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.

Where Did the Week Go?

It’s been a busy week. Possibly not much busier than weeks usually are, but the fact that it’s been in the upper 80s and humid in Chicago the past couple of days has made everything feels pretty overwhelming. In any case, here are a few of the highlights from the past week, complete with photos:

  • I got a tattoo on Saturday! An apprentice tattooer I’ve been following on Instagram had posted some flash that I thought looked great, and now I have a happy little plant on my ankle:

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    It’s my first color tattoo, and the first one somewhere other than my forearms. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, and it’s healing nicely.

  • We got to see one of our favorite folk duos twice last week! Wednesday night, we went to a songwriting workshop put on by Mouths of Babes titled The Political is Personal. It was inspiring and got me halfway to finishing my assignment for my regular songwriting class. Then on Sunday, we got to see them play at SPACE in Evanston. It was (predictably) a fabulous show.

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  • I finished another nearly-two-year-old knitting project, though this one was much smaller than a sweater. A couple of summers ago, I bought a tiny owl kit from MochiMochiLand at our local yarn store. I knit the body of one owl at knit night the evening I bought it, and hadn’t picked it back up since. Over the weekend, I dug it out. I finished the first owl, and then started on another one:

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    I finished the second owl last night, and found a spot for them with my favorite old wooden owl (that used to belong to my grandparents) on the shelf we refer to as our owlery:

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    They were a lot of fun to knit, and I’m glad to finally have them done!

Reasons to Smile

On the one hand, I feel like I’ve been running around like a headless chicken all week; on the other, I feel like I have nothing to write about. Neither of those are entirely accurate assessments of how my week has gone, though. Things are pretty great. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. My tattoo turned out even better than I was hoping. Seriously, the cards look beautiful. (Well, okay, at the moment they look like a flaky mess, but under that, they’re beautiful.) I’m so pleased with how they turned out! And the appointment itself was enjoyable – a couple of friends sat with me through the bulk of the process (thanks, E & B!), and even came back when it was over to drive me home (which was super kind…I probably would’ve gotten on the wrong train or something, because after 2 hours and 20 minutes I was pretty out of it). The artist was wonderful, the space was phenomenal (if you’re in Chicago and in the market for a tattoo, totally check them out), and it was not as painful as I was afraid it would be. (Turns out pain is relative…compared to 5 weeks of constant back pain with no idea when or if it would end, a couple of hours of pain that I knew had a finish line? Not bad at all.)
  2. I actually liked what I wrote for my songwriting class this week, and my classmates all had suggestions to make it even better. It’s rare that I feel this good about something I’ve written, so that’s been fun. The next step in the writing process for this one: trying to figure out a harmonica solo.
  3. I bought some yarn at Stitches Midwest last summer with the intention of making a sweater. After I got home and took a closer look at other projects made with this particular yarn, I realized it wasn’t truly ideal for the project I’d bought it for. It’s been sitting in my stash and at the forefront of my awareness since then, and (even though I should have finished something else first) I finally settled on a pattern, made a swatch, did some math, and started knitting a different sweater with it over the weekend. I did the first sleeve in three days, and I’m still excited about it – I feel like I actually have a chance of finishing this in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, that might happen right when it warms up, but hey. I’ll have a cozy, beautiful sweater for next fall.

Ink

I very nearly forgot to write a post for this week: I was home sick yesterday, which threw off my routine enough that blogging almost slipped my mind (plus, you know, I was sick, and therefore pretty unmotivated). This week has been a bit of a bummer in the health department. However, there is some excitement in my near future, so I’m going to focus on that. 

Next Friday, after work, I am getting a tattoo. 

I currently have only one tattoo. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm that I got done five years ago, as a reminder of the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit and of the fact that I was a complete person: a reminder I very much needed at a time when I’d been feeling pretty fractured. 

This new tattoo follows a similar theme of body, mind, and spirit. Last summer, I began using tarot cards as a means of meditation. I’m not using them to make any sort of attempt at clairvoyance, but I find that the meanings behind the cards can be an excellent mirror for the subconscious. Typically, when I meditate, I’ll draw three cards, and look at the meanings of the cards individually and as a whole, and what I find in those meanings helps bring my mind into focus. The tattoo I’m getting next Friday is based on three cards from my favorite deck, which each correspond to one of the aforementioned aspects of body, mind, and spirit. 

First, there’s the 9 of Pentacles, which is a card that’s all about a sense of home. As I’ve been dealing more with dysphoria, I love the idea of a reminder on my skin that I carry my home with me — that my body is home. 

Then, there’s the Hermit, a card that deals with solitude (which appeals to my introverted self) and the pursuit of Truth (which appeals to the part of me that never stops asking questions). The Hermit also lights the way to Truth for those who come after him, which is a really great reminder that as my mind has opened and learned new things, I can lead others by example to the same. 

Finally, there’s the Ace of Wands, which is full of creative energy. As a writer, a knitter, and a musician, the urge to create is an integral part of my spirit, and I am most fully myself when I am being creative. 

I am incredibly excited about this tattoo (the cards will be in a ring around my left forearm). A little nervous, too — it’s been a while since my last one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this tattoo causes some drama with my family. Ultimately, though, I’m looking forward to it. In the end, it’s just another step in molding this body of mine to match my internal vision of myself, which, along with a beard (which is steadily filling in on my face now), has a number of tattoos. I’m making this body a home I want to live in. And that’s important.