Reflections on self-disgust
(cw: discussion of self-directed transphobia)
This is a follow-up to the Affection post from earlier this year.
This post ended up being REALLY long!!
So... I've been doing some self-reflection, talking to my therapist, talking to my friends. And, ultimately, I think I now understand what led me to the place where I was in that earlier post.
Now, I don't disagree with what I wrote there. I think a lot of it, maybe all of it, is true, though maybe not to the extent that I was afraid of at that time. And I think that the time that I spent this year on learning to be more playfully/platonically affectionate was very well spent.
But there were some specific incidents that motivated that post. And I think that I was, to some extent, taking the wrong lessons from those incidents. Trying to hide from the pain I was feeling from them rather than confront it.
When discussing this with my friend, I made the comment that it's not unlike a horror movie: Any monster you can see will be far less scary than a monster that's merely hinted at. Whenever your brain tells you that the monster is so terrifying that bringing it out into the open would be madness, that's your indication that this is something you really need to drag out into the open.
So here I am doing that. Let's shed some light.
The origin of that post starts last year as winter turned to spring. At the time, my online friend circle had sustained serious damage and I'd had to perform surgery to prevent it from getting worse, and at the time I was uncertain whether the complications from said surgery would be lethal, afraid that I had made a horrible mistake and would lose all my friends.
At the time, my drug of choice when I was craving casual social contact was dating apps. (I've since moved to using language exchange for this purpose, which is much better - less expectations, less uncomfortable context, fewer creeps!) And I had only just started transition a few months before, but I had some pictures that I was semi-happy with.
So, in search of something to numb the pain from the loss of a friend and the strained relations with another, I edited my profile's name and gender and went looking. And... nothing happened. Not at all surprising - it took me a long time to understand how to play that game when I was presenting male, and I was now playing a different game.
But I was still very early in my journey toward becoming comfortable with my body, toward recognizing and confronting my internalized transphobia, toward making the changes I wanted to make. I hadn't gotten facial hair removal, I hadn't started estrogen, I hadn't gotten my ears pierced. That may have even been before my first time getting my nails done. I certainly hadn't broken down crying in front of my therapist about the fear that I was just a deluded man in a dress. I hadn't started confronting my asexual feelings yet, and I still had the damage from my previous therapist, who insisted that a) everybody has and likes sex, and b) entering a relationship without being willing to have sex is essentially on false pretenses.
And so before things started, I had already decided that there was no way this could work. That I was too hideous for anyone to care for me. Not a woman, certainly not an attractive woman, and thus not of interest to people interested in women. Too interested in girly things, too uninterested in being an attractive man, to be of interest to people interested in men. Even if anyone was stupid enough or had low enough standards to want to date me, they'd get angry or hurt when they found out I didn't want to fuck them.
And when things didn't work out, I didn't take into account any of the other reasons that it could have not worked out - for example, that online dating is a horrible cesspool of nightmares. I didn't take into account the fact that I've always gotten frustrated and had to withdraw from it in the past. Instead, I took it as evidence of the conclusions I had already drawn.
Anyway, fast forward a few months. It's now late summer. I've gone through a lot in the past few weeks. I've been in and out of rock bottom with relation to my social fears. I fought with my sister over my using a public bathroom at the same time as her, and had the cry with my therapist about my fears. I'm making progress on my internalized transphobia. But like with all progress, I need to cut open my bad defense mechanisms to let the wound heal properly, and it's still sore.
And during this time one of my friends (if she is reading this, ... sorry.) is being really kind and gentle to me about these exact subjects - friendship, femininity... One of my friends that I've had a crush on since I first read her blog, that's only deepened since I got to know her. A crush that I've always thought of as pointless to approach. But at that time, feeling slightly better about myself having confronted some of those fears, and hearing her give me the support I need, and seeing her playful affection there and in other places, I wondered if it could work out.
I stand by having asked her out. As much as it was devastating at the time that it ended up not working out, I think it was the right move. The only way for me to resolve those feelings was to try to apply them, and to rest easy in having tried. And while I was vulnerable at the time, and no doubt hoped that a possible relationship would be a source of comfort in a turbulent time, I don't think that was responsible for my feelings - they'd existed during my strongest times, too.
But... I was still much earlier on in making progress toward defeating my self-disgust. And so when I asked her out, that fear lurked under the surface. The fear that she would reject me for the same reasons that my brain told me I had been rejected by the people on the dating site. (Even though this is a false memory - as normal for dating sites, I got no reason that I was rejected, and in fact don't even know that I was rejected. For all I know, no one even saw my profile.)
And when it didn't work out, I didn't hear a word she said. Her real stated reasons were very benign and innocuous - she was already dating someone. But I was afraid, and my mind forced the horrible conclusion it had already drawn. That didn't agree with the evidence, so my mind doctored the evidence and invented circumstances so that it would.
"She's lying to spare your feelings. She's really trying to get out of a really horrible situation that you put her in without causing trouble."
When I say that it was devastating, this is why. For a number of reasons. First and most obvious was, well, if you want something and it doesn't work out, that's a little sad. But much worse, much much worse... was the (incorrect, bad, mistaken) idea that a friend had driven home the spike I was trying to pull out. The (paranoid, wrong) thought that I was being lied to to hide that. The disgust at myself for mentally accusing my close friend of lying to me without proof or reason. The crushing fear that I had put my friend in an uncomfortable situation, that I was wrong to have even asked.
That last one goes like this. Due to some experiences with shitty negative people when I was younger, I still had this idea that being asked out by someone "below your station" is some kind of insult, a cause for a shower to wash the gross off. (Having rarely been asked out by anyone, and viewing myself as the bottom of the trash pile and really caring about the people who did ask me out, I never really had any reason to challenge it.) And, so my fears went, someone so disgusting as me would be putting anyone in a bad spot, because everyone - cis women and real trans women (as if I was not a real one) alike - would be disgusted by a cheap fake like me.
So I hit myself with an incredibly potent cocktail of despair. And it clearly wasn't just because it hadn't worked out, because I had stopped caring about that almost instantly - my friend continued being my friend, she didn't leave, things might have been awkward for a little while but it was a very minor blip on the radar. And I was struggling to find out why. Why did I care so much about this and yet care so little about it?
I drew the incorrect conclusion that I had made a mistake. I was wrong to have interpreted her actions as meaning that there was a possibility, and I needed to fix myself so that I wouldn't do that again. (In reality, interpreting that there was a possibility was all I could do. In other circumstances, that same situation could have led to a positive outcome. I had no way of knowing what it would be without asking, and that's why I stand by having asked today.)
And in the fall I met someone new. And I got a deep crush on her. (If she is reading this, ... I'm also sorry.) And I tried to flirt with her and initially got positive signals, but eventually got negative signals back. Totally normal behavior for humans, right?
No. No, my brain said, I fucked up again. I screwed up from the start. AGAIN. Who, my self-hatred reminded me, could ever love you? I fought the obvious negative signals for a long time, resisted accepting them, because in my head accepting them meant accepting that I was unlovable. But eventually I had to, and... actually it was totally fine. It was a relief, actually!
For two months my life was consumed with the pain of my family situation, and I honestly didn't have any emotional energy to spare on this.
Come New Year's, I was ragged from the family situation and was depressed and anxious again. I turned my attention toward romance again, desperate for succor... and quickly decided I couldn't handle the pain I'd suffered the last few times I'd tried in my current state.
And I seized on this idea. This idea that trying for romance in those three painful cases was a mistake. That I needed the other side to signal me that it was safe to try. That I needed to understand when people are just being friendly and when they're being romantically flirtatious.
And that I needed to raise that bar a lot. (Because no one would ever be more than just friendly with you, my self-disgust whispered.)
My ban on romance this year was imposed for the wrong reasons. It was the representation of my hatred and disgust for myself as a person and as a trans woman. And so, having realized that, I'm lifting it. Because I disagree with all of that. Vehemently.
I'm still not going to pursue it aggressively. Like I said, I've switched to language exchange for my casual social contact and it's a much healthier way to go about things. But when opportunities arise - when those romantic feelings come - I won't push them away. I'll take them seriously. It's okay for me to want to date in general. It's okay for me to want to date specific people. I do my best to go about things in a respectful way and to be understanding of others' situations and feelings. And that's all I can ask of myself. I'm not a mind reader. Sometimes I gotta ask and be rejected. It's okay. And having been asked out by more people I don't know now... Well, it is at least sometimes flattering to be asked! (It only gets painful and horrible when the person doesn't back down afterward...)