By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
During my mid-30s I sought to eliminate spontaneity from my life. My days became divided into repeated activities, a checklist I kept mentally, lording over myself like a sadistic employer. At a conscious level this was performed in the name of self-care; unconsciously, things were, as they generally are, more complex, such that, several years later I can ascribe various motives to my impulses: unresolved and repressed traumas, being closeted, a desire to “fix myself” through accelerated healing, etc.
Having policed myself so severely during that window, I wonder sometimes what moderation around self-reflection and general upkeep should look like. “If those things hadn’t happened, would I be doing this?” goes my recurrent line of questioning, the desire to know carrying a true poignancy. Control is like a trick, in that the more one seeks it, the more glaring its absence feels. All my little safeguards, while valiant efforts, could not secure a state of mind I lacked, or make me a person I wasn’t.
My days are populated with both surprises and habits currently, and, assessing them, I can be judgmental, favoring one or the other, and histrionic, worrying I’m either being too strict or spiraling dangerously. I have only my past, and works of fiction to compare my self-consciousness with, which I find frustrating. My ascent from the time I described above has felt like an act of vindication. Any liberty I discern within myself, the success I find in my transition, I enfranchise these things with my escape from the horrors of my childhood and from the totalitarian transphobia in which I was raised. I’m never watching thoughts float past indifferently; I’m keeping score.
For years my thoughts turned on themselves. I pathologized myself, secretly longing for some transformation to free me from the perpetual discomfort I felt. Later, it was the world, and the undeniable injustices it contained, which I saw as inarguably personalized throughout my history. The idea of existence without opposition, opposition present at every level in every instant, as it’s been for me from the time I’ve conceived of myself as an individual, is inconceivable, akin to the still, white room at the end of “2001.”
All emotions attached to events, even catastrophic events, pass, though. One grieves, accepts, reconciles, or reconciles one’s self to separation, and, in doing so, acquires a new outlook. Grooves one’s worn, mental preoccupations, suddenly lack resonance, leaving one at a loss as to what she’s “doing,” for when one’s passion was making sense of the horrors and repressions of the past, and she finds, suddenly, it no longer is . . . well, the question of what to “do” feels frighteningly open-ended.
Or perhaps “doing” anything, given my history, felt inherently frightening, so that not actively grappling with fear, as I’ve been accustomed to, seemed particularly reckless. It’s not, though, and my default lays much nearer to caution than recklessness regardless. Dreaming about the future has led me, previously, to the past, as I envisioned a world not haunted by anything that lay there. It felt like a corrupted dream, since pursuing it meant ignoring so much of what surrounded me, and focusing on the things and people I most regretted having encountered.
Dreams today, devoid of such corruption, already feel more tranquil, absent as they are of terror and cruelty, a path not lined with mines and monsters, a world to be taken at face value. A part of me has always felt burdened by my rootedness, my natural inclination for balance, as though, without that drive, I could have manically pursued my deepest passions. The monkish years of inner work, characterized by doubt, mistrust, self-deprivation, and a deeply ambivalent commitment to staying with myself as I confronted, and hopefully vanquished, the sources of shame and confusion that plagued me involved squashing the desire for escape.
Many of the activities I’d considered off limits, however, somehow emerged and became a part of my identity: femininity, playwriting, romance, and the pursuit of an audience for my work. It’s probably a mark of trauma that, so many times in my life, I’ve judged things “good” or “bad,” worthwhile or forbidden. Choices, even small ones, became heightened, like choosing the right color wire to cut while defusing a ticking bomb.
Eliminating spontaneity meant factoring out risk, which, frozen as I was by fear, easily, though bitterly, outweighed the losses I suffered in terms of opportunity. Almost imperceptibly, all the things I sought have come true, not overnight, and not without the kinds of highs and lows I, in my rule bound era, would have worked mightily to avoid. My heart broke and soared a thousand times, and I loved myself as best I could, and with increasing aptitude, unwittingly becoming the heroine of my own story.