My Little Dark Age: A Return to the Shower and a look at Andrea Long Chu’s NYT Article

It happened again, I spent an evening on the shower floor, sopping wet, skin cracking, melting: My breasts are too small, my hands are too big, my jaw, my jaw, my jaw, jaw, jaw, nose, transorbital lobe, face, face, face, face. These meltdowns havn’t been frequent lately, and I think I know what external stress is pushing me towards the edge at the moment. But, self-awareness isn’t happiness. I should also note that I am not exactly a neurotypical person. And though my OCD is usually at bay, hidden in a box somewhere amongst the cobwebs, it’s presence haunts my mind; I don’t think like other people. I see evidence of this all the time. While I was initially against the “neurodiversity” label for my OCD — there is so little about it that I wish to champion as an alternative cognitive mode — it has changed the very wiring of my brain. And though there is possibly a benefit or two to it, it still casts the shadow of anxiety and worries, even from inside the box — it’s leaky. So, when I move to my main point here, keep this in mind. My experiences are refracted through an extra layer of the strange and dysfunctional.

Two days ago Andrea Long Chu published an opinion piece in The New York Times titled “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy.” Now, if you don’t know Andrea she is a bit of a provocateur. The piece was meant to be contentious, and it certainly seems to be — based on the electric interweb of outrage. Though she did mention in her article that trans surgeries, like SRS/GRS, do make many trans people happy, she did not stress it enough. Thus, some are reading the article as a possible avenue of attack by conservatives — and I agree. When I typed “Andrea Long Chu New York Times” into Google there already were conservative media outlets using the article to apparently point out that these surgeries are bunk. So thanks for that Andrea. Nevertheless, I thanked her on twitter, because though this may have been an intentional oversight on her part, it wasn’t the point of the article.

Her point was that surgery might not make her happy. She probably didn’t need to call her neovagina a “permanent wound,” but that is what it is (I like fuck hole). I think what she is saying is that this won’t make her cis, it won’t erase the hurt she feels through her dysphoria—it might lessen it. And I think this admition is brave. Returning to the shower, why do I end up there slightly more these days, definitely with a higher percentage of suicidal thoughts? After all, the accepted medical narrative states I should be arriving at a sense of affective/somatic completeness the further I transition. But I can’t even access these procedures, especially FFS which I feel I need to cut down my massive face. And even if I could, they won’t give me a girlhood (at least a typical one). They can’t make my hands smaller, or my body less massive. Most days I can keep these corporeal compromises bottled up, but they are quick to escape, and my wonderful OCD haunted brain likes to grab hold of them and exaggerate them to the point where in a short period of time I can go from drinking coffee on the couch to essentially begging for death in the shower. Always the shower — it’s my (un)happy place.

None of this is fodder for transphobes — well, it shouldn’t be. I am not saying that I regret transitioning (nor is Andrea), and I suspect that my OCD makes this process more extreme for me? Regardless, I am often happier after coming out, at least I am more me, and that is something. However, from an outsiders perspective, if you were to take my pre to early transition ex and have her compare notes with my current partner, I might seem to spend more time crying in the shower. And I think Andrea is exposing a common trend here that we are afraid to admit, often for strategic reasons: transitioning hurts. Before I was a disassociative, socially uncomfortable (not always awkward) depressive, who permanently felt a deep sense of alienation with their life, who occasionally moped in the shower. Now, I am a non-disassociative, occasionally happy, more frequent visitor to the shower. I think the two positives in that last sentence are better than the four negatives in the first. The problem? Now I have to acknowledge my dysphoria directly, feel it intensely and grapple with it. Being associated with myself means acknowledging the melancholia I often feel as a liminally enfleshed person — a monstrous other. And that can be hard. Though I hate the wrong body trope, I feel at odds with my body; what could be more typically female? I get beauty standards and deep sociatal transphobia. But beyond that, I feel like my body betrays me in a way that cis women won’t be familiar with — at least the majority. Gender is intrinsic, but also relational, and therefore I fear being tolerated, having the other only reflect my gender back to me on a surface level, uttering “he” just below their breath. That is really the biggest issue I have with my body.

All taken together, that’s a lot to invest into a surgery. Having a vagina won’t fix those issues for me either, only time. At least I won’t have to feel my balls rolling around, the effect of which sometimes makes me want to vomit. But, I might never do better with my bodily issues than I do with my OCD, to hid it in a leaky wooden box with a bad lock. Some days, like yesterday, I don’t think I’ll make it. But it is still better than I was before. And there is a great diversity of trans bodies, experiences, and situations. I certainly would have fewer issues with this process if the world had been a less hostile place as a child and I was able to transition early. This is why access to trans health care for children is so important. Others still are stronger than me and can push their worries aside — OCD! And others like being liminal, unlocatable in the matrix of gender. So my standpoint here is very limited, but I suspect that it is not the only one that disrupts the standard medical intervention equals straightforward happiness narrative. And in many ways, for me it has, but it also has many complications, this isn’t a linear process, what is? And I still voice zero of these concerns to my docotors, because I need to feed into this cycle to get these complicated medical interventions. It’s an impossible situation. And that’s it, we live in an impossible situation, one that makes psychic health tenuous at best, and only if you’re a lot stronger than me.

I’m trans, a grad student in gender studies, and a legal researcher.

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