Daily Archives: July 30, 2017

Capture Bonding: How I Both Need and Grieve My Gender Transition

If we were to believe the dominant narratives around gender transition, we could only conclude that it’s a magical, affirming, and life-giving process. With these stories—and the glorious “before and after” photos that accompany them—we’re told that the uncomplicated truth of transition is that when the transformation is complete, we emerge on the other side whole and shimmering.

I am not whole, nor am I shimmering.

I often wonder: Can it be true that I can’t inhabit this body anymore—with its curves and parts that alienate me—but am still bonded to it? Top surgery is on the horizon for me. While I can’t fathom living the rest of my life with this chest, a part of me is grieving this loss. These curves were always guests (never residents), but their absence still means something to me.

I understand it only in metaphor. Imagine the kidnapped person who bonds to their captor. Imagine that the trauma forces them to forge a bond that will sustain them and wound them all at once. Imagine the attachment that is both real and illusory, born out of a need to survive.

For many transgender people, we find ways to form attachments to the assigned bodies and identities that harm us so that we can bear the burden for another day. And so the euphoria, disgust, and the fear come all at once. Behind the joy, my transition has been grief. My transition has been letting go. My transition has been hard.

I am losing the face that I knew. I delight in my beard, yet I long for the softness that was once underneath. I am angular in all the right ways, yet I still have affection for the youth I once held in my cheeks. And I wonder if it’s possible that the face I rejected (the dysphoria and the distress still real) wasn’t mine to keep but still meant something to me.

I know the feeling of being misgendered, like a knife perpetually wedged between your ribs. And I know the feeling of entrapment in a body that isn’t “right,” a fleshy coffin that conceals and suffocates you. And someday, I hope I’ll know the relief of having broken free of those things—to recognize myself fully when I look in the mirror.

But I live in the real world, too, where the pretending had to be so emphatic, it flirted with the truth. I had to be something I wasn’t long enough to reasonably convince myself, and the feelings there are residual, even now. My breasts disgust me, but they are familiar to me, too—sometimes I cringe, sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I even smile, and sometimes I feel nothing at all.

When your body is the captor, and your urge is to survive, how do you go on? For some of us, we dissociate, we separate, we detach. But I believe that some of us form attachments, too—to our dead names that our protectors used to coo as they cradled us in their arms, to our bodies that lovers used to gently trace with a finger or lusted after from across the room. And while we know in our hearts that we must change, the intimacy and meaning of what we were was never lost on us.

And it’s this attachment that too many trans people are deeply ashamed of. How can I be seen as valid if I am not willing to abandon the entirety of what I was, of what that felt like? Am I truly transgender if I am unsure, afraid—or grief-stricken, even? If this is everything I need, but it hurts just the same? How can I hold this contradiction if it threatens my existence?

My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.

When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”

I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.

Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts. I imagine what my body will be with immense joy and fear, worried and wondering what of “me” I’ve gained and what of “me” I’ve lost. Every year that passes, I fall more deeply in love with my name—Sam Dylan Finch, which rolls off the tongue like a tender incantation—while still wondering if the name I buried lives on someplace else. The unfamiliar becomes sweetly familiar, while the once familiar nips at my heels like a neglected dog.

It all had to mean something—and in a parallel universe, I think it still does, living on just as it was—because for this life to be bearable, I had to make meaning of these things. Because while the trauma of my assigned gender was at times like a clenched jaw around my body, it was, at first, the only thing I knew. And I created safety with what little kindling I had; I built a fire. Though it may have burned me and even, for a moment, engulfed me, it also kept me warm.

The truth of transition, they will tell you, is that it is pure and unadulterated joy and discovery. It makes for a touching story, to be sure. But quietly, I hold the space for something more—the messy reality that mingling with that joy is also raw and relentless grief, a letting go that too many of us struggle to make sense of.

To live these lives—to survive the trauma of being transgender in a world that denies us, invalidates us, destroys us—we’ve struck a delicate balance of detachment and attachment, forming bonds with our captors that we are unlearning as we become who we’re meant to be.

They tell us that those bonds make us confused or invalid. But I write these words to speak the truth: those bonds are a testament to our resilience. And whether you choose to break them or protect them, what matters most is that you’re still here.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Unapologetic Feminism.


…And On It Goes

Sometimes I feel like life is just relentless.  It just goes on and on and on whether you like it or not.  I guess I’m talking about this damn job search.  It just goes on and on.  Week in and week out and I have no news.  Jesus Christ!  Granted, Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate of any state, so the jobs are few & far between and the competition for the few open positions seems to be fierce.  I’m starting to feel desperate.  Fuck, I just applied for a job with HUSTLER!  Yeah, you heard me right.  They have a video-streaming operation in Boulder, apparently.  Can you even imagine?  “Who do your work for?”  “Oh the local porn streamer.”  I’d have so much pride.  Cocks and balls all day.  Oh joy!!  But goddamn these bills ain’t gonna pay themselves!!  WATCH.  Out of all the damn jobs I’ve applied for, I’ll hear from Hustler.

On the Parental Unit front, Dad seems to have C. Diff again, which if you don’t know, causes uncontrollable explosive diarrhea (I know, you could have done without that knowledge).  In addition to that, he tripped over the dog the other night and fell and injured his knee, so he’s not too mobile.  Bad combination.  I am one big stress and worry ball over Dad.  He’s been near death from the C. Diff in the past (yes it is that bad) and no matter what is wrong with his knee, doctors can’t do much, because he can’t have surgery due to his pulmonary fibrosis, and he can’t take any good painkillers due to his terrible stomach.  So, Dad is in terrible shape.  Getting old is cruel, I tell ya.

So, we’ve got a possible porn job, and explosive diarrhea.  Such an uplifting post, I know.  I’ll try to come up with something better for my next post.  Maybe a yeast infection.  I’m not making any promises, though.  I’m seeing the dickhead Dr. Drugs in the morning, wish me luck.  We are going to WAR over my antidepressant.  Hope you are all well.  Peaches!


Filed under: Bipolar, Bipolar and Anxiety, Bipolar and Stress, Bipolar and Work, Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness, Psychology, Psychology Shmyshmology Tagged: Bipolar, Bipolar Disorder, Blogging, Depression, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Psychology, Reader

Stigma Won’t End Until…

I wrote a post once about the difficulties of the mentally ill in finding and keeping jobs, how little employers think about hiring them, and how a mental disorder must often be kept secret if employment is to continue. And all that despite legal protections that are unknown or ignored. I received a vitriolic response that “those people” shouldn’t be hired, much less be promoted above and be supervising other employees like the writer. I couldn’t answer it, for fear of my keyboard bursting into flames.

There is no doubt that there is a stigma surrounding mental illness. People with mental disorders are blamed whenever gun violence occurs, even though the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. We are often considered to be violent, disruptive, and incurable – when we’re not ignored completely, especially in health care planning and treatment options.

The stigma even adheres to people around us. Mental disorders are still often linked in the media (particularly true crime books) to dominating or cold mothers, ineffectual or authoritarian fathers, and incest or abuse from any family members. While many mental illnesses have at least a genetic component, blaming the parents or family is an easy explanation that doesn’t hold water. Family or other kinds of trauma may cause psychological problems, but they don’t cause disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar.

These falsehoods have wide circulation and many – perhaps most – people believe them. They are perpetuated by the media and by lack of knowledge about the realities of mental illness.

Part of the problem is how people find out about mental illness. Largely, mental illness is an “invisible illness.” Most people know little about it until it touches them or their family in some way. Even then, misinformation and prejudices against the mentally ill may impede or delay treatment and devastate families and other relationships.

Books, movies, and television are little help. The drama and horror of the “psycho killer” drive the plots of many kinds of “entertainment.” Even programs that try to present a more balanced view of mental illness do not have a great track record of getting it right, often perpetuating stereotypes even when they don’t intend to. Among these notions are that psychotherapy lasts forever, medications don’t work or create zombie-like affect, treatments are brutal, hospitalization is for psychotics and schizophrenics only, and the mentally ill are an occasion of comedy.

Then there’s suicide. The mixed messages about that are incredible. Suicide is cowardly. It’s easy. It’s noble. It’s a viable solution to problems. It is usually interrupted. The suicidal give no indications. Most suicides are successful. Bullying causes suicide. Teens, bankrupt businessmen (it’s almost always men), and people who have terminal illnesses are the most likely to die by suicide.

Yes, there are messages that promote understanding of mental illness and those who have mental disorders. Celebrities like Glenn Close and Carrie Fisher have used their star-power and their personal experiences to shine a spotlight on the subject. Unfortunately, 60-second PSAs aren’t the best vehicles for explaining complex and difficult problems that affect people in so many different ways. Autobiographies are better, but given how few Americans read these days (and the thrillers and romances they choose), how much of the message makes it out to the general populace?

Most of us with mental illness are talking primarily to each other. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; in fact, it’s necessary to support one another and share information about our personal struggles and what has helped us survive and heal.

But more coordinated public information campaigns are needed. Think about Susan G, Komen and other organizations promoting awareness of breast cancer. Think how many Facebook messages you see about lost dogs or endangered wild horses. Think how schoolchildren are learning about protecting the environment and saving dolphins, whales, and pandas. Hell, people know about the Girl Scouts primarily through cookie sales and the Salvation Army primarily through Santa-clad bell ringers.

The truth is, stigma will continue until we educate the general populace about mental illness – until they understand that it’s an illness like many others, with treatments and hope available, and a need for research, and places to find help.

Unfortunately, those kinds of efforts require money, and organization, and leadership, three things that are sorely lacking in society as we know it.

Do I have the answers? No. But I’ll keep talking about mental illness and hope some people listen. And act.


Filed under: Mental Health

ALPIM (ALPIM Anxiety-Laxity-Pain-Immune-Mood — Kitt O’Malley)

I just learned about ALPIM, a spectrum disorder, from my friend Kitt O’ Malley’s blogpost. It’s reblogged below.

ALPIM stands for:

A = Anxiety disorder (mostly panic disorder);

L = Ligamentous laxity (joint hypermobility syndrome, scoliosis, double-jointedness, mitral valve prolapse, easy bruising);

P = Pain (fibromyalgia, migraine and chronic daily headache, irritable bowel syndrome, prostatitis/cystitis);

I = Immune disorders (hypothyroidism, asthma, nasal allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome); and

M = Mood disorders (major depression, Bipolar II and Bipolar III disorder, tachyphylaxis. Two thirds of patients in the study with mood disorder had diagnosable bipolar disorder and most of those patients had lost response to antidepressants).

I have this whole spectrum! Except they’ve included Bipolar II and Bipolar III (Cyclothymia) but not Bipolar I… Why, I wonder?  But what does it mean as far as cause and treatment? They know this is a spectrum, how will this help us? Besides taking our physical symptoms more seriously, I get that, that’s obviously important. But for the treatment of the mental illness, hopefully the linkage with all these physical illnesses will shed some light.

its definitely the immune system, all of the above have the involvement of the immune system! Over active immune system. Is it our immune system that is making us sick? I hope someone is studying all this in relationship to over active immune systems. That may well be where the answer lies!

Many of us living with mental illness have other chronic illnesses. Often we are not treated for our “physical” illnesses, as many doctors dismiss them as psychosomatic. “Mental” illnesses ARE “physical” illnesses, and “physical” illnesses affect our “mental” illnesses. We are not just our brains, just our bodies, just our minds, just our feelings, or just our souls. […]

via ALPIM Anxiety-Laxity-Pain-Immune-Mood — Kitt O’Malley