Following another wee pause in my outpourings (while I experienced a more significant inpouring), here we are, and I have just turned 50. Bloody hell, etc.
On this half-century occasion, I find myself reflective, like a cyclist’s armband. This makes more sense than you’d think (sorry, I’ve eaten chocolate) – I’m reflective in the sense that this birthday has me thinking about a lot of stuff, but I’m also reflective in the sense that I find I’m highly visible to myself in the dark, at the moment. Hence the wonderful Tilda Swinton above, who as a psychotic Archangel Gabriel is the only redeeming feature in the otherwise godawful (and I choose this adjective with delicate precision) film Constantine. Look at her – she’s beautiful as an androgyne. My goodness.
Here I am at 50. But it’s also (or it feels like, which will do) my first birthday as a woman. I say this because a year ago, I was still quite on the borderlands of my transition, and I was still trying in some ways to be a man for my girlfriend, which made both of us miserable in the end (well, that and my PTSD, and and and…)
I’m comparing my experience of myself to that of a year ago. And I don’t mean that in a merely cerebral, conceptual way. I’m doing things I did a year ago, and experiencing the difference this time round. For example, I’m watching all of The L Word all over again at the moment. (I didn’t think, naïve fool that I am, that I could love Shane any more than I already did. But I do.) I’m struck by how much more sense all the characters make to me than they already did a year ago. Right now, I’m watching the episode with Bette’s dad’s funeral, and the women’s benefit event hosted by Gloria Steinem, and it’s moving me to tears.
I don’t know what to do with this. I found myself having an imaginary discussion (read: argument) with some feminists, in which I have to defend myself as a woman. The interesting bit of this was when I found myself smiling (in my imagination) and saying: “No, I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone else except myself. All I have beyond that is empathy, and imagination. And it’s just the same for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be All Women – you can only imagine and empathise too.”
So here’s the thing: I have some experiences from my past that make me empathise with many women – oppression, abuse, exclusion, marginalising, bullying… No, I didn’t grow up as a woman, I’ll never know what that’s like, in this lifetime anyway. But I have this shared experience of not quite being a citizen of Acceptable Humanity™ which makes me resonate with what many women have experienced, still experience. I’m having it now, in a subtle sense, not yet being accepted into the fold by my Buddhist community’s women. I now understand what’s happening here. Almost all of the women are basically fine with me. But there are a small number of them for whom it just doesn’t feel safe to be in a women’s safe space with someone with manparts. I know these women are trying to find ways in themselves to deal with this, because they don’t want to exclude me – they just even more don’t want to feel unsafe. So no matter how much I feel impatient to practise with my sisters, I feel more the empathy born of that shared experience, because I know what it’s like to feel unsafe in the presence of men. The last time I was alone with my father in a car (12 years ago) I was terrified.
When it comes down to it, I don’t really understand why it feels so normal now to identify as a woman, to resonate with women’s issues and so on. Except that, well, I am one, so why wouldn’t I? Just enjoy it, Self. Okay.
Anyway, here’s to change, and becoming more ourselves, but less rigid and hidebound.
I have no idea what happens next. This is delightful.
Something else on my mind a lot at the moment, not unrelated. In 1980, I made a new friend at school (who is still my friend), and the first time I visited his house, I met his little sister, and totally fell for her. Ballsy, angry little suedehead, who slowly, over the next couple of years, evolved into a ballsy, angry (and androgynous) little hippy, and who went through hell with anorexia. She would have been a fucking amazing woman by now. But when she was 17, she died in a fire. I had four amazing years of knowing her first. I feel unbelievably grateful for that, for the impact her life and death had on me, and is still having. The other night, I dreamt about her – we were measuring each other’s skulls with a tape-measure, because I was going to carve a life-size head out of a giant potato. There was much giggling involved. I love you and miss you, Kath. I wish your nephews could have known you. If you could see me now – you’d laugh your head off, innit :). Thanks for visiting. I am eating alcohol-filled chocolate in your honour.
Envoi: I’m sitting watching Dirty Dancing, and I’m feeling terrible regret right now that I never got to have my youth as a woman. I’m sure it would have been just as fucked up and chaotic as it was anyway, but I can’t do it now, and I still want to have done. So it is. But at least I can, on occasion, dance dirty. I will get to do so on Saturday, and look out, underworld, I’m coming.