Photograph: “Infinite Reflections I” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 1: “Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?”
I know I’ll probably lose fans of my art and writing by talking about this, but it’s not as if I had all that many to begin with, and hiding my true self in the shadows has done nothing to help me. Besides, if I can’t express myself on my own art and writing blog, what’s the point of even doing this thing?
I have a difficult choice to make . . . I can continue whittling away every complex piece of myself that makes me who I am until there is nothing left (so that I don’t make others feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced by my mere existence) . . . or I can start living freely as my non-binary transgender asexual self.
I have avoided talking about my gender identity and sexual orientation on my blog even though these are things I deal with on a daily basis. Even online, people will almost always ask, “Are you a boy or a girl?” “Are you male or female?” “Are you a man or a woman?” “What is your gender?” Some even ask, “What genitals do you have?” And most of them get pissed off if I refuse to answer or when I truthfully tell them: “I am neither,” or “I am non-binary.” When I am honest or evasive, they will tell me that I’m the one obsessed with gender, but I’m not the one who asked in the first place and I’m not the one asking them what genitals they have. From my point of view, it’s everyone else who is completely obsessed with gender and sex and are the ones constantly forcing me to explain various aspects of my existence such as my gender and sexual orientation. I have learned that being honest about my gender is a good way to kill a conversation. But what if I’m trying to start a conversation, not end it? There really is no way for me to win except by lying — and I don’t want to lie, either.
Not many people understand what it’s like to be transgender, especially if it’s not the usual male-to-female (MtF) or female-to-male (FtM) type. I have been debating with myself over whether to say anything about it or not. In real life, I’m still somewhat in hiding. Even though I have told my friends and some members of my family that I am non-binary (neither male nor female), I live in a conservative state with conservative parents and do not feel free to express my true self. I have kept a lot bottled up inside and I feel that this is what has been killing my creativity and motivation.
(Throughout this post, I will insert some of my artwork depicting my feelings on the subject of gender identity, gender dysphoria, and so on. If you are squeamish about depictions of human anatomy, be warned because it’s coming up. My apologies for the glare and fuzziness of the photographs I have taken of my art.)
Illustration: “Meat Suit” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 2: Judgement Day is Every Day
Just a couple of years ago, I finally worked up the courage to tell my mom that I am non-binary but the response from her was not favorable. She said: “You have to be a boy or a girl! Society won’t accept an IT!” She has called me “crazy,” “weirdo,” and “freak.” It took me longer to tell my dad, but when I did, he didn’t take it seriously at all and said, “You are definitely a girl because you are so moody!” He also said I needed therapy to accept the body parts I have (even though I’m already going to a therapist, and that hasn’t prevented me from attempting to cut certain offending parts).
I know I need surgery to feel comfortable in my own skin and not feel like tearing it off, but I don’t have the money and my mother told me I’m not allowed to while I’m living under their (my parents’) roof. She obviously doesn’t want my “freakish” appearance to reflect badly upon her and I think she would feel embarrassed to be in public with me if I were to alter my appearance any more than I already have. I think this is the core conflict. Because I don’t conform to the person she wants me to be, I am an embarrassment to her. She thinks others will judge HER because of me, as if I am a reflection or even an extension of her self. This has been the case my whole life. When I criticized her for how she is always bullying me — making fun of my appearance, behavior, likes and dislikes, and so on — she said, word-for-word, “I just wanted you to conform in this world!”
Illustration: “The True Self and the Flesh Prison” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 3: The Androgynous Child
When I was a child, my mom and grandma tried to get me to play with dolls and wear dresses and act “lady-like.” Every fiber of my being rebelled against these things. They just didn’t suit me at all. I liked climbing trees, playing in the mud and grass, playing with lizards and insects, pretending to be a “mad scientist,” collecting dinosaurs, researching science, playing video games, reading and writing books and comics, drawing, animation, action figures, toy cars, and so on. As a child, my dad actually encouraged me to be myself. I’m sure my parents thought I was just a tomboy and would “grow out of it” someday. From my experience, there is a kind of freedom you have as a kid to just be weird and silly and energetic and spontaneous that you never really get back when you become an adult and are suddenly burdened with familial and societal expectations. Still, I knew I wasn’t just a “tomboy.” It was something deeper than that. When children asked me, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I didn’t know how to answer. “Girl” just didn’t feel right. So I would say, “What do you think?” or “Does it matter?” I worried that the one asking me wouldn’t want to play with me if I answered wrong, so I chose not to answer at all. It seems my parents never picked up on these clues that I was different, or they denied them. Then I went through puberty and suddenly I was expected to be a completely different person.
Illustration: “Wrong Label” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 4: Asexual Adolescence
When I was a teenager, my mother and grandmother made me try on clothing designed to attract the attention of men and that made me very uncomfortable (especially since I am also asexual and have no interest in attracting that kind of attention). I felt exposed; nude. I couldn’t do it. I hid my body under layers of baggy clothing and developed a constant slouch to hide my chest (which has continued to this day). My dad will still make comments about my appearance and ask why I don’t wear a “pretty pink ribbon” in my hair (I’m 34 years old!). As a child, I embraced my “weirdness,” but now I fear it and lock it inside until it festers and seeps out in physical illness, depression, suicidal thoughts, and panic attacks. I want to be me, but I’ve grown too afraid to do so. Because of medical trauma, bullying, and gender expectations having constantly being forced upon me since birth, I’m not surprised that I have had depression since at least age 9.
Illustration: “Non-Binary Freedom” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 5: “Hell is Other People”
Over the past few years, ever since I graduated college, I have become increasingly fearful of people. I have become a hermit and I almost never leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary (mostly for doctor, dentist, and therapist appointments). When people look at me, I know they don’t see me. They think I’m someone else; someone I’m not. For decades, I have dreamed of a day when I am finally free to LIVE, but lately I’ve lost hope that such a day will ever come. Every day has become an existential crisis. I think: “Why do I allow myself to live? Why do I keep going on when there is no pleasure in life and all is pain and suffering? Nothing will ever get better. I am just a freak and a burden on my family and society. Why did the surgeons repair my heart when I was a baby? I should have died at birth.”
The last time I saw my cardiologist, he asked, “How are you doing?” and I said, “I hate my life.” He said, “That makes me very sad to hear.” No wonder he moved away. I somehow feel as if it’s partly my fault he left the state . . .
Anyway, I told him why I have been so miserable and I asked if transgender surgery and hormones were an option for someone with my heart condition. And he said surgery is possible as long as I have a cardiac anesthesiologist and that I should be okay with correctly-dosed hormones administered by a doctor. I was happy and relieved by the possibility, but I told him I did not feel safe in my home and in this state and that maybe when I leave the state and my parents’ house, I can finally be free to be myself. Unfortunately, I can’t see a way to leave any time soon. It’s as if I’m trapped in limbo forever and I envy those who have the resources to deal with this sort of thing.
Illustration: “Gender Dysphoria” by T. VanEeckhoutte
Part 6: Where Do I Go From Here?
There are some many things I want to do, but feel powerless to do. I want to go back to California and live with my partner, who loves me unconditionally, in a place of our own. I want to see the ocean again. I want to get the surgeries I need in order to feel more comfortable in my body. I want to change my name and pronouns. I want to wear my hair and clothing in a way that suits me. I want to write more stories and do more art. I want to accomplish great things in this world. But instead, I have turned into a petrified piece of stone that quivers like a little ball of pure fear. I’ve waited for decades to LIVE. When does my life begin? Will I ever be happy? Will I ever be able to feel any pleasure in anything at all? Will things really ever get better? Am I an idiot to even keep hoping and dreaming that they will?
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Non-Binary (A Poem)
Before the word even existed, I knew
Who and what I was. Something ineffable.
But I was forced into a box, locked inside,
Never able to express my true self.
Passing through the streets, no one can see
The real me, curled within like a fetus; unborn.
But the urge to break free is getting stronger;
I crack open the box like a chick from its egg.
The majority, like the empty void of space,
May try to quench this star in darkness.
They may say such a rare creature ought not exist;
And in forgetting my humanity, forfeit their own.
Someday I will burn this old body in purifying fire,
And rise up out of the ashes like a phoenix.
And I’ll sweep through the world like a mysterious fog
Composed of beautiful androgyny.