Stop spending time staring at doors. Open them.
I wrote down the words in a notebook at the top of the page, suggesting that it would become part of the “further insights to follow” train of thought that comes when I place something in such an important position on paper: the beginning.
I celebrated my first “Charlie Day” a few days ago, on July 29th, which is my coming out and transition anniversary. It doesn’t feel right to call it a rebirth day, nor is it technically a birthday, and when someone said it was my Charlie Day that fit like a glove. I do have a reputation to maintain now that I’m an unofficial member of the Leo collective, and who doesn’t love getting a whole day named after them? All kidding aside, while on a several hours long hike through the Niagara Glen trail in Southern Ontario, I allowed myself to empty, and Spirit was pouring light in the spaces therein last night.
I woke up halfway through the night again, feeling a blend of exhaustion but too awake to sleep. Spirit nudged me awake gently saying, “We’ve gotta talk”. Glennon Doyle rallies the “pod squad” with family meetings and it felt a whole lot like Spirit was doing that last night.
Family meeting. Up you get.
I had to decide to sit down and write not just this post, but ideas and dreams that reached a fever pitch within. Those moments don’t usually afford the most glamorous setting or pretense. I’m not ugly crying, but in some ways that would be easier because this has felt more like defeat. I’ve been facing my tendency to move from behind a thick armor, guarded-against rather than an openhearted creating-with. It’s not defeat, and I know this, but surrender in the absence of confidence masquerades as something requiring our best defenses. It’s how healing can start and stop, stymied not by hubris but by genuine innocence. Oprah said it perfectly: you don’t know what you don’t know. Where spiritual awakening and healing are concerned it’s the beautiful infinite loop of what we spend our lives doing: realizing how little we know, learning more, breaking apart what wasn’t working, getting better bit-by-bit, and then doing it all over again about something else.
Spiritual awakening is not sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns because once it occurs these early morning meetings with Spirit happen all the time. This time, I’m writing part of it down and doing something with it instead of letting it swim through my mind leaving only ripples for the next day’s journal entry. My awakening arguably started in 2004, and the ignition flipped in 2014 when I started this blog. I had to learn about spiritual gas and the importance, not of leaving enough in the tank for later, but what fuel for the journey really means. And I’ve been fantastically messy at that part, but the learning is coming full circle after a dark night of the soul kicked off in 2015 that wrapped up around 2020.
Giving myself permission to be fantastically bad at the process of spiritual growth felt like the times I’d drive to and from work in snowstorms and whiteout conditions last winter in marathon two-hour commutes each way: white knuckled, shallow breathing, quiet prayers, and just being glad I made it home safely. Thank God I’m home. Alive. Intact. Which is incidentally, not a way to live, but it’s what it feels like when you go through a dark night of the soul in order to put yourself back together again, without a manual.
There is no handbook, and for those whose wounding touches on having all the answers, it’s intoxicating to feel like there’s a way to do it well. When you cling to what wasn’t working though, things keep falling apart and I’m nothing if not persistent. My ego would love to call it a work ethic, but my Higher Self calls bullshit. All the time. I committed to feeling it all when I started transitioning, and I could feel the groaning expansion of more sobering truths unfurling ahead of another year of being myself. It feels a lot like shaking off the chrysalis remnants from wings drying after being drenched in sobering truths that needed attention in that stage of being tucked away.
The topography of sobering truths
Sobriety is about all of the times where I felt the undercurrent of misery and stuck close enough to it, because the familiarity of upset traced the outline of behaviors onto a map of identity that made navigating life relatively easy because it was a familiar way. My worth got woven into fixing, helping, and doing so with such passion that I lost myself over and over. Maintaining everyone other than myself and calling that thriving was the thing that I let run my life.
The thing about addiction is, (especially when you’ve seen the blackout drunk variety) you are likely to doubt that you’re in need of sobering truths if you don’t fit that narrow firsthand behavioral bill. There are nuances, sure, but we focus so heavily on words like codependence to the extent that it’s become a buzzword, rather than an awareness of a liberatory path to recovery. I don’t use alcohol in the same way that family did. I also don’t get so drunk that I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing. It wasn’t my thing which meant that cultural messages left a gap that what actually how my thing slipped through.
Sobriety isn’t about drinking for me. It’s about the behaviors that made it possible for me to tolerate other people’s addictions, domineering behaviors, and ignore my depths. Transitioning made it impossible to tend to anyone other than myself and having experienced narcissism growing up, I confused being self-assured and secure, with doing harm to others. My choices included: continue to be codependently enmeshed with others and seeking their approval or be my own best version and refuse to abandon myself. I could not bring codependence with me if I transitioned, and I still stumble but there is a solid conviction beneath my feet. My needs count for something, and after getting better at listening to them throughout the last year, I can say that they even count for something beautiful.
There were so many people who tried to talk me out of transitioning, necessitating an armor and protection, as though it were a phase, asking totally inappropriate questions: whether or not I had an assessment done to ensure I wasn’t just mentally ill (seriously, someone asked me this while pointing to their temple), whether or not I was getting a doctor’s help (as though taking hormones was the only way to transition, which just isn’t the case), whether or not I knew that my voice would never change back to its higher register; whether or not I knew that taking testosterone could really damage my heart (it doesn’t, it didn’t, and it’s a common fear that people highlight). I had another person ask whether or not I knew that life would still be hard regardless, as though I was transitioning and going through this process to escape something else while thinking life would be easier, because I didn’t endeavor to tell them about this part of me the moment I knew it was true for me (with that warm a reception, honestly, who would?). I was met with acceptance for the most part, but there was also a lot of conversation where I had to negotiate my boundaries without wavering on them a single time. I had to be trans enough in some folks’ eyes to justify this truth living within me and pre-transition, you seldom are enough for anyone else’s standards because it’s far more about whether you’re enough for yourself.
It brought covert transphobia to the fore, where cisgender folks immediately hesitate to accept the trans person’s authority in their own lives as though they can’t be trusted, casting them into the role of liar, betrayer, and deceptive. I don’t mind explaining some things to people, but when I first started coming out, they treated this truth as though it were a psychiatric demon, rather than part of my humanity. It taught me that as much as people might be good with other trans folks in an invisible somewhere over there, they’re hesitant where it confronts their deep seated beliefs in their immediate inner circle. We’ve made much progress collectively but for many people, I’m still the first trans person they’ve met in real life.
Coming out required my best defenses because I had to justify myself so many times over through conversations about pronouns (they/them), and against the projections of others about my transness not being real or some accoutrement of trauma as though it was disordered, rather than something that completely organized my life because it was fully expressing myself, albeit more out loud than I’d done before. The big realization was that armor cannot join me on the next leg of the journey because what kept me safe to get here just isn’t necessary anymore. There may be fights but I don’t need to show up to them the same, if at all anymore.
It’s no one’s fault for imparting that resistance either, because society teaches that transness represents dishonesty for the ways it betrays gender norms, and turns its focus towards liberation. Turning trans people into dishonest specters ensures that cisnorms are upheld and transness is viewed as less-than or as something that haunts the edges or exists only in darkness, when we’re actually rays of warm sunlight, if not the entire spectrum of light itself. I hold no grudges because getting beyond the internalized transphobia to simply come out to myself took years and I was the trans person wanting to transition.
Alok Vaid-Menon talks about this with such exquisite depth, that transness represents possibility and that’s why people fear it so much. Transitioning was difficult because it meant I had to articulate my truth, myself, and my boundaries relentlessly. I could not maintain other people because all of my attention and energy had to go into coming out, transitioning, and protecting the beautiful person I was finally allowing myself to be. It was the point of no return: I would never again abandon myself, which required an awareness of the shield I carried for a lot longer than I realized.
Coming out in 2020, and then transitioning in 2021 marked the end of a dark night of the soul, shifting into integrating the lessons of it. I would be lying if I said I had as much grace with this process as I do with words. My Dad has ripped his pants dancing at several wedding receptions, and it mirrors my gracefulness with this process: so enraptured with where I am and wrapped up in what I’m doing that I cease to realize my ass is hanging out in full view of the guests at a nice party.
Sobering truths are inextricably linked to my transness. When I thought about transitioning, I realized that it was one of the places inside that needed to be seen, validated, and brought into the light because of how often I used coping mechanisms to keep it away. It was much more convenient, and far easier to throw myself into codependent behaviors than it was to admit the truth that I wanted to transition, because doing so would change everything. Most importantly, it would change the right things. The things that needed to change because keeping them inside was slowly killing me. It would confront the thing and the adjacent other things that I’d let run my life.
Out of the woods and into clarity
While walking through the old growth forest I took my earbuds out and listened to the way time bounced off of the scenery beneath the towering canopy. It was the language of immensity, spoken in dialects of moss, and thick tree trunks, with inflections of the cicadas buzzsaw-cutting through the quiet, while the rapids ceaselessly hissed a roaring power from a kilometer away on the trail. I stood staring at the limestone monoliths decorating the landscape,sprinkled there like decorative seasoning across a lush green dinner plating. I looked closely at the tiny lines cutting across them intermittently, some dripping with the remnants of rainfall from the night before; Altogether an archive of another time.
I let the remembrance wash over me that everything we make in this lifetime will not only come to pass, but pass with such profound insignificance that it too will become a simple line, remembered by a passerby in another epoch if we’re lucky. You might think that macabre, but it’s what transitioning felt like for me: the collapse of a time that only ever existed outside of me. I was watching my life from afar, and now I’m one with its marrow. I’m well within the visible spectrum of the record of my life. It isn’t facing mortality, as much as it is facing another sobering truth: the next 365 days ahead of me were mine to shape, and I was breathing all of me into each moment. It sounds simple, but for those who were taught to disappear themselves as a way of expressing love, it can easily be filed under: a big fucking deal.
The world is warming and climates are changing in ways that make us think we are running out of time. If I tune into the news for any length of time, I feel the pressure in my chest, and the awareness tugging at the edges of my perception that dreaming a full life is to dream within the unprecedented. It is the injecture not of missing out, but wondering whether you will have enough time to bring a wild dreamscape to life without it being interrupted by pandemics, or extreme weather.
Regardless of the heat and changing climate however, life on this planet will persist. It may be inhospitable to our survival as a species, but life itself will continue. It is queer in the sense that it finds a way regardless of what norms we project upon it. Thomas Halliday wrote in Otherlands that the temperatures on the planet now are comparable to that of the Oligocene, and that future generations will see temperatures reminiscent of the Eocene. The world warmed is not breaking the ground we thought, in that the planet has been here before. It just hasn’t been here at the accelerated hands of human influence. The gender binary is much the same for me. We’ve been here before, in other pre-colonial times that precede our perception of it because it was before power asserted itself into the archives of what should be remembered and prioritized.
We live in a time of manufactured warmth and the smoke of its fires is spread across the globe, but while walking through those old growth woods I found myself thinking in epochs, rather than prescient minutes, and years. What would transness mean in an epoch? How would the past show up in the stone records and be rendered by the actuaries of another time altogether? Am I holding my life to a standard of mattering that relies on the past and an armor facing the future? What does it mean to be receptive in a time where there are few precedents, only records being broken and new paths being forged?
I could feel time laughing through the holes in the limestone surfaces, reverberating into the present, quieting the mental chatter like someone’s uproarious laughter at a party causing a lull in the conversation because everyone wanted to hear a fragment of what was so funny. The punchline was the reminder that it’s the sobering truths that make the most of thin, invisible lines woven through rock beneath our feet, that serve as signposts in the stone structures we find above ground.
Of course a heart met me on the path through that part of the woods, offering a lifejacket and anchor all in one as I made my way back to the parking lot.
It asked: what are the things I have while I’m here that can’t get left behind, that get all used up while I’m here, to be given away to others or savored in a gift whose tag reads, “just for me”? Primary among them, is my transness. But this time there was a catch, in the family meeting Spirit called and woke me up for last night, it added another question: what does it mean to be trans in a way that chooses yourself so wholeheartedly that you don’t need armor anymore? And that’s where the next three hundred and sixty three days begin.