A Holy Endeavor

Buckle up, dear readers, because this week I’m returning to the roots of this blog and talking about my life as a trans person.

This year, at least 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation. There’s a lot that’s fucked up about this. Just this week in Arkansas, a bill was passed that bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors. The (Republican) governor vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach.” The legislature overruled his veto with a dishearteningly large majority vote. Make no mistake – this bullshit that’s marketed as “protecting children” will actually do devastating harm. Taking away a trans child’s access to affirming healthcare isn’t going to make them not trans. It will just make them miserable. (I will again post this Twitter thread that makes some really good points about all of this.)

Today at work our Pride ERG hosted a half-hour hangout where people could come and sit with each other and with our feelings about what happened in Arkansas. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate the other people who showed up, but even as I felt seen in a way that was validating, I felt…exposed, in a way that was less comfortable. I am the only trans person I know of at my company, and I’m out as nonbinary there. Most people at work respect my pronouns (which are they/them, by the way, which is at least the third time my pronouns have shifted in the last decade, which I am not apologizing for, because identity is fluid and can be complicated) – no one is actively disrespecting my identity, but sometimes people forget. I do my best to educate people and stand up for myself and for the people around me. And it’s exhausting.

Inextricably tied to all of the feelings I’m having about trans identity being up for legislative debate are feelings around bodily autonomy. One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons I have learned in the ten years since I started coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in fact, cisgender, is that my body is my home. It’s a home that I struggled for years and years to relate to, until I realized it was mine to change and mold into a shelter I could feel comfortable in (at least some of the time). This has shown up in big ways – the changes from testosterone, and having gender-affirming top surgery – but it’s also shown up in smaller ways. I can paint my nails. I am currently sporting what feels like a super queer haircut that I love. In the middle space between those extreme examples, I can get tattoos.

I knew I wanted tattoos by the time I was in my teens, if not before. I got my first one eleven years ago this month, just a couple months before I turned 22. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm. I wanted a reminder that the parts of myself that so often felt fractured – body, mind, and spirit – were all part of the singular being that was me. Four years later, I got three tarot cards tattooed on my left forearm: the Hermit (because I am an introvert and I believe in both finding my own truth and in lighting the way to help other people find theirs), the Ace of Wands (because I am a person with a lot of creative energy who finds joy in making beautiful things), and the Nine of Pentacles (which is my constant reminder that my body is the home that I am creating for myself). A couple of years after that I got a few more, which had less in-depth meanings, in some ways (there’s a leaf on my right ankle that I got because it was pretty; I have a classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on my right arm, and an earth/air alchemical symbol that reminds me to stay grounded and breathe under that), but all of them were ways to exercise my bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, I got my sixth (or eighth, depending on if you count the tarot cards as one tattoo or three) tattoo:

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have been a big part of my life over the past few years – through them I’ve connected with people I might never have met otherwise, and I’ve found so much joy in collaborative storytelling and getting to play with my friends as an adult. Just in the last month I started DMing my first game, and it’s been a blast. I knew that I wanted a D&D-themed tattoo to capture some of that. I told the artist (who has now done the majority of my tattoos) that I wanted “some sort of dragon and dice situation,” and I could not be happier with what she came up with. This little dragon clutching its d20 is better than anything I’d envisioned ahead of time.

As I was chatting with the artist during the tattoo, I mentioned that as a teenager I had sketchbooks full of dragons. I drew them because no one could tell me “that’s not how a dragon looks” – it was one of the things I loved about fantasy. She asked me what drew me to dragons, and I honestly didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve continued to think about it since then. I think there’s something about the wildness of them that called to me. In all the fantasy novels I read, there was this sense that you couldn’t really tame a dragon. Even in the ones where dragons and humans got along, it was because the dragons chose to treat the humans gently. There was something about that power that was appealing, for a whole host of reasons I’m sure I could delve into with a little help from my therapist.

Last fall, I wrote an autobiographical song that I kind of set aside after that songwriting session was over, but the chorus has been stuck in my head the past couple of days:

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

I don’t know that I have a huge sweeping point in all of this, except to say that trans people (like all people) are sacred, and the act of self-determination and self-discovery is a holy endeavor. I was raised with the idea that humans are created in the image of the Divine, and while I have a lot of complicated feelings about the picture of Divinity I was raised on, I think trans people are every bit as much a reflection of the Divine as anyone else. I am angry and sad and disheartened that there are so many people in power in the world right now who refuse to see that.

Self Like

I’ve been thinking about my social life a lot this week, not just the way it currently stands but the whole messy history of it. It started in my session with my therapist on Monday, when I mentioned being an introvert and he expressed mild surprise, because I evidently come across as exceptionally sociable in our sessions. As I talked about it a bit, I realized that I have gotten a lot more outgoing in the past few years, which I think has a lot to do with finally coming into an identity that fits. As I told my therapist: it’s hard to put yourself out there when you don’t really know who you are.

When I was a kid, I was pretty painfully shy. I didn’t have a ton of friends at school, and while I was friendly with basically everyone at my church, I only had a few close friends. I had panic attacks pretty frequently in high school, which were due in part to the sheer number of people crowding the halls. I didn’t do crowds well. I still often don’t, but now I recognize it as a reflection of how much mental cutlery I have at my disposal – when I’ve had time to recharge and my body is behaving, crowds aren’t the horror they are when I’ve had a long week and everything hurts.

In the past, when I was outgoing, it was likely either because I was manic, or because I’d found a compelling reason to fake it, or some combination of those two factors. Getting up on a stage made my knees shake, my palms sweat, and my voice jump an octave in pitch. The idea of performing anything I’d written for just about anyone ever was completely mortifying.

I’ve always been interested in people, though. I like one-on-one conversations. I like hearing people’s stories. I majored in psychology in college, thinking I’d go on to get a master’s and become a social worker, because I thought people were such fascinating, wonderful beings…until I realized that I was pretty shit at enforcing emotional boundaries, and would probably crash and burn with spectacular speed.

Over the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to step out of my comfort zone and be more outgoing. Some of that was moving to Chicago – while my partner had friends here (who immediately adopted me as one of their own and who I count as my own very dear friends now as well), when we first arrived I really didn’t know anyone. It was a fresh start. It was my first chance to be Alyx full time, so I set to work exploring what that meant.

As I’ve grown and explored and found an identity and means of expression that feel genuine, more than any others in my life ever have, I’ve found it’s a lot easier to put myself out there. But I think I missed part of the picture when I told my therapist that it’s hard to put yourself out there when you don’t know who you are: it’s also hard when you don’t like who you are.

So much of my life was marked by a deep, dark self-loathing, a belief that I was broken and worthless and wrong. But I’ve finally, after many years of work on reframing irrational and destructive self-talk, come to a place where, honestly? I like who I am. I’m a good person. I’m not perfect, and there will always be things I can work to improve. And I still have days when I feel broken and worthless and wrong. But for the most part, I have learned to appreciate that I am, as a person, just as fascinating and wonderful a being as any of the other people I find so interesting. That is what gives me the confidence to put myself out there and resist the impulse to believe that everyone is going to hate me.

Some days, when my brain is behaving badly, it feels like I still have so far to go. But I’m hoping to be better at remembering how far I’ve already come.