Emotionally Present / Lived Experience/Memoir

Earning My Voice & A Sense Of Self-Respect

Last night, I went to a Thing, and I read aloud a blog post I have recently written on the use of the word minority. I was standing, on a slightly elevated surface, towering over four people who were seated below me. I was reminded again of how a Gitxsan man I very highly respect once referred to this as a very confrontational arrangement, and I felt somewhat embarrassed (though quietly so). But I gave my informal speech, chuckling as I even managed to read my nonsensical grammatical errors, and remarking that I apparently need to do some more editing. And I cracked a joke about how I’ll be writing this down on paper next time I stand up to do a speech, as I lost my place in my writing when my electronic device spontaneously rearranged it for me, mid-sentence. And when I was done, in what felt like just a couple of minutes, I said I hoped no one was hoping for eye contact, because I was well aware of avoiding it. I managed not to turn Fire Extinguisher Red like I have done so many times, even when speaking from a seated position at the same physical level as everyone who was listening to me — I joked about that too, saying that apparently I just get so passionate, that I try to turn into a Phoenix.

My four friends were very encouraging, and gave me excellent feedback as well. It suddenly occurred to me that something is different now. Something in my brain has been re-wired, and I no longer fear speaking to a crowd of people for the same reasons that I once did. Something has caused me to gain a genuine sense of self-respect that I never had before. When did this happen and how?

I acknowledged that I have a strange relationship to being video-recorded and watching myself, because I’ve never been recorded doing anything mundane, and thus, have only seen myself in very specific ways. Of course, I’m referring to various types of sex work I’ve done (and then later watched). As I’m writing about this, I’m specifically remembering what it was like the first time someone looked up one of my videos and played it in front of me. I thought “How inappropriate! I’m in the room, here!” And as I watched, I heard myself saying things I didn’t even remember saying. I felt my face flushing with embarrassment, being taken aback by realizing how steeped I was in my assigned role, that I didn’t even remember most of the lines that had been fed to me, that I then repeated with conviction. I still don’t remember most of what I’ve said that will be somewhere on the internet (and on who knows how many servers and hard disk drives) for… forever. No doubt as well with countless videos of me stripping, masturbating, riding a man as if he was a horse, digging inch-long spurs into his thighs, whipping and flogging, smothering, having my feet worshiped, being rimmed, and even one in which I’m dressed in a latex nun’s habit while I’m urinating into a clear glass bowl.

And yet somehow, standing up to speak about anything in front of an audience used to terrify me. I managed to keep my cool the time I was measuring a patient’s prescription glasses in front of a middle-aged doctor, his technician, two other receptionists, and a room full of patients and their families, when that man recognized me from one of my videos and make a remark about leather that told me I’m exposed for who I am on Dominatrix Island. I dealt with that guy like Samuel L Jackson telling Yolanda to be like The Fonz in Pulp Fiction. But pick up a piece of paper and read from it in front of one or more people? That has always made me just about lose my shit.

So for the rest of the night yesterday, and all day today, I’ve been thinking of what’s changed. And in my heart, I know that the day I shaved my head and started asserting myself by my Right Name, that’s what changed. That day was just shy of two and a half years ago as of this writing. It was my coming out of the closet as a trans* person and a genderqueer (though embracing myself socially as genderqueer and openly transmasculine was a more gradual process than shaving my head was). I began asserting boundaries about my body, the way people address me and speak about me in my presence, and I became the person I named the day I used those barber shop clippers to take off all my hair for the first time in my life. I had never done anything so radical. I had never demanded to take up space without apologizing first. I had stopped, for the first time in more than ten years, living as though I secretly harboured a death wish.  Just six months prior to that day, I escaped a bid for my own death by just exactly enough luck and instinct to exit the vehicle of a complete stranger who had just raped and sodomized me. I had arranged to meet him that night without telling a single other person what I was doing or where I was going. He turned out to be reputed for raping women at gunpoint and dropping them off in random locations when he was finished.

I didn’t speak or make any sound at all for two days when it happened. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror until the third day. I couldn’t stop myself from bursting into tears, even in public, for months. And until 14 months ago, I didn’t tell anyone but my psychiatrist (a few days after it happened) and a single other confidant (15 months ago). I had never kept secrets about myself before — even about my gender and sexuality, of which I spoke at irregular intervals for years from within the closet. Surviving what that man did was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. I am still convinced to this day that he didn’t make an attempt on my life that night because giving me my worthless life back was more sadistic.

I have often struggled with a question of whether or not my Right Name and the identity I now openly embrace are just defense mechanisms against all these painful experiences.  And to this internal dialogue, I now have three answers:

  1. I’m not crying every time I think about my traumas or pass the general areas where they each happened any more (I am becoming more free the more work I put into engaging with these memories);
  2. The entire Universe was telling me that if I continue to live as a female, I will die very soon and very violently, and therefore, I was presented with a choice between suicide and life — I chose to live and I refuse as a result to compromise ever again on the authenticity of my life; and
  3. Even if it is true that all of this is just an elaborate defense mechanism, my alternative is to be driven to suicide by my bottomless pain, and it is both entirely sensible and legitimate that I would therefore employ any measure at my disposal to escape that with my life.

I wouldn’t have been able to assert myself this way before shaving my head. I wouldn’t have been able to stand by my identity without my Right Name. Before taking my name, taking my history back, and claiming my own body for myself, I wouldn’t even be able to tell my story — something I have clearly been aching to do now since I had a very large (vaguely masculine)  Black Widow spider tattooed to my back nearly ten years ago. Even more so when another tattooist finally gave her a web five years later. She is a symbol of my voice as a writer and story-teller.

It occurs to me that it’s strange how a sense of self-respect can emerge from something so debasing. But there it is. Facing my own death — literally staring into the eyes of a person who could have snuffed my life out in that very moment — taught me just how strong I am, and that my life and my voice have a purpose. The inner peace that came to me when I finally came out as trans taught me that my voice, and the things I have to say with it, are innately respectable. Retrospect has taught me that I didn’t think of myself this way before I shaved my head and took my Right Name. I condemned myself because of my unique social location, and thought of myself as not worth listening to and not respectable for speaking.

My entire self-view has changed. And it’s not just because of coming out of the closet once and for all. A year after coming out, facing challenges from every vector in my life at the time (i.e., my biological family, my chosen family, my lovers, my friends, the people I shared my home with, and my entitlement to that home itself, all collapsing in on me simultaneously), I stood up for what I believed was right for me, and refused to step down. I slammed the door on my biological family and swore at them, telling them to never contact me again. My chosen family did the same to me. My lovers and I parted ways and haven’t spoken since. My friends all went quiet for a while. Some turned their backs on me. Some later opened their arms to me, becoming my allies. The people I shared my home with, with one exception, became the people who rob me, threaten me with violence, and declare that they are the victims. And I was evicted from my home (twice in the same year).

All that is left now are my voice, my self-respect, and my allies. Things no one can take away from me. Suddenly, speaking in front of people, even in a confrontational manner, doesn’t frighten me any more. Standing on a street corner with something to say, adjacent to 10 lanes of intersecting traffic, in nothing more than a clown wig and a pair of tight ‘n brights, doesn’t scare me. Publishing on a public forum about my relationship with a disgraced and libeled RCMP officer who crossed the bounds of his professional responsibilities with me, multiple times and along multiple vectors, doesn’t faze me (even if emerging details and contact from strangers do). Being libeled by someone who insists I’ve gone mad, while ignoring how seriously I was in need of help for all the time she knew me until I disagreed with her, just doesn’t frighten me with the prospect of a padded cell like it once did. I am a fucking warrior, and though I may not be strong every single day, I know my purpose and I know the strength of my spirit.

I am never apologizing for my Self again — in fact, where I used to apologize, I now hail myself. Hail Satan. Hail thyself.

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