Finding Love When You've Forgotten How
Or, "Hedgehog's Dilemma for One, Please"
I was sitting in my support group a couple of days ago, preparing mentally to introduce myself. What would I say? How much would I share with these strangers? How much trauma did I have to unload, anyway? Surely not that much?
'Oh, boy. How much time do you have?' my brain responded helpfully as it flooded my mind with all of the fucked up shit that has damaged me emotionally. Throughout my life, I have successfully and harmoniously maintained… two relationships? For longer than three years? Not good. Should I care to consider the origins, the first harm, I suppose it starts the way these things often do: with a boy.
This was maybe 1992 or 1993. I was in second-ish grade. It was wintertime, it was recess, and it was bitterly cold. I was looking for a way to warm myself up, because my jacket was only doing so much, and my hands and feet have always had poor circulation. We were getting ready to go back inside and this boy, my friend, was next to me in line. And so, I held his hand. There was nothing in it. I was just trying to warm my hand. A fraction of a second later, the wolves pounced. A girl confronted me. “Are you gay?!” (this was well before my transition, and so I appeared as a boy) she shouted, drawing more attention to us. I sputtered protests and then in my coward’s mind, there appeared only one way out of this.
“No!” I shouted, “I'm holding his hand so I could do this!” and I cruelly wrenched the arm of the boy, my friend. To save my own already-worthless reputation, I hurt someone. I still think about that boy. I wonder what became of him. The person he grew into. What his life was like. If he’s even still alive.
Social ostracism is a powerful weapon that peers wield against each other, especially when you’re young. But while it remains effective over a relatively broad stretch of time, it’s not effective forever. After a while, one just accepts ostracism as a fact of life and you settle into that which you’re good at. I didn’t really find that which I was good at for a long time after I left school and joined the military, but I searched and it wasn’t unfulfilling…
Now, I tell you all that to tell you this: partially because I haven’t really interacted with a lot of girls in a romantic context throughout my life, and for a huge portion of my formative years, I couldn’t convince a girl to talk to me voluntarily at all: I am not sure how to pursue romantic partners. I have, in essence, forgotten how to love. Or at least, how to woo.
And that, dear reader, brings us forward to the present day. Which, granted, is a pretty big time gap. There are many more upsetting and formative episodes left to uncover in the intervening years between “shunned for being gay and hurting an innocent friend to avoid the label” to “out and proud trans lesbian seeking romantic companionship and sucking at it,” but those are stories for another day. What matters now is that I’m single, I’m available, I think I’m reasonably attractive, and I suck at meeting and engaging with prospective partners. The last time I went on a date was 2012, and that was with my ex-wife (oh, we’ll get there someday, dear reader. We’ll discuss that someday). And in part, I can blame my intense social ostracism in my socially formative years for that.
Trans women have, rather uncharitably, been compared in the past to Frankenstein’s monster. Most famously by notorious trans-exclusionary radical feminist Mary Daly and the arch-enemy, Janice Raymond (Go ahead. Ask. You don’t want to know, though). But again, we don't have time for that.
Being described as an engineered caricature, an aberration, an abomination that would be farcical were it not so viscerally upsetting, and a "necrophilic invasion of women's spaces," end-fucking-quote. And that's unnecessary. And also very poor use of hyperbole. With gratitude to Susan Stryker ("My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage", Stryker 1994) for digging into some shit that I just don't have the spoons to deal with.
But like Stryker, I've never balked from the Frankenstein's monster imagery, because I read the book. For those who didn't but are mostly aware of the story, or for those who don't have the same critical eye that I do, it's easy to think that the monster was the antagonist. That he was evil. Obviously he was, he murdered several people and indirectly caused the deaths of a couple more!
He's not the antagonist, though. He's a mirror. He makes it clear when he confronts the lazy, cowardly, irresponsible Victor on the mountain, that he is as Victor and the rest of the world has made him. If he is a monster, it's because he was treated monstrously. Which is not an excuse for serial murder, obviously, but the point of the story is that the real monster is society. That society is the thing that we should fear (which, from a lit-crit perspective, is exactly what you'd expect, as Percy Bysshe Shelly and Mary were from the capital-R Romantic literary school, as well as their good buddy Lord Byron).
I'm not a monster, I am made monstrous by your hatred.
But, as Victor's antagonist points out, even monsters get lonely. All Frankenstein's monster wanted was to not be alone. Again, I sympathize (although again, not to the extent of excusing the ,onster's crimes). I had made my peace with being alone forever, but it's not what I want.
In my previous relationships, I have found myself confronting the hedgehog's dilemma. Fans of classic anime probably know this one, as perhaps will fans of Schopenhauer and Freud. Essentially, the metaphor states that the hedgehog wishes to be near other hedgehogs but they can't because they hurt each other with their spines (biologically nonsense, unless alarmed or irate, a hedgehog's spines are folded back). The closer they get, the more they hurt each other, so it's less painful for them to be alone.
All of my romantic entanglements, no small number of friendships, most of my filial relationships and my relationship with my parents have ended this way. It was just less painful for us to be apart.
But how does one date, much less establish effective friendships or mend burned bridges when one is historically and demographically shunned? And having accomplished that minor miracle, how does one then subject someone you ostensibly care about to all this stuff? I do feel like I've forgotten how to love, and that hurts.
The days creep by in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and while I'm currently getting prettier, I am also getting older, and I won't continue getting prettier ad infinitum. Which is... unhelpful. Like, of all the things I needed in life? Putting a clock on establishing a successful love life is not on that list. I live with my oldest friend and his wife, and to say I'm jealous of what they have is an understatement. I have a need for companionship, much like any other person. Like Frankenstein's monster, I just don't want to be alone forever.
So what's the point of all this self-pity? Why have I harassed your good humor with my melancholic recollections? Wherefore hast I propagated thine own ill-humor with the trappings of my star-cross'd life? Believe it or not, there is a point here.
Parents: Teach your kids not to be assholes. Teach them to love everyone. Even those who are different. I'm what you get when you don't, and I don't wish my whole... everything... on anyone. And who knows which of your kids will be like me? It's too dangerous a game to play with your child's life. Be a mensch, teach them to be one too.
I'm a socialist space penguin. I mean, I'm sure there are more important things about me, but I also don't want to be accused of misrepresenting myself, so let me just say that up front and loudly and clearly and oops! I'm about out of spa