We happen to each other

ombre-de-citronA few days ago, I read a web article someone posted to me entitled Is PTSD Contagious? Quite a train of thought has pulled out since then.

The main gist of the article is that being constantly around someone suffering from PTSD can lead to you suffering “secondary PTSD”. When I read this, it rang very true for me, because last year, while I was in a relationship with someone as my PTSD really kicked in, I witnessed them beginning to suffer their own symptoms, as a consequence of them being around someone whose emotional states were so unpredictable and changeable. This is one of the reasons why I feel that them breaking up with me, and then wanting no contact for a long while, was very much the right thing for them to do – even though it really hurt, and hurts. Because I know what this is like, this PTSD, and I would never wish it on someone I love.

Since reading that article, though, some other things have occurred to me.

Firstly, I sense that the healthcare professionals (and bystanders) in the article treat the war vet as the one with the “real” PTSD (assuming they ever actually get a proper diagnosis, which is notoriously hard to obtain). I suspect this is partly because most people who actually believe PTSD is real in the first place still don’t imagine it exists outside of the kind of trauma experienced in a war zone (I wish).

But there’s a reluctance out there to take seriously the effect of being around someone with PTSD that somehow reminds me of “passive smoking”, and how reluctant people have been to take that seriously. This is hard for me to say, because I don’t want to over-pathologise myself, or isolate myself – but it still feels true, and therefore needs saying.

I also felt that there’s an assumption that these people experiencing “secondary PTSD” are not dealing with something that’s theirs, but something that’s entirely imposed on them (like passive smoking is). This oddly reminds me of how loads of trans people I know (including myself) have had doctors assume that whatever’s wrong with us when we’re ill is just “because you’re transitioning.” Yes, being around someone with PTSD is in a way the ideal incubator for beginning to experience it yourself, since it’s very likely to make you feel under threat all the time. But that’s not to say you don’t have your own unrelated trauma issues which it dovetails into.

I guess what I’m getting at here is the Buddhist concept of mutual causality, as compared to linear causality. Linear causality is the idea that “this makes that happen, then that makes the next thing happen, and so on…” whereas in Buddhism, there is the acknowledgement that everything is both affecting and affected by everything going on around it – so nothing is the “sole cause” of an event, because this inherent interconnectedness makes it more like an endless constellation of conditions, perturbing each other’s orbits all the time.

So causes are both complex, and reciprocal. It’s definitely my experience that two people with PTSD (or any kind of stress or anxiety issues) can make each other’s symptoms worse fairly easily, if they’re emotionally involved. So it’s my fervent hope that the partners of people with PTSD who have their own symptoms can get support that takes into account their relationship with someone else dealing with it, but also treats them as a standalone person dealing with their own issues.

This is one of the reasons why I find it very frustrating, how hard it is to get help with PTSD – because suffering from it doesn’t just affect me. I find myself, since that last relationship experience, very reluctant to get very intimate with anyone, because is some ways, I am the last thing I’d wish on anybody I love.

I am fortunate to be getting concrete help, although it’s proving a really convoluted business getting financial support to do that. I’m investing in getting this help not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of people who are or may become close to me.

cobweb-dewdrops[down below, dew on cobweb – up above, lemon tree shadow]

Sub-untitled

Alfred-KubinI was trying to explain to someone the other day about my theory of sensual-vs-sexual, in the context of asexuality. An image came to mind that I wanted to expand on, and this seemed as good a place as any…

Looking back over my life at my sexual/loving encounters, it now seems to me like watching a film that was in the Language of Love, but where the sub-titles were in Sexualese, and the sound was turned off.

I’ve just learned how to turn the sound up, so now I can hear the original language, and therefore find out what was and is really going on, at last – even though the old habits (and old sub-titles) are still there.

It makes me feel very sad, looking back this way, to see how much love I lost by having love sexualised for me, and so being afraid of it. Other people got hurt along the way because of this – but it wasn’t me that turned the sound off, it was my abusers.

I just came across a poem I wrote when I was around 17, and was in love with two people – a boy, and a girl (I still dream about them). The poem is kind of about both of them, and it’s so obvious to me now that it’s about longing for love, connexion, touch, without sex.

Rorschach

 given half a chance
(and fifteen times the courage)
I’ll be lying there,
mind gently on the ripple and so,
     feel warm skin of one who trusts me drowsy smiling,
         eyes closed but
     us linked like unseen
horseshoes

My loveliest experiences have been being naked with some loved one, snoozing together, cuddling, talking, laughing, but not as foreplay or aftplay (I may have just invented this word, and I like it… nope, others have beaten me to it, but I don’t begrudge them, I’m a co-operative beast). This is what I want from a… well, a lover, but an asexual lover. Isn’t language bendy? Lover nowadays pretty fundamentally means “someone you have sex with.” But I want “someone I have love with.” (This is not an advertisement.)

*****

I want to explain the painting above. It’s by the German artist Alfred Kubin (I don’t know the title of the painting… oh, it turns out it’s called Mythical Creature – or at least that’s the English translation of the title). I’ve spent years fruitlessly searching for an image of this, and only just rediscovered it (all things gravitate to the Internet eventually). My first ever girlfriend (who was German) gave me a poster with this on, because I loved it so much – loved the atmosphere, loved the animal, wolf-cat, cat-wolf. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Looking at this, I found myself remembering the first time she and I had sex (the first time I had sex as an adult), and how scared I was, and how I couldn’t let on (even to myself) how scared I was. And how I got glandular fever in order to escape from my “sexual obligation” – and how ever since then, I’ve kept getting ill to escape honourably from having to be sexual. It all seems so transparent now, now that it’s safe to know it. As Samuel Delany put it, Things that made the obscure obvious by overturning, overturned.

Free from sex now, free from the sub-titles (read them and laugh at the appalling translation, why don’t we). And this song of love is loud and sinuous and sonorous, lyrical, hilarious, profound, warm, hot, cool, abundant, healing, heartening, amuses all the muses… and is never just for one person.

the bright star shining

[This glorious painting is by Catherine Hyde… and is called The Bright Star Shining]

Essential sensual asexual

tara-sappho

I wanted to write some more on the subject of asexuality, which is the A in my bonnet at the moment. What’s particularly on my mind at the moment is the sensual.

I googled sensuality and got a whole slew of images that were basically about sex (or is it just me?), but then this one caught my eye. Probably one of the most sensual moments in the entire Buffy series, Willow paints a poem by Sappho on Tara’s back during a dream sequence. Sigh… Anyway, where was I?

I am for some reason largely wanting to work all this out for myself, before I walk through the doors of the most prominent asexuality forum and get engulfed in a tidal wave of terminology and other people’s ideas about what words and experiences mean. (Oh, well, for that reason, then.) So this is my take on what I’m experiencing and how to talk about it. There may or may not be other ways of discourse within the asexual mainstream (why does everything sound like a double entendre suddenly? Get over yourself. Okay…)

What’s on my mind, then, is a distinction between sexual and sensual. If you’ve been following my previous meanderings on this subject, you’ll know that I’ve only recently come out to myself as never having enjoyed sex. And that an inevitable element in that experience is having been sexually abused as a kid, so I have no objective way of knowing to what exactly I owe my non-enjoyment of sex. But I really, really enjoy everything that goes with sex. Actually, that’s not even putting it strongly enough: the stuff that normally goes with sex – affection, intimacy, touch, nakedness, kissing, passion – are all vital to me, all nourishing.

So far, so already said it. What I’m thinking about today is sensual attraction as compared to sexual attraction. the thing is: I’ve had a lifetime of assuming that whenever I was attracted to someone, it was a sexual attraction. This is partly a consequence of abuse, but it’s also partly a consequence of growing up in a culture that blows sexuality way up out of proportion, all the damn time, so it’s always artificially in focus.

Over the years, I started to notice that for me, attraction was like set theory, and I evolved this model – there’s a set of people I’m attracted to, and within that, a subset of those I’m physically attracted to (as opposed to being attracted to their personality, mind, or suchlike). then within that, there’s a subset that I’m sensually attracted to (as opposed to just finding them aesthetically pleasing, nice smile, or suchlike). Then within that, there’s a subset that I’m sexually attracted to (actually turned on by, as opposed to just considering them cuddleable). And finally, there’s a fairly tiny subset of people to whom I’m sexually attracted, that I actually want to have sex with (because I like them enough, and feel safe enough with them, to do that).

But this model isn’t right at all. It only made sense back when I thought that sex was in the centre of the equation – back when I was still persuaded that sex had to be in the centre, had to be present (and back when I was still kidding myself I enjoyed it, as opposed to just feeling less scared compared to more scared). Now I’m seeing it not as a series of concentrics, but as a probability field of attraction.

There are loads of people I find attractive in different ways: aesthetics, intellect, imagination, humour, textures, sensuality… This is my new discovery, really: that almost all the time that I’ve assumed I’m sexually attracted to someone, I’ve actually been sensually attracted instead. There are certain people I really, really want to touch. Because their skin is lovely, or their hair is lovely, or their face or hands are lovely, or simply because they’re lovely and I want to express my loving through touch.

For sure, on occasion they make me feel horny too, but I’m very unclear where the line is. And of course, there’s a huge difference between the body responding with arousal, and actually wanting sex (something else I learned by being abused). And when I’m with someone who’s aroused by me, then it’s been very hard for me not to assume I’m into it, as I was strongly conditioned to expect I have to be sexually available.

Here I am, then, in this newly discovered asexual space, wanting to explore how to be sensual with people within that. And my googling makes it clear that in many people’s minds, sensuality is really “just foreplay”, so I’ve got to be very clear and careful and communicative and other things beginning with C. Chilled, curious, compassionate, california poppy…

Which brings us back to this amazing picture at the top. That scene from Buffy is to me a wonderful example of the sensual – non-sexual nakedness, intimacy, loving. It’s all poetry. Soft like this.

california-poppies-crop

Sister Moon

binmoonThis really wasn’t supposed to happen at all. Not even a little bit.

I’m wanting to write, in honour of Wolff, By the time you read this, I will have left the ship… Do you remember that Tintin book, Explorers on the Moon? Wolff, who allowed Jorgen aboard and almost got them all killed, who left the ship in mid-space to save everyone else’s lives. No, it’s not what you think. I’m not topping myself. Blimey.

Sorry, this is coming out really disjointed. I have stuff I want to tell you, because you’re my best friend and I love you. And because I may never see you again, and this is breaking my heart into small sharp pieces.

Where to start? There was something you didn’t know about me. Now there are two.

You knew the one big thing, you were the first person I told I needed to transition. You’ve no idea how grateful I am for you – for you being the kind of person I knew I could tell that to, and for you being the kind of person who smiled and hugged me when I told you – you said, remember, “Who you are, and who you’ll be, I love you both.” You made me brave enough to tell the others, to tell my family, to go out and begin the beguine.

And now here I am, halfway through my journey back home to Womanhood, a country I was kidnapped from at birth. So happy to be going back, but also wondering what it’s like there. But you know all this, this isn’t what I’m writing to you about.

So. The one thing you didn’t know. And the two things you don’t. Fuck. I may have to toss a coin to decide which to tell you first. If this was music, I could run both tunes together. Blah blah. All right. The thing you didn’t know. I love you. Not just as a friend (not that “as a friend” is ever “just”). Ever since the day we met I’ve loved you, it’s like a great deep bronze chord playing in my chest, I resonate for you. Agh, behold the cheesiness. But this is a Now It Can Be Told moment, so I need to tell you. You’re magnificent. Watching you smile is like watching the moon rise. Gold, silver. Precious. You’re so precious to me. I wish I’d told you before.

You know I’m not transitioning for you, you know I’m doing it for me. But I dreamed, one day, I could be your wife. And you could be my wife.

But then this other thing. I’m almost afraid that you won’t believe this, but I know you, and you know me, and this happened. This thing you don’t know about me is this. I met someone. I met them and we got on like crazy, there was chemistry – and that kind of led to biology. And when I met them… well, I keep saying “them” because I didn’t know what gender they were until we ended up in bed together. Beautiful. Handsome. All of that. A trans man? Well, he goes by “he” so now I’ll say “he”, but he told me, as we lay together, he’s FTA, not FTM. Beautiful, complex, complicated passion together. And then he bit me.

So here’s the thing you didn’t know that isn’t me loving you like a supernova. I’m a transgender vampire. He should have asked first. Because now I’m never, ever going to finish my journey. Which is why I’m writing to you to say goodbye. I’m never going to be who I am, and I’m never going to stop being just on-the-journey. I can’t bear it. I know you (or who knows? Maybe there are things you haven’t told me too.) I know that you’d accept me, but I can’t. I don’t want to be with you forever – even if you wanted that – if there’s no journey. Live well and remember me. Try to remember me as less melodramatic than this, if you can. Exceptional circumstances, really.

Groove on, Sister Moon. xxxXXXxxx

*****

Um, Happy New Year.

I haven’t done this before now on this blog-thing, exposing my fiction-self – but I just found myself writing this, and wanted to share it with you, whoever you are. I’m probably going to “flesh it out”, as they say, but this is the core of it. There are times (and this has been one) where being in mid-gender-transition feels like an eternal limbo I’ll never escape from. And I found myself wondering how it would be, since there are already the vampire story clichés out there of someone being stuck as a kid or a teenager vampire forever – how would it be to find yourself stuck forever in mid-transition? And the love stuff? Well, yes. Not saying more about that.

Some things to explain: Watching you smile is like watching the moon rise – I wrote that because it describes how I feel when a certain person I know smiles, because it felt more true than comparing their smile to the sun – you can look at it directly, it doesn’t blind, it’s gentle. And because I love the moon, I’ve always loved her. But after I wrote this, it struck me how a vampire might choose to compare their belovèd to the moon because the sun is not a friend any more.

And Sister Moon is the name of a song I love by the band Transvision Vamp – which was an inescapable choice, let’s face it, given the theme of this story. Here’s that song, for all of us who are on our way to somewhere but not there yet, afraid never to arrive. (Or to someone.)

[PS I saw the moon in a dustbin lid once, as you can see. It was full (the moon, not the dustbin).]