Hey there, 2013 me,
You can do better.
Our feelings on short, punchy paragraphs, for occasional emphasis, are going to change.
So are our feelings on fragments, in moderation.
You think you’re writing the best book you’ll ever write. This is a fatuous concern, and a way to imagine yourself as both brilliant and doomed. I know you. Your daily labor, after you’ve done about 300 words and the heavy plane of prose begins to take off, is to stop your work from flying for itself — because when you give it the autopilot, it goes up, up, into an air that’s too thin, an air full of longing for a body that’s not there. You think of this desire as unnameable, but you’ve already given it the names of ten imaginary men. Soon, you’ll transition, and you’ll get on some anxiety medication, and you will find that your instincts are better than that.
Yes, of course we transitioned. I know you haven’t admitted that desire to yourself yet, and I don’t want to patronize you, but you might consider how often you’ve admitted it to others.
“But where would I find the courage?” you ask. You know. It’s in you now, incipient, stored in an obscure internal organ that you never asked if you had. Still, you know it’s there, because the surplus of it pains you.
We got on the meds, too, but I don’t blame you for the delay. Honestly, it’s easier for me than it is you. I know how much trouble you’ve had getting a psychiatrist to listen to you, not about your illness — your illness, I’m sorry to say, is more obvious than you think — but about your bad experiences with SSRIs and SNRIs, your chemical phobias, and the other factors that make it difficult for you to take medication. I was surprised to find that once I looked like a man, by many people’s definition of “looking like a man,” I immediately found a psychiatrist — was assigned him, even, by my insurance — who listened, agreed, and prescribed me a cheap, non-habit-forming generic that helped me within an hour and changed my life within three months. I was lucky that it worked, but privilege, not luck, was the reason this happened to me instead of you.
Privilege is complicated, and I hasten to add that your main experience of privilege, as a trans person, will be its loss. Housing will be unstable, relationships will fall away, money will roll down your back, and your safety in all respects will become more tenuous. But it is a great power to have a doctor listen to your simple needs. You must remember this, when you have that power and others. We have so much work to do, in advocating for the care of our minds. So far as I can tell, the main development in how society thinks about mental illness between 2013 and 2020 is that we’re going to start calling it “mental health.” There’s a hard road ahead of you, and a hard one ahead of me, and I don’t think either will end in our lifetimes.
Which brings me to another piece of news. You can die at any time. I know you’re familiar with death, because we have OCD and it’s a preoccupation of ours, but let me tell you, and I’m going to stop being polite — you only think you know that you can die. You think you know it because you worry about it. You’re wrong. You worry about dying to stave off recognizing death, because you hate your life, and recognizing its finitude would require you to fix it. “It’s getting awfully late to live the first half of my life as a woman and the second as a man,” you’ve started saying to yourself. Yes, buddy, it was. And I can only hope that we get another thirty years. The world’s worse than it was in 2013. Plagues, disasters, and rumors of wars. Why did you think you could bet on it?
I have one more remark for you. You are a person of considerable imagination. Use that imagination to see other worlds, not to pretend that this world is normal.
I’m not talking about the Power of Stories, Isaac. You and I both hate talking about The Power of Stories. That hasn’t changed. There’s no need to imagine utopian worlds, or dystopian ones that are simple and instuctive. I know you just opened your mouth to complain that you don’t want to; I’m not telling you to. I’m not talking about your prose. I’m talking about your politics.
You must imagine the worlds on either side of yours, and above, and below, the possibility and the actuality of them, their heat. The world where you did this, where the government did that, where we abolished this, where you had that procedure done, where you met him, where you never met her, where this exists, or that. The world where you stayed. The world where you got help sooner. The world that’s already ended. The worlds your neighbors live in.
All of this is a lot of work. And to apply that same labor to pretending the world is normal, or that it ever has been, is a fool’s game. It’s one thing to notice the ripple of possibility. It’s another thing to walk on a bubble and pretend it’s dirt. And that goes for you (trying to make your marriage work, to be satisfied doing piecework for court reporters) as well as it goes for me (plagues, disasters, and rumors of wars). Don’t do that work of pretending. It only shores up strangers you wouldn’t like. Find something better to do with your time.