A Confession . . . (Depressing personal stuff and possibly disturbing art, I’m warning you.)

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Image107Photograph: “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.)

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“You have died of exposure.” – Depressed Ramblings

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Sorry I haven’t updated my blog for a while. It seems that depression has killed my motivation and creativity. I haven’t been working on any new stories or on my second novel for months. I rarely make sketches in my art books. I keep telling myself I should do something, but the more I tell myself that, the less I feel like doing it. It looks like art and writing will get me nowhere. What I do, according to my parents, isn’t a “real job.” It’s not making money, it’s not “hard labor” or business, so I guess it’s useless. The only thing considered to have value in this society is money. Not art or writing or love or friendship or honesty or integrity or compassion. No. Money is all anyone cares about. Money is the only thing that will get you anywhere in life. Without it, you can’t escape your circumstances; you can’t achieve your dreams. And I know you’re probably thinking, “That’s just depression talking,” but every day I have to wonder which is more insane: me or this world I’m living in? And every day I ask myself the same question, “Why do I still force myself to go on living, even when it seems that life is nothing more than constant mental and physical pain and torture?”

Here’s some personal stuff to give you some context as to what’s going on in my life. Right now I’m on antibiotics (4 times a day for 10 days) for an infected insect or spider bite in my ear. That’s always fun, especially when you have IBS like me and the antibiotics kill off the few friendly gut microbiota one still has left after all those other times one has had to take antibiotics. Every time I go to the dentist, I have to take antibiotics before my appointment to prevent bacteria from infecting my heart because of my heart condition. And speaking of that, I’ve also recently had to have a bunch of dental work done. One of the fillings I had done a few months ago is painfully sensitive and hurts like hell whenever I drink cold liquid, even if it’s room temperature. I’ll probably have to have that redone sometime, but my anxiety goes through the roof whenever I go to the dentist so I’m not looking forward to scheduling that appointment any time soon.

Then there’s the issue of my partner and I still having to live thousands of miles apart from each other at our parents’ houses (even though we’ve been dating for 5 years now) because neither of us have the money to move into a place of our own. My partner has spent 5 months looking for a job and is about to run out of unemployment money (which ends after 6 months). He has been sending out hundreds upon hundreds of resumes and applications and has gotten only a handful of interviews. Everyone who has interviewed him keeps saying they are “highly impressed” by him and that he’s one of their top candidates . . . and then they tell him later that they’ve hired someone else. That’s the reality of our shitty economy.

Now you can see why I haven’t been writing anything lately. No one wants to hear this. Blah, blah, blah. Life sucks. Same old crap. I’ll let you know if anything changes for the better. In the meantime, I will periodically be attempting to give away my short stories for Kindle out for free, for the sake of EXPOSURE! . . . just like in this meme I found:

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Kitsune (Fox) Mask

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I got myself a Japanese fox (kitsune) mask and tried it on. It’s really quite striking! “Kon! Kon!” (That’s what the fox says . . . at least in Japanese.)

Relevant to a certain scene I’ve got set up for Mindfield (the sequel to Transmogrified), I’m thinking of putting something like this on the cover whenever I get around to completing the book. Eeheehee!

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The Time is Ripe for Pear Puns!

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So, I was talking on the phone with my partner (who loves puns) and then I brought back a pear from the kitchen. What ensued was a series of pear puns from yours truly . . . Something like this:

A-PEAR-ently I have a pear. I wonder if it’s from PEAR-is. My PEAR-ents haven’t had any pears yet. Maybe they would find them easier to eat with a PEAR-ing knife. If you were here, the PEAR of us would have a PEAR of pears!

*Note: For those of you who think puns are an unsophisticated form of humor, well . . . they were good enough for Shakespeare!

Persona 4 and Persona 5 Games Review

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I figured I should probably update my blog more often, so I’ll give a brief review and comparison of a couple of video games I’ve recently played: Persona 4 (for PlayStation 2) and Persona 5 (for PlayStation 4).

Persona 5, the most recent of the two I just finished playing, seemed like a long game, but then again, so did Persona 4. It’s hard to tell which one I like better, but I think Persona 4 still has a special place in my heart because that was the first Persona game I had ever played. Let me talk a bit about what I liked and disliked about each game . . .

SETTING: P4 takes place in a rural setting, a small island called Inaba. I recall enjoying the quieter, slower atmosphere of that one. I feel that the foggy rural setting enhanced the sense of “mystery.” In P5, everything is louder, brighter, bigger, and more “exciting.” It takes place in the big city of Tokyo and you can go to famous places such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara. I think the game designers did a great job at depicting the setting in a very realistic way, so I’m not complaining, but I still kind of miss the more mysterious, subdued, “empty” atmosphere of Inaba.

CHARACTERS: A few characters I missed from P4 when I played P5 are: Naoto, a detective struggling with identity and society’s gender roles; Chie, the tomboy martial-arts fanatic; the tough-looking Kanji who fears exposing his feminine interests even though those are the things that bring him joy; and Teddie, the teddy bear who turns himself human. I also like some of the non-party Social Links, such as the uncle, Dojima, and the cute little cousin, Nanako. Of course, I do like some of the characters in P5, as well. My favorite two characters in P5 were Futaba, an eccentric hacker who has long hidden herself from society, and Yusuke, whose passions in life are art and enjoying good food (he’s a literal “starving artist”). I also liked the cat, Morgana; and the intelligent, badass woman, Makoto. Some of the non-party Confidants (social links) I found interesting were Chihaya the fortune teller and Takemi (a rogue doctor who dresses in punk-Goth fashion). The player’s character in P5 (Akira) has more personality and is more expressive than the player’s character in P4 (Yu), which is fun (He even talks on occasion!). At some points in the story, however, Akira turns out to be a crappy friend to some of the characters (Spoiler: When Ryuji is kidnapped by a couple of men in the Red-Light District of Shinjuku, Akira doesn’t care. He just walks away as if nothing occurred, Ryuji doesn’t tell what happened, and the player has no ability to ask him. I really hated that part, not just for Akira’s reaction, but also how the only obviously gay men in the game were portrayed as predators preying on high school boys. Ick!).

GAMEPLAY: One of the features I loved about P5, is that you can choose what skills your Personas inherit. In P4, this was left to random chance, which was a real pain in the butt. I liked the feature where you could hide and wait to ambush an enemy, even if that enemy was quite far away. It made ambushing enemies far easier than it was in P4 — where you had to rush up right behind an enemy as its back was turned and hope it didn’t see you before you strike.

MUSIC: After having listened to the P4 OST again, I have to say I like the music of P5 a lot better. P4’s music is good, and there are a few gems I still enjoy listening to, but P5’s music definitely contains more memorable and energetic songs than P4 does.

PLOT & THEMES: Every Persona game has a main theme. The theme of P5 is about rebellion against corrupt authorities, while P4 was about seeking the truth. How well these themes are expressed throughout the game is sometimes questionable. I especially noticed this in P5. For example, right after defeating an adult bully and sexual predator and going on about how wrong it was for this man to have exploited female students sexually, your character and the other male characters in your team seem to soon forget that lesson and try to convince a reluctant female member of the team to strip for some stranger even though clearly she doesn’t want to. This contradicts the message that was just previously driven into our heads, and it’s not the only time when such moral hypocrisy by otherwise the characters, the game itself, or both, occurs.

Also, for a game about rebellion, you sure don’t get many choices to oppose what people (especially in your team) want you to do and a lot of your choices don’t even matter because they don’t influence the plot and outcome of the game in the least. In fact, most of the time what you say to other characters doesn’t even influence the conversation — everyone will say the same thing, no matter what you say. There are maybe one or two BIG choices that you have to make that influence how the game ends, but that’s about it.

Persona 5 and Persona 4 both have their flaws and their strengths, and the more I think about what I like and dislike about them, the harder it is for me to decide which one I like best. A lot of the gameplay in P5 is less frustrating and more fun than in P4 — with the exception of some of the gimmicks in certain dungeons/”Palaces” (I’m looking at you, overly repetitive mouse maze!). In P4, I liked a lot of the characters, palace designs, and how the plot more closely followed the theme. I also thought the murderer in P4 was more shocking and far creepier than the overly obvious “Traitor” in P5 — not wanting to spoil anything, but if you’ve played both of the games, you’ll probably understand the two characters I’m talking about.

So, that’s my review and comparison of Persona 4 and Persona 5. This is the first time I’ve ever done a video game review, so I didn’t analyze the games as thoroughly as someone else might have, but hopefully it was still an enjoyable read and perhaps got some people interested in playing the games. I like media that is both fun and makes me think, and so the Persona games are great for that. The Persona games offer a unique and rich experience filled with mystery, mythology from real-world cultures and history, philosophy, obscure trivia, and LOTS of symbolism (it’s EVERYWHERE!). Go check them out!

No More Facebook Page (Yay!)

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So, I had a Facebook author page this year . . . It was a short-lived experiment.

Before I go into how I ended up caving into the pressure of creating an author page on Facebook, I’ll give you some background on why I try to avoid Facebook at all costs. For the longest time I resisted getting a Facebook. In fact, even though Facebook was very popular when I was in college, I didn’t even know what it was or why I “needed it” (according to others), but I kept getting asked, “Do you have a Facebook?” “No,” I said, “What is that?” The typical reply I’d get was something like: “It’s a social network, like MySpace.” I had seen MySpace before but I had never joined it. Maybe it’s because I’m mostly an introvert, but there was nothing about MySpace or other social media that appealed to me. I figured that if I wanted to talk to friends or family, I’d pick up the phone or meet them face-to-face. Needless to say, I was unpopular, but that was normal.

The first time I had (reluctantly) signed up for Facebook was after I had joined a writers’ group in town. On Facebook, the group had information such as when they would be holding meetings and whether those meetings had been cancelled. The group leader said that I needed to get a Facebook and join the group page for her own informational purposes on group members and so I could stay up-to-date with the schedule. I was annoyed with this, but at the time I wanted to be in the writers’ group, so I complied.

Soon after joining, I invited friends and family, and I shared things I thought were interesting or important. I looked up old friends and tried connecting with them again (they didn’t seem all that interested in chatting with me, which filled me with disappointment). Not too long after I had joined Facebook, however, I had to leave due to stalking and harassment from someone I had met online years ago who tried to make my life a living hell. This person reported me (and my partner) as “fake” so we were locked out of our Facebook pages. I reluctantly and angrily scanned my ID and sent the pic to Facebook to get back in. My partner didn’t even bother trying to get back in because he hates Facebook and how “creepy and stalkery” it is anyway. I don’t blame him.

So I got in, deleted everything, and told everyone I was leaving Facebook for good. The next time I went to the writers’ group meeting I told them the story of why I no longer wished to be a part of Facebook and the group leader allowed me to continue going to meetings even though I was no longer joining them online.

I was happier being away from Facebook and finally started getting more things done. Some of my friends were sad that I was no longer on the social networking site, but I was perfectly okay with having other things to do with my life besides Facebooking. Then, perhaps a year or two later, one friend convinced me to go back Facebook to see some videos and pictures she had posted of her guineas. I didn’t know much about them or what they looked like, so I was curious. Looking back, basing the decision to go back on Facebook because of this seems rather silly, but there you have it. So, I was back and I joined some groups and liked some pages and shared more stuff. Then, I started having problems with the Facebook groups I had joined. I got banned from groups for all kinds of strange reasons that to this day make me question my own goodness and sanity. I started wondering, “Am I really such a bad person? But that’s not what I meant at all! Why do people always interpret my words in the strangest ways and assume the worst? Is it really me? What’s wrong with me? Am I somehow incapable of making my words clear enough so that others can understand their meaning?” There were many sleepless nights where I questioned my sanity, my judgement, and whether or not people saw in me a kind of horrible monster and I was somehow blind to it. Once again, I deleted everything and gave up on Facebook; feeling defeated; feeling like the most unsociable, unlikable monster that ever walked the earth. I felt as if I had hurt too many people and let them down.

That was enough. I had quit forever . . . or so I thought.

Then, after having published Transmogrified, I realized I wasn’t getting many sales. So I started reading up on how to market my books and all the advice I had been reading kept telling me: “You need to have a Facebook author page or else you are depriving your fans of a fan club!” (or something like that). Not wanting to disappoint my potential book fans, I decided to create an author page on Facebook. I was dismayed to find that in order to create an author page, I needed to have a personal page as well. Facebook has a way of sucking me in and draining my time, energy, and happiness all at once. After a while on Facebook, the familiar depression and guilt from those times before came trickling in, little by little. That voice in the back of my mind kept telling me things like, “This is depressing. This is stressful. This constant barrage of bad news is making you sick — literally! Look at how many fevers and sinus infections and stomachaches you’ve gotten this year! You’re wasting your time. You could be doing so many other things! Why did you spend so many hours/the whole day staring at Facebook?! Why do you keep coming back to this place if it’s making you so profoundly unhappy? I think this is some kind of addiction. You’re not getting anything creative done. You haven’t finished playing Persona 5. Look at all these books you have yet to read; don’t you want to get on that? What about typing up those 14 journals you have? What about working on your second novel? What about practicing art? What about spending time with your guinea pigs? Why don’t you call your friends? The chores are piling up. Your parents are going to start yelling at you. You haven’t gotten any exercise lately,” and on and on.

I would have left so much sooner if I hadn’t started that author page. I was worried that if I left, no one would ever see or read my books. I didn’t want to disappoint my fans (and potential fans). But I had to leave. I had to leave for the sake of my mental health.

Maybe my books will never catch on with readers. Maybe readers will never find my stories, and I will go out of this life in poverty and obscurity. That’s a sad thought for a writer and an artist, but I just can’t do Facebook anymore. I don’t care if “everyone else is doing it.” I can’t do it. Not if I want to preserve whatever fragile sanity and life I have left.

Leaving on a happier note, here is how I feel right now: I am finally FREE! Free from the tyranny of creepy, stalkery, “Big Brother” Facebook! Hooray!!!

Yes. There is more to life than “social networking.” Peace!