Focus only on what you can change
I just want you to focus/ Better keep your composure/ Like you tryna' earn that diploma — Charli XCX, Focus
Am I woman or a man?/ Am I a devil or a demon?/ Papa was right! I ask too many questions. — Barbra Streisand, “Tomorrow Night,” Yentl
And calling something ontological is, it turns out, just another way of saying that there is nothing to be done about it. — Elena Comay del Junco, Killing the Joke
(If it’s not evening where you are, turn off the lights. Play along for a minute)
There’s a lot that’s been going on this month. Obviously. For me, I’m nearing the end of my degree and trying to reckon with everything that means for me. I also just came back from a trip to New York, my favourite place to visit, and have yet to restore my strength or serotonin. I’m behind on my deadlines and movement commitments, and I have to send out headshots and bios and schedule meetings, and dear god, it’s already almost Friday.
But right now, I need to talk about the elephant in my room. People on the Internet, many of them strangers, some of them close friends and old crushes, at least one of them a gay multi-millionaire, gave me about $5000 so I can use electricity to burn all of the hairs off of my face, and they did this within nine hours of my initial asking. It is, in my experience, completely unprecedented, and obviously incredibly uncomfortable.
I have been trying to process this event for the two weeks since it happened, and I keep coming up blank. No matter how I slice it, a bunch of people decided to invest in me. I am inconsolable. I cannot believe my own selfishness. I’m full of guilt.
Being trans is, fundamentally, weird. It’s selfish, it’s petty, it’s vain, it’s obsessive. I’m paranoid. I notice everything, and, egotist that I am, blame myself for it all. But who could blame me! Look how poorly I mimic the movements of women, how contrived their compliments are, their gestures of solidarity. Look how hard it is to wrap your head around me, to work with me, to be in the same room, without suddenly suffocating? I wonder if my boyfriend wouldn’t rather date someone less “complicated,” if my lovers would be turned off to know that my chest isn’t “chest” at all, but breast— breast which, in February 2018, actually once lactated, causing me to burst into tears in recognition of my own DIY-body-hacked monstrosity.
I don’t know how to account for this. Instead, I devise rituals around my own mental manoeuvres to give them meaning. I need to sit with it, to be uncomfortable with it, the same way I need to walk home in the cold after arguing with my boyfriend, or deny myself food and water if I’ve been unproductive. I’m insane, yes, but at least I’m internally consistent. And, of course, I know that none of these petty acts of self-flagellation do anything for anything; they are primarily self-serving, and they don’t even do that correctly. But isn’t that what guilt is? A bad performance, for an audience of one? I’m wracked with guilt basically constantly, for various reasons, most of them good, many of them stupid. At least one is that I’m Jewish, which is why I have so much of my late Bubbie’s furniture in my home. God forbid I should get rid of it, god forbid she should find out.
So I gave some of the money away. Not all of it. But a decent chunk. In Judaism, you’re meant to donate a tenth of your income. I gave away more than that, but I didn’t really keep track. It didn’t feel like my money, but nothing I have ever does. I can’t make sense of keeping things, and not just because I’m bad at math and convinced I’m always at the precipice of some terminal condition. Rather, everything I have simply feels temporary, or more accurately, transitive — in my hands only for a moment, to and from. It feels almost incriminating, such that I must throw it away as soon as I can.
Maybe this is how we are meant to act: to see ourselves as others’ providers, always and necessarily. But I suspect my motivation is far less altruistic. Perhaps I’m just guilty of theft in the same way that all white people are, all settlers are, and too smart to try to reason myself out of it.
(I tried to get that same gay multi-millionaire to donate to others, folks who were far more at risk, even just to share their campaigns, anything. I got left on read. Just like that, the coffers closed.)
I’ve lost the train of this thought. I’m scrambling. I haven’t eaten enough today, nor read enough, nor written enough, and you’re getting all my thoughts at once. There is no thesis here, at least not anymore. My apologies.
If my boyfriend were here, he’d tell me to practice mindfulness. He’d tell me to focus on my breathing. He’d tell me not to make any decisions just yet, to focus only on what I can change.
But I can’t. So instead, I fantasize. And in my fantasy, I am an artist with many wealthy male admirers who leave me unmarked envelopes filled with cash, and nothing else. I live alone in a west-facing apartment with bay windows and no obligations, with long curly hair and a smooth, feminine face. In my fantasy, I have a cat, because I am not allergic, and he likes to wake me up by licking my nose until I giggle. In my fantasy, I smoke cigarettes with cocktails, but I do it without fear or guilt, because in my fantasy, they cannot hurt me. In fact, in my fantasy, nothing can hurt me. Nothing can hurt anyone.
In my fantasy, no one dies of preventable causes. No one lives on the streets. We have everything that we need. We are happy.
Focus only on what you can change.
This is the guilt talking, this fantasy. Focus only on what you can change. Guilt keeps us from doing this; the way out of guilt is into action.
Focus only on what you can change, and then change it. Give everything away.
When I brought this up to my friend, the writer and porn star Ty Mitchell, he said that travelling offers us “the opportunity for intimacy without the ulterior motive of futurity.” Each moment is, simply, only what it is. Maybe that’s why the relationships I’ve formed while travelling or with travellers are some of the most intense in my life. They cannot be recreated, and that circumstantial nature is part of the magic. We tell people we want to be able to stay forever, but do we really? What happens next? What parts of ourselves would we have to expose, to hold up for critical reception? Better to be here one day and gone the next.
EW: I pretty much admit to being a monster in anything I write. I pretty much admit to being myself. Even people who are difficult get breast cancer.
NS: Would you consider yourself difficult?
EW: Oh, I know I’m difficult.
Recently I filmed a close-up of my face on my phone while I was cumming, thinking I’d text it to the man I’d been fucking on the heels of another big heartbreak. I was curious about my expression in such a moment of abandonment; I found myself beautiful and strange; I found myself breathtaking, in fact, and wondered if this is what the men who fuck me imbibe as they look down on me, sacred and full of them. When they make me cum, that is. Instead I’ve kept the video for myself. Even I can recognize that some of my experiences are deserving of privacy, and anyway that man has come and gone, as they do.
Yesterday as I walked my dogs to the dog run, we passed a little girl held up between her parents by one of each of their hands, giggling in that burbling-brook way only the very young giggle. She was overjoyed by the dogs, stopped to pet them, waved goodbye. When I got home I began to weep, arrested suddenly, again, by the awful irrevocable knowledge that I will never be a mother. I filmed part of this too.
I don’t know what to do with my pain but document it. And there is so much of it.