad, terrible, and awful — well, it’s far away. It’s a distant tragedy that ISN’T hitting home (it isn’t affecting OUR people), so it’s not a concern. ..how fucked up IS THAT? Our callous and heartless disregard for anyone grouped in the overwhelming category of “other.”

 

As I’m becoming more aware of what’s happening inside of me (as in, I’m feeling myself growing, catching up and syncing up with all of these recent, internal changes), I’m slowly waking up to what’s going on all around me as well. I’ve realized that we are all programmed to shuffle, willingly, into these groups, classes and divisions, and that it’s total bullshit. These regulated, zoned off areas (or “communities”) — whether real and tangible or completely imaginary, held together only by an idea — are what make us feel comfortably tethered to one person or group and, simultaneously, separate from the other person in the same room.. the shopper in the mall on the OTHER side of town.. the person driving the nicer car, or the person driving the janky-ass car; the country with the plummeting economy, the presidential candidate with beyond-questionable morals, or the well-meaning pastor knocking on door after door every Saturday morning and passing out tiny little pamphlets that he prayed over that same morning and which he truly believes will fix everything for you.

 

We separate ourselves via categorizing and then seal ourselves off with adhesive labels. It’s constricting, living in such cramped conditions, and it’s all downhill from there as you miss out on countless positive, enlightening experiences and meaningful relationships.. all because of false mindsets and bullshit barriers. We’re all people; flesh and blood, lungs-breathing and heart-beating people, with differing feelings, preferences, hobbies, beliefs and outlooks. And those differences shouldn’t be points of contention. We’re all correct and okay just the way we are. We are important.. every single one of us. The poorest and the most well-off; the most cultured and the absolute dumbest; the skinny guy, the fat guy, the pretty face, and the not-so-pretty face; the insanely talented, the practically void, the devoutly religious and the lazy unsubscriber. Whether you’re a being who’s got it all figured out and who is sailing smoothly along or you’re struggling your way onto the struggle bus and feeling cursed, calloused and clueless all the while.. you’re all okay, you’re all important, and you are all incredibly valuable.

 

So, in a quick summary format:

We’re all of equal worth and value. Treat everyone with respect; love everyone unconditionally. Similarities and shared interests can provide a great platform for bonding, but as you create bonds, beware of also creating this insane entity of “other” which belittles and maligns people and so easily closes off the doors to understanding, friendship, and mutual appreciation.

We’re all unique. Appreciate the differences; don’t despise them, and don’t use them as a reason to shove someone off into some kind of “other” category or, by the same token, as a bullshit reason to back off into an obscure, senseless and imagined “other” category yourself.

 

 

Orbiting the fuck away from “other”,

Aun Aqui

 

2016-03-27 20.36.14

Then I woke up, alive.

It was a dream.

 

I was sitting on a chair, outside, in the middle of the street. I looked up the road, to the left, and then up the road to the right also. I was precisely at a fork in the road. I looked down at my hands; they were a smooth, chocolate-brown. I was a black woman.

I saw two women appear in front of me.. daughters of mine, perhaps. They were full grown, and I felt like I was in my 50s. One of them was in her own world, talking on the phone, slowly stepping her way across the street; the other appeared to be bustling around, tidying up a kitchen or living room, although neither of those were here. We were all outside. But it really felt like we were inside of a home.

With a slow, deliberate motion, using my right hand, I pressed my finger on the “last” computer key, immediately feeling a sense of relief. Intuitively, I knew that I had caught up on everything by now; paid the bills for the month, and sorted out my finances.. I had called my granddaughter, Erin, earlier that afternoon and told her I loved her. I had made arrangements for everything else. They would all be ready for me to go now.

 

I don’t think I said anything, but I don’t think I had to. They knew I was leaving. The two women walked over to where I was, still seated in my chair, and then they were standing maybe two feet in front of me. They still felt very far away.

 

One of them leaned down and peered into my face, smiling warmly. “You know that we’re going to come and join you someday — wherever it is you’re going!” She sounded excited. It was like I was going on a trip. Yeah — a tour of the stars. “And you’ll figure out how to come back to us after you leave, too.. you’ll still be here, somehow.” She said this and she smiled at me again while the woman next to her just looked at me. She didn’t seem to be happy or sad that I was leaving. Were these my daughters?

 

I decided, in that moment, that it was time. I didn’t have to pull a trigger, grip onto a knife, or knock back any pills. I just made the conscious decision to die.

I let my eyelids flutter and my vision blurred as the two women began to fade into the background. The background became blindingly white and fell back, further away from me (or was I retreating from it?); the women’s once clear faces turned into ominous, non-descript, black silhouettes as I continued drifting backwards and falling away from them into what felt like a well. To my knowledge, I still hadn’t left my seat. Suddenly, fear gripped my soul as I realized the truth and as I struggled to communicate it to them.. to warn them. Just before slipping out of this realm, I screamed two words; I felt my lips struggling to form them and could even sense the air escaping from my mouth, and I watched as the dark, far away silhouette of the woman who had spoken to me tilted its head ever so slightly to the left (had she heard me? was she bending over my physical body now, trying to catch and make out these final, whispered words, this imperative warning? they had to know — it wasn’t what they thought it would be –)

 

This is what I screamed:

 

“IT’S DARK!”

 

 

And then I woke up, alive. Trembling. My heart racing. Moved.

 

What does it all mean?

 

I dreamt this dream on Thursday night. It really shook me up. Unable to fall back asleep after waking up from it, I spent a good bit of time analyzing where it came from and what it could possibly mean. My thoughts are below.

 

Everyone views the event called “death” (and the act of dying) differently. Some are terrified of it, and many aren’t at all phased (for many of these, it’s simply that they don’t ever take time to think about it. I fall into the latter group). I’ve always kind of prided myself in being completely unafraid of dying; every time I anticipate a fun trip, I’m convinced — “MANNNNN. I’m going to die before that date even rolls around. UGH. Oh well.” If I die, it’ll be an inconvenient bummer, but it’s totally nbd. Inevitably, I don’t die, and I end up having a great time on the trip, or vacation, or whatever it is. Similarly, every single time I hop onto my motorcycle and cruise down my driveway in first gear, I am prepared, mentally, to check out of this life. If a wreck happens, well.. whether I’m sent grinding into the concrete or shot airborne, I’m ready to submit to it. Why fight it? It sounds dramatic, but you never really know WHAT’S going to happen out on the road; hell, you could choke on your next meal and fall out (I certainly hope that you DO NOT). Anyways.. the point is, when I imagine dying early – dying young, which I feel oddly certain that I will – I don’t associate it with any sense of loss, or deprivement, or sadness; I feel very privileged to have lived the life that I have — to have experienced and discovered and learned everything that I have — and I am ready to go whenever the time “comes.” But honestly, after dreaming what I did on Thursday night, my perception of death has changed just a little.

It’s like this: I’m glad that I don’t waste time creating morbid fantasies of how I might die and then helplessly worrying over them, but I could definitely do a better job of appreciating being alive and making the most of this life. That’s the honest truth.

 

Whether you believe in reincarnation, heaven and hell, or something else, MOST people foster some kind of hope for the afterlife — for a life after this one, a second time around, or even a continuation of this life (this consciousness). I don’t share this hope. Between the two ideas quoted above, I, personally, would stake a little more faith in the idea of reincarnation than in an eternal, flawless paradise (because it makes sense to me; energy can’t be created or destroyed, right? So maybe you’ll die in 12 years and then come back, a moment or a month later, as a human being again and GET that ‘second time around,’ or maybe you’ll luck out and return as a tree or a burrito instead). Who. knows. Regardless, I digress. No one really knows, and unlike many, I don’t pretend to know. I do admire those who have a deep-seated faith in something and I, in a sense, even envy them of that. Faith is comforting.. it is grounding. But me? I’m content to question and wonder and free fall. In this lifetime, anyways. 🙂

 

Where, in the past, I wasn’t at all afraid to die and didn’t really exercise any great “resistance” toward it (other than taking basic care of my body — eating, drinking, sleeping, seeking out shelter — and wearing seat belts and helmets and locking doors), I’m taking a more active approach to life now. And I don’t mean physically trying “harder” to remain alive; I mean mentally, spiritually, and psychologically staying alive and seeking out life.

 

I’ve been fending off suicidal thoughts, on and off, for 9 months now. It’s no secret. I felt like dying again just last week. I struggled with mild depression as a teenager and it’s definitely re-emerged in my adult life with a considerable force. Recent life events have certainly contributed to intensifying these feelings and creating these thoughts, and I’m doing the best I can to acknowledge, entertain and battle these demons while remaining positive and present. Dreaming of dying two nights ago certainly helped extinguish a huge number of fires.

 

As I died in the dream — as I relaxed into death — I felt the weight of my decision. The full weight of it. The weight of years lost, hearts broken, creativity spurned, experiences undeveloped, adventures unexplored, knowledge left unknown and achievements left unlocked. The most prominent sensation was feeling scared – terrified. It was heart-wrenching. I couldn’t, after a certain point, “change” my decision, and I knew it. I felt utterly powerless in those final minutes — I knew I had done wrong, and there was no way to turn around, go back, or make reparations — and as reality quickly slipped away from me, darkness literally swallowed my entire being whole.

 

So here’s what I gleaned from the dream.

  1. Stay here. It’s super cliche, but there is SO MUCH LIFE for you to live. Right now, I’m living for the job that I love, the music and words that soothe my being, the goofy but substantial burritos that nourish and delight me every single time, and these coffee-shop-and-skateboarding Saturday mornings and afternoons where I can abandon my adulthood for a little while and simply live and exist, for just a few hours, as a simple, happy, and carefree child who knows nothing of mortgages, identity crises, or depression. If it feels like you’ve got nothing and nothing to live for, find something to live for.
  2. When skies become gloomy, distract yourself. At my worst moments, where it’s hard for me to trust my own heart and mind, I find that distracting myself is helpful. Watch a movie. Read a book. Write a book. Go outside and do ANYTHING. Draw a cartoon, a dog, a scene. Window shop. Grocery shop. Go ask Chipotle to make you a burrito. Distract yourself until those intense feelings of gloom have drifted off into the distance, and then return to the present moment – these pressing duties and inquiring persons – with a stable state of mind and sort your shit out.
  3. Stay present. Usually, it’s looking weeks, months, and miles ahead of yourself (into the future) or too far over your shoulder (into the past) that causes you to feel overwhelmed and distressed. The future is uncertain, so it can understandably weigh you down if you focus on it TOO much. You want to prepared for future events, of course, by assessing and planning for your future (because it can actually be irresponsible to be SO in the “present moment” that you neglect setting yourself up for future success), but do so in a reasonable manner.. not in excess, and not obsessively. For me, it’s usually a tendency to relive the past that leaves me feeling down. I can cite a recent example. Two, actually.

 

I was cleaning out the closet in the master bedroom last night (it’s nearly empty now) when I ran across two items that ripped open some relatively fresh wounds. The first was a stupid basket of Easter eggs. Growing up in a conservative Seventh-day Adventist home, my brother and I weren’t allowed to celebrate Easter, so the “fun, whimsical magic” of that holiday (chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and baskets full of treasure) was totally lost on us. When my ex-husband, Christopher, discovered this, he surprised me one year by going out, purchasing a dozen plastic Easter-eggs (all different colors: purple, pink, blue, green, orange, and yellow), a few tiny toys, and miniature-sized candies. He then inserted these “surprises” into each of the eggs and had me isolate myself in a room while he went around the house and outside the perimeter of the home, hiding eggs. Once he’d finished, he retrieved me from the room and I then got to mosey around for a solid thirty minutes, finding eggs and discovering the prizes within. There was so much smiling, so much delight, so much laughter. It’s a beautiful memory.. and running across those stupid eggs in that dusty bedroom closet last night was a reminder of how thoughtful and loving a spouse he was. I picked up two of the eggs (a blue and green one) from the floor and then immediately dropped them, falling into a fit of tears. I stumbled into my bedroom and curled into a ball on the bed. My German Shepherd, attuned to the sound of me crying, came running down the hallway to check on me. He jumped up onto the bed, curled up beside me, and licked the back of my neck while I wailed miserably into a pillow. Not a pretty sight. 

The second incident was running across a gray “I ❤ Jesus” beanie that I purchased way back in 2006. Did running across this 10-year-old beanie cause me to become emotional because I miss Jesus? Sadly, no. No offense. It broke my heart because I remembered where I’d purchased it and who I’d been with: at a flea market in Tampa, Florida with my old best friend, and the first girl I ever fell in love with.. Melissa. I don’t want to say anything else, and I also don’t need to. If you’ve ever had a great, big, deep love and they just looked away, shrugged their shoulders and shattered your heart, you can understand exactly what I felt, holding onto that stupid motherf*cking beanie.

 

Final tip I picked up from the dream:

Don’t just passively live.. live actively. Pursue your dreams, fight for your own happiness, seek out adventures and, if it doesn’t really come to you naturally, muster the motivation, draw up the drive and summon the courage to create a good and comfortable and exciting life for yourself. You don’t have to travel to Argentina to have a good and exciting time, you know; have you ever shopped at a thrift store? Visited downtown, relative to where you live? Gone driving without a GPS, tried out a new sport, picking up a weird hobby or Googled a recipe for a meal you’ve never had before? When you’re in a good place, you’re enabling and preparing yourself to be a comforting and supportive resource for others. I’ve been getting rid of so much shit over the course of the last four months.. couches, tables, beds, televisions, mirrors, trinkets, and clothes.. and it’s been liberating. Ridiculously liberating. Our society places a shit ton of emphasis on possessing things and decorating your body, car, and home.. but at the end of the day, ALL that really matters is relationships. The relationship you have with YOURSELF (what is that like?) and the quality of the relationships that you have with others. Live actively. Love actively and unconditionally. Live a life of adventure. There is no other way.

 

Still here, and steering myself away from the dark..

Aun Aqui

“Boy or girl?” It’s a wrap.

Enough already. I used to blog about way more interesting (and varied) topics.. topics and themes that hinged on my opinions and my perspective and which centered around unique experiences that ranged from conversations with orthodox Jews in Mountaindale, New York (in the summer of 2010) to a debate on Reese Witherspoon in cinema with a random stranger that I encountered at a local public library in Alabama. I’ve been caught up in the constantly unraveling newsreel regarding my gender identity/sexual orientation for about 9 months now (fun fact: that’s the standard length of time that a woman carries a child), and in the past week alone, I have made significant strides in de-shrouding the mystery of it all and have made a pretty striking discovery/decision as well. So.. are you ready to find out the gender, ladies and gentlemen? Is Jace a boy or a girl? Scroll below for the answer and please try to conceal your surprise.

 

The answer: I am neither.

 

What I am is sitting on a leather couch at Saturn right now, and showtime is starting in just 8 minutes, so this is going to be refreshingly brief. Let me explain.

 

Setting the stage: Through internal dialogue, external conversations, song-writing, journal and blog entries and ugly-crying, I’ve been hopelessly toggling – for 9 months now – between what APPEARED to be my only (2) options in life:

A. Identifying as a lesbian woman (there’s nothing wrong with that at ALL, except.. is it really an accurate portrayal of me? My identity entails so much more than just my sexual orientation.)

B. Becoming a fully-transitioned transgender boy (aka the dream, which will never, ever happen because I refuse to fuck with my body’s natural chemistry)

 

I would spend mornings, afternoons and evenings (hours and days and weeks and MONTHS) deliberating between the two. “Which is it going to be, Jace? Identifying as a lesbian will be a lot easier for you and everyone around you; the word ‘transgender’ is far less known and a little too out there.. people fear what they don’t understand. Plus, you’ll never, in this lifetime, LOOK like the guy you “feel like” on the inside. One out of every thirty people might see it, and the ones who do will probably be very young children or people who are so old that they just can’t see clearly, even WITH prescription eyeglasses on. So. What’s it going to be? You’ve got to make a decision. This is driving you and me crazy.”

 

And then, I realized that I did have another option. Before I deliver the quick summary that you’re scanning for – the one that will finally end this 9-month theme – let me share a few conversations that have helped draw the truth out and that have led me to this conclusion. Each person’s name has been changed, but if they read this, they’ll know who they are.

 

  1. Lance and I are sitting in a — you guessed it! Coffee shop. This is our first time meeting in-person. When I ask what kind of drink he’ll be ordering, he mentions that he doesn’t really drink coffee much.
    “Anything you’d care to recommend?” He raises his eyebrows at me inquiringly, smiling. He’s got a sweet fo-hawk, a glistening lip ring, warm brown eyes, and he’s wearing a black, green and neon pink band-t with smooth gray jeans and skater shoes.
    “Well, I got the white mocha latte last time, and it was really good,” I offer. He says that it sounds good to him and he orders one, and then we’re sitting beside each other in matching brown recliners, making small talk (jobs, social circles, general life backgrounds). Eventually, we get down to the brass tacks of sharing the similar experience in our separate journeys.. transitioning.
    “Before I started transitioning, there were days when…” he paused. “I, just.. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but people would say that I was being quiet. Really quiet. That I hadn’t said much that day. And I started to realize, then — to notice that entire days would pass where I wouldn’t really say anything out loud. I just couldn’t stand hearing my own voice at that pitch. I hated it.” His voice, now, as he was relating this to me out loud, was deep and masculine. Pleasant. Very fitting. I peered into his face while he wasn’t looking, taking in the stubble growing above and beneath his lips, his marked jaw line. I smiled. I felt so happy for him.
    “Things are really nice now,” he continued, looking happier. “I’m able to live my life and focus on it, RATHER than on how I think other people are perceiving me and worrying about whether or not they’re seeing me the way I see myself. I know they do. I don’t have to wonder.” Wow, I breathed inwardly. I can’t even imagine how incredible that would be. 
  2. Sky looked me in the eye one afternoon, shaking her head from side to side and seeming tired. “So what are you going to do, Jace? We’ve been talking about this together for months now. If you aren’t going to transition, what are you going to do? How are you going to be okay with being a woman?” I looked at her from my location (about eight feet away; I was leaning against the doorway, my arms crossed and my head resting lightly against the door jam). I held her gaze and shook my head. There were no words. I had no clue.
  3. We were sitting outside of Rojo last Saturday, sharing a table, chips, and house-made guacamole when I told her for the first time: I am transgender. “Transgender?” Her voice raised (in pitch) by about an octave. Marley’s eyebrows became furrowed and her face crinkled with confusion. “Baby, what does that mean? That you like to skateboard and ride a motorcycle and keep your hair cut short? Honey, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.. that you have to be a boy.”
    I smiled at her and laughed a little. I knew she loved me, and that she was trying to understand.
    “I know, Marley. It’s just.. it’s more than that. It’s not how I act, or who I like.. it’s how I feel. It’s intuitive, and it’s so obvious to me. I’m around women, and — since MIDDLE school — I’ve always felt like something OTHER THAN them. Around guys, on the other hand, I have always felt perfectly like a dude, until I’d see the way they were looking at me.” I took the last bite of my burrito while she watched me. We talked a little more and then things got quiet.
    “You know Jesus loves you, right baby?” I looked up at her and cracked another smile. Oh Marley. You know I’m agnostic.
    “Baby,” she continued, searching deep into my eyes, “you KNOW he loves you, RIGHT? I don’t care what ANYONE says. You’ve got to tell me that you KNOW he loves you.”
    “Yes, Marley; I know he loves me.”
    “Baby.. you PROMISE me you know.”
    I sighed inwardly. Hypothetically, I thought to myself, if Jesus did exist, I’m sure he would love me. Sure; he’d have to send me to hell for being gay, but he’d still really love me.
    “Yes, Marley. I promise that I know.”
  4. We’ll call this one Clyde. Clyde and I went walking at the park together on Sunday. I was toting my skateboard around and he was carrying a bag full of delicious Chipotle burritos, and we were in the process of finding a place to sit.. a spot that would be near the water and that would also offer a pretty good view of passing trains. As we walked, we conversed, and at one point, he said something that sent a mighty, mighty shock wave through my freaking soul.
    “My transition has pros and cons, of course. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I had decided to transition – not for me – but.. for others. For everyone else.” He paused, nodding towards a bench for us to park ourselves at. He continued. “I realized, then, that I had chosen to transition because I wanted other people to see me the way I saw myself.. it was that important to me.. and now, they do.I succeeded. The con is that, now, I have to take these hormones every day for the rest of my life, and according to certain medical studies, my lifespan could very well be shortened because of this decision.” He shrugged good-naturedly and smiled at me.
    “Now Clyde,” I responded quietly, “you may have, in a way, done it for them, but look at how you’ve benefited from your decision — you’ve got substantial facial hair, bigger muscles, a masculine profile and that deep, sexy voice..” my voice trailed off and he laughed as I slipped my arm around his waist, leaned in, and kissed his cheek. “You are gorgeous,” I whispered into his ear.
    Okay; so his name isn’t Clyde. It’s Charlie. And we’re back together. More on that soon.
  5. I was returning home from a hike with my German Shepherd on Sunday evening. I called my mom (who I fondly nicknamed Sierra in the 7th grade) and she answered cheerfully. “Hey there, Rose! What’s up?”
    We caught up on the events of the past week and then, as with many of our other conversations, the topic of my identity (re)surfaced.
    “You know Rose,” she started out slowly (she still calls me Rose), “I’ve been thinking about it, and I feel like.. maybe.. you aren’t transgendered. Maybe you’re gender fluid. Have you ever heard of that?”
    I watched a car pass on the left-hand side of the road, still cupping the phone against my right ear, and smiled off into the distance. I pictured Sierra engaging in online research earlier on that day, using Google searches that involved phrases like “what is a transgender person”, “my transgender daughter” and then suddenly stumbling upon the term “gender fluid.”
    “Yes Sierra,” I responded. “I have heard of that. And you know what? I’ve actually been thinking about that term a lot recently. How it might pertain to me.” My sneaker accidentally knocked against a stone, capturing Sheppy’s attention as it skipped across the concrete. I tightened my grip on his leash. “Honestly? I think that’s the direction I’m heading in. Viewing and introducing myself as gender fluid. There are, admittedly, certain feminine aspects that I embody.. character- and personality-wise.. and honestly? I’m okay with that. I am okay with those. I’m not resentful of them, and I’m not trying to extinguish them. Now, with that being said, I’ll always be 80% boy and 20% girl, but, I’m realizing that.. there’s nothing shameful about being a biological woman, and that my beef ISN’T WITH my body. It’s with how people perceive me in this body and how, the second, the very instant, they take in my outward appearance, they immediately slap an entire collection of stereotypes onto me that are nothing like me.” I paused briefly and then she listened along, silent, as I continued to think out loud. “I’ve been upset, for almost a year now, that people don’t see me the way I view myself, but.. it’s okay. 9/10 people will look at me and see a girl, because I am one. 1/10 will see a boy. Those people make my day, every time. But whichever type of person they see — it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t change anything about me. It doesn’t change who I am, and it doesn’t need to change my opinion of myself, either. The truth is, by nature, self-evident, and perception doesn’t factor into it. At all.” I blinked and suddenly realized that I had already arrived back at home. I was automatically opening the garage door and Sierra was still hanging on the line, connecting with me, via telephone, from a small, rural town in Tennessee. She was probably wearing a skirt at this very moment and had her Bible within arm’s reach, I’m sure. My new lifestyle was, I knew, bizarre to her, and contrary to everything she believed in, but she still cared, and she was trying, very diligently, to understand and to help me in any way that she could.. in whatever way her conscience would allow. I smiled. “Thanks for listening, mom,” I whispered into the receiver. “I appreciate you caring about me and I do think that you’re right. I think that gender fluid — or gender neutral — is the way to go.”

 

And there you go, folks. If you ask me and you don’t want the obvious answer (OA: I am a biological woman) or the weird answer (WA: I am a cool dude trapped inside of a woman’s body), I’ll give you the most honest answer.. the one that has, recently, given me an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment: I am gender neutral. I don’t want, or need, to choose a class of people to belong to.. a gender to cling to and perfectly identify myself with. I am somewhere along the spectrum. I have girlish aspects and I have boyish ones, and while I still have a lot of ongoing work to do on my character and many more shocking life discoveries to make, I am happy with who I am today. I’m ready to re-set my focus outward (I’ve been gazing inward for what has felt like far too long.. but really, it was for just long enough), and I’m excited to simply exist without analyzing the categories and labels and adjectives that make up my existence. I am fundamentally me. I am not constructed out of words; I am not built upon categories, layered with adjectives, or glued together by labels. I am – in this lifetime, at least, and – I hope – in the next one.. gender neutral. Androgynous. Free.

And oh — yeah. Btdubs, Charlie and I are together again. My “year hiatus” (announced in my previous post) lasted a mere week (hey; Biblically speaking, some speculate that a year is sometimes synonymous with a week), and it was exactly what I needed. Time and space to breathe; to gather information from the outside, and then to carry it inside and examine it in light of who I am as a person. “Who am I?” I asked myself. “And WHAT am I? What do people see and feel when they’re around me? What do they think of me? On a related note, what will they think if it looks like I’m dating a BOY? Will that make me seem less stable and authentic if I’m claiming to be gay/lesbian/transgender? AND AM I ALL THREE OF THOSE THINGS OR CAN I FREAKING PICK ONE?”

Once again, I was miserably caught up in stressing over the perception of others. It’s good to care about what people think, you guys. It’s important to be honest with people (and with yourself), and it’s good to be a thoughtful, considerate, and overall respectable human being.. but you can’t let your self-consciousness consume you. I definitely let it get there, and it was so unhealthy for me. It – that exaggerated, domineering self-consciousness – was literally dictating my daily movements; erecting walls and defining boundaries without me even realizing it was even happening because I had, subconsciously, granted permission for it to happen. Insane. I lost myself in the eyes of the crowd. I’m mindful of it now, and I’m done allowing it to happen. I know who I am now (not fully, but much better than I did before), and I also know that I love Charlie. Should anything else really matter? Should peoples’ false perceptions or “expert opinions” stand in our way of being together? As Charlie would say, hell to the naw to the naw naw naw. He’s pretty adorable.

 

And with that all of that finally settled (A. Jace is gender fluid and B. Jace is totally in love with Charlie), it’s time to add my name to the open mic sign-in sheet, tune my guitar, and step onto the stage. I’m wearing my NASA shirt and rainbow Vans. They make me feel comfortable. My hair is short, the way I like it, and I’ve got just one of my ears pierced.. and when I sing, I’ll definitely sound like a girl. I’m cool with that. Pretty sure everyone else will be, too.

 

Signing off with two fantastic quotes.

  1. “Instead of seeing two-spirit persons as transsexuals who try to MAKE themselves into the opposite sex, it is more accurate to understand them as individuals who take on a gender status that is different from both men and women.”
  2. “At some point, I realized that I’m personally more interested in breaking down the gender binary than in jumping from one side to the other.” Ahhh.. yes. Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

 

Singing, strumming and smiling all the way along the spectrum,
Aun Aqui