[CW: suicide, mental illness, transphobia, ableism]
I started drafting this newsletter at the start of July. We're now eleven days into August. I haven't published anything for the last two months – even during Pride month, even though I had so much to say.
Even though I had so much I felt I should say.
I have a confession: I feel like I’m failing right now. I look at all the incredible people around me who are doing important work, who are posting work and making change, and I wonder how people are able to do so much. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like I’m letting everyone down.
The last few months have passed in a blur of depression and suicidal ideation. My priority became keeping myself alive, and some days it felt like that was all I was capable of. It’s so exhausting to be in this headspace, so exhausting to be trapped oscillating between crisis mode and survival mode.
I can’t do everything I want to do right now, and I’m trying to learn how to be ok with that. I'm trying to get to a place where I don't feel like I have to apologise for my disability.
In the last few weeks, I’ve stopped telling people ‘I’ve been struggling up until this point, but I’m doing better now’. I hadn’t realised how often I was telling that lie, assuring them that I knew my disability was inconveniencing them but it wouldn't in the future. Promising people that I would get better, be better. As though mental illness could be linear, as though it follows a timeline or can be predicted.
I feel guilty about how many times I’ve asked editors for more time, how often I've pushed back deadlines. I have had to ask for help, and it's felt so vulnerable. I hate how I've taken weeks, even months, to reply to messages from friends. I worry that I ruined an afternoon that could have been filled with sex by breaking down on my girlfriend's sofa and sobbing because I felt like everything was falling apart.
But I’m less suicidal than I was a year ago. And while part of that is due to the natural fluctuations in depression, I also think I’ve been underplaying how much work I’ve put in to get here. Testosterone has helped – it let me see that I can build a life where I can be who I am, where I can be happy – but I don’t know if I am much less ill than I was twelve months ago. What has changed is me.
My mental illness isn't going away, but I am better at coping with it now. I’ve put so much work into building up the skills and tools I have that help me stay safe and take care of myself that I now reach for them reflexively. It doesn't mean that it's easy to reach into my metaphorical toolbox, it takes so much energy and so much work to just keep myself afloat.
There are so many days when all I do is survive, and it's exhausting to try explaining how that can take so much from me that I'm unable to do anything else.
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.
– Audre Lorde
I love this Audre Lorde quote. It makes me think about the ways I take care of myself that aren’t necessarily polite or pretty or acceptable. Things like stimming and stepping away from conversations and expressing my needs and being honest about how I’m struggling. Forgiving myself and letting go of guilt and shame. Extending compassion towards myself despite how much I feel like I'm failing.
All the things that I've been told all my life, implicitly and explicitly, that I shouldn't do. Things I feel like I especially shouldn't do as a trans person, because I often worry that I am already far too unpalatable and awkward. If I am already asking someone to accommodate my transness, I have to be perfect in every other way, right?
I'm wrong, of course. My transness isn't a problem and it isn't – or at least shouldn't be – a big deal for people to respect my gender and get my pronouns right. I don't need to apologise for who I am or hide it for the comfort of others. It doesn't always feel that way right now, of course, but that is because small and scared is what the transphobes are working hard to make us feel. They want us to shrink ourselves down and stop existing loudly and proudly in public.
July was Disability Pride month. It’s a few years since I’ve started describing myself as disabled, but it’s only recently that I’ve stopped worrying what I’m not disabled “enough” to claim the term. I no longer doubt that I am disabled, but I’m not sure I’m proud of my disability in the same way I am proud of being queer and being trans. I’m still working through my internalised ableism.
I know how unhealthy it is to tie my self-worth to my productivity, but that is a messy knot that I'm going to spend years slowly unpicking. And sometimes I can't help but wonder if I'm doing enough to help fight against the rollback of trans rights or I could be doing more if I just tried a bit harder. If I'm ever going to be employable as a disabled and autistic trans person who doesn't care if he makes cis people uncomfortable. If who I am is too much, if I'm broken.
I don't think I'm broken anymore – apart from on the very worst days when I am trying to think of an effective way to kill myself and don't understand how I've been suicidal for years but haven't yet come up with a plan that works. Most of the time, though, I can tell myself that I am only 'failing' by the definitions laid out by ableist, capitalist, and cisheteropatriarchal systems. And I take great pleasure in actively rejecting those systems and the values they try to impose upon me. I am not broken, I am whole, and I deserve love and care and compassion.
I hate myself less than I used to. I love myself more. I no longer push myself to a point where I am suicidal to do something I feel I “should” do – or at least, I do it less. When I get to that edge, I stop working and take care of myself, regarless of the consequences. I remind myself that no deadline, no piece of writing, is more important that keeping myself safe.
It is not lazy or self-indulgent to stop forcing myself to keep working when I'm suicidal, even if that's meant not publishing a newsletter for the last two months. There is so much I wish I'd written about, so much violence agains trans people that I wish I'd been able draw attention to, but I'm not letting myself feel guilty about that any more.
I don’t know if that is an act of political warfare, but I’m so fucking proud of myself.
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🍆 Cruising the internet
- I was honoured to be asked to contribute a piece on having sex with a transmasculine partner to Autostraddle's incredible hub of queer sex guides. As a trans guy, I was very aware that I was writing for a publication created primarily for and by queer women, and I appreciated being able to share my emotions around that with an editor I really trusted. Thank you to Ro White for understanding my concerns around the piece being published under the 'lesbian sex advice' tag. While there are trans men who relate to or identify with the term lesbian – and although I love the broadness of the term to include bi lesbians, non-binary lesbians, etc. – it's not I feel comfortable using to describe my own experiences.
- On that note, Ro's position as sex & relationship editor at Autostraddle has recently been eliminated. If you're looking for an incredible writer or editor, you should absolutely hire and/or commission them.
- It's over a year since Roe v. Wade was overturned, and since then we've experienced an onslaught of attacks on reproductive justice. But so many of the conversations around access to abortion still make me dysphoric as fuck, because they make an assumption that only women need access to abortion. For Mashable, I wrote why trans people asking to be included in these conversations isn't "vanity" and how instead we need to acknowledge that the fight for bodily autonomy and trans rights is the same struggle.
- I picked up Alexis Hall's A Lady For a Duke* while having an anxiety attack I was having in Lighthouse Bookshop. After reading just a few pages, I knew I had to buy it and read the whole thing. It's a historical romance featuring a trans protagonist and I couldn't put it down. I love Hall's writing and the first time the characters in A Lady For a Duke have sex is just incredible – such an intimate and hot and realistic-yet-historically-accurate depiction of how trans people fuck.
- The Vagina Museum's post about how vagina isn't a dirty word really struck a cord with me. I've been thinking a lot recently how not saying words like 'vagina' and 'clitoris' and even 'sex' due to fear of platform censorship actually reinforces idea that these words are "dirty" and should be censored. "We're seeing more and more influencers on here preferring to use an unreadable string of numbers and characters instead of using these simple anatomical words. We get it, you're worried that Instagram deboosts your posts if you dare to use this language. This deboosting is caused by automated processes, but somebody designed these automated processes. And these decisions are dangerous."
- If you're not following Ellen Jones on Instagram (or subscribed to her newsletter) you absolutely should go and do that right now, because she's fucking awesome. I love pretty much everything she shares on Instagram, but this one has been linked in this newsletter since I started drafting it in early June. And while she's talking about autism, I feel similar emotions about people assuming the transphobia I encounter is a one-off extreme example, rather than trans people's everyday reality:
*Links marked with an * are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy a book then I get a small commission at no cost to you.