trans*scribe illustration © rosa middleton, 2013
I’ve read the brain has a limited capacity for work. A person can only demand so much of their brain before their brain demands rest. “Pushing-it” is possible (think: test cramming), but it cannot be attained through natural means, nor does it come free of repercussions. In other words, our brains must rest after a certain amount of work. True continuous work is impossible.
Bearing that in mind, I’m curious about the effect “identity maintenance” has on our participation in life.
By “identity maintenance” I mean: the energy one must exert to upkeep those traits they hope define them as individuals. It could be clothes, vocabulary, humor, complexion, opinions – music taste the list is endless.
For myself, the most frequent highest-mega-meta priority is being perceived as a woman with no history of having a life or parts of my body suggesting otherwise. The outside world’s inability to notice a facet of me that could be deemed “unfeminine” has a tendency to sneakily rule my mind; and an immense amount of mental energy is expelled trying to read people for how they’re reading me.
Take the first few moments of meeting someone – instantaneously an abundance of analytical gears begin grinding between my ears, engaging the hyperanalysis. I start surveying my body, trying to find places that need “fixing.” I try to closely watch the person’s reactions during our conversation in an attempt to get an insight into how they perceive me. It’s borderline creepy now that I think about it.
On what am I missing out, though, as a consequence of being in constant analysis mode? The mental work maintaining an “identity” takes effort that I’m sure could be used for other, more long-term rewarding endeavors. Shifting it to the illusively complex task of nonjudgmental moment awareness would reap tremendous emotional and spiritual benefits, I’m sure. I could spend more time basking in my surroundings and the company of others. Yet it’s so easy to slip into the autopilot of overanalysis and make minor “corrections” to my immediate self.
Granted, I am in a hyper-sensitive situation.
I’ve recently uprooted my life as a New Yorker and relocated with my shiny new vagina in hopes of pursuing an existence much less riddled with the subconscious necessity of “identity maintenance.” Surrounded by old friends, I was terrified of being called “he” accidentally and being unable to live without constant throwbacks to my past. I was terrified my self would be forever wrapped around being trans. Most of all, I was certain of being simply unlovable because of my past.*
Now, in this new city, I’ve met an amazing woman, with whom I’ve spent a large part of the last month. I think she is engaging, interesting, and an incredible person to be around. Yet, I’ve been pushing the transsexual elephant-in-the-room in my mind into the corner hoping it will evaporate. But it just sits there…blowing its trunk…disruptively reminding me: solids don’t evaporate.
I’m assuming, probably incorrectly, that if this lovely lady I’m seeing has an inkling that a letter on my birth certificate used to say “M”, she’ll ask; but in the meantime, our dates are growing rapidly and rapidly more frequent and our topics are becoming rapidly and rapidly more personal and I am becoming rapidly and rapidly more nervous.
Believe me, I understand the gaping holes in my logic. If I truly care about this woman and want to cultivate a meaningful, romantic relationship, my past is a fact that WILL have to be shared. And she WILL have a reaction to it – be it negative, positive, or indifferent.
Being another form of “identity maintenance,” my elephant denial has wreaked havoc on my awareness and wholehearted investment in her and my interactions. I’m confident I’ve missed nuances in her movement at different times, delightful factoids, my skin’s reaction to her touch, or even the full extent of the astronomical joy her presence could bring me because I’ve set my mind to task at maintaining.
While I understand my situation may seem like extenuating circumstances, is this struggle not universal? We all have facets that we cloak, whether with words or make-up or clothes. Does everyone inevitably reach a point of exhaustion? And how else could our minds be put to work were they not busy cataloging and maintaining?
At this point, my brain must be demanding rest.
*Hindsight is 20/20, and recently dawning on me is the realization that I’ve left behind an immense amount of love and a group of friends and family that I desperately miss and who loves me (not in spite of, but) because of my past and present and future.
About the author: After 17 years as a musical theatre performer, Whitney took to writing full-time. Opening lines of communication and igniting conversations with many readers who were otherwise unexposed to anything trans*, she blogged throughout the entirety of her transition. Whitney has been indescribably fortunate to continuously bear witness to the incredible effect honest sharing can have. If, while reading this, you are munching on a slice of gluten-free toast with chunky peanut butter and honey slathered on top, then you and she are snacking soul mates. Enjoy!
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.