We had our annual vacation on Cape Cod at the end of July. Aside from having some work interruptions, it was good. The weather couldn’t have been better. The atmosphere was peaceful and relaxing. I taught Nina to fish. That, actually, was a real highlight for me. Bittersweet in some ways – missing my dad, and watching the ways in which Nina is so at ease in her body and maneuvers so easily in the world (unlike Jo). Still, I hooked (so she could “catch”) her first fish and the unbounded joyous glee with which she swung that sucker over her head as she squealed in delight was fantastic (for me… not so much for the fish). I realized that fishing is really one of my happy places. Not even necessarily the catching. I honestly don’t care if I even have any bait on the hook. I love love love the ocean, the waves, the breeze and salt air, the sound of gulls and sound of the water reaching and retreating from the shore. The peacefulness there is beyond compare (ok, hockey comes close). Too many years of dysphoria kept me from the beach, the ocean, the pool for too long. The albatross of body that has always threatened to strangle me kept me anchored to the indoors, to my oversized, baggy, often wrinkled clothing. As I consider this in the crisp autumn air, snuggled down deeply into layers under my giant sweatshirt, having just pondered my new year’s resolutions, I’d like to add – more time at the ocean to my to-do list.
This year’s vacation, did feel a little different for me. A slight shift. AA says you are as sick as your secrets. It has certainly helped me to say out loud (or, as here, in writing) my truths. It is somewhat harder to be ashamed of something you’ve stated so specifically and shared for all the world (or 5 followers) to know. I did not even bring my Land’s End women’s tankini bathing suit on vacation this year. I brought my men’s swim trunks and, in the weeks before vacation, I bought (not the tight-fitting kind) cotton tank tops. For the first time, I think in my life, I didn’t feel suffocated, squeezed, trapped, claustrophobically awkward and ashamed… not to mention ridiculous in my beach attire. I stopped, momentarily, maybe just a nano-second, caring and fearing what I looked like to others, and focused on what I actually felt like. A deep breath far from any reflective substance to just feel what I felt wearing trunks and tank. Fairly comfortable and almost not self-conscious. A beginning.
Dysphoria is so damn difficult to explain to people who don’t have it. It’s hard to figure it out when you do have it. And even once you’ve identified it, it is still exhaustingly hard to navigate it. It is so real in my head. The shame so strong. And others look at me with quizzical expressions and say things like, “You look like you to me”. Cool. Thanks. So, grappling with it and finding even a tiny piece of peace feels like a huge victory.
Between my relative success in bathing attire and my decided success in clothing for Bert’s funeral, I feel like I have turned a small corner. Or at least put on my directional. I feel as though I have a new rule forming in my head – I will not wear something I feel stupid in. The cut of the Land’s End women’s tankini top just feels stupid to me. I gnash my teeth and shudder at the thought of it. So I’m just not going to wear it. It isn’t as if when I do dress girly and am uncomfortable I “fit in” to societal norms any better. So what is my goal? Perhaps, prioritizing my own comfort isn’t unreasonable?
The truth is, people did stare at me when we went to the beach. I also caught wind of some “which is it” conversations as I walked by. But I felt comfortable. I felt like me. So I didn’t much care if they couldn’t categorize me. It definitely does feel worse to me when people are staring at and commenting on me as I stand awkwardly trussed up like a caricature of femininity.
And really, why should I let others define me according to their standards and measures? I guess what I’m beginning to get comfortable with is that if I’m not hurting anyone, why does anyone care how I present? My gender expression does not alter the course of the Universe in any significant negative way. Once again and still, I’m not trying to be anything I am not. It would be great if we could just simplify it and say my gender expression is human and let it go at that. Joita, when asked about living with a disability and the fact that people openly stop and stare at her wherever she goes, said she feels she actually has an advantage in that her disability makes people interested in, curious about her, and that gives her the opportunity to meet and get to know more people. I love that kid!