This is a post I don’t want to write. This blog is only three entries old, but already I am sick of it–empty words, written by a ghost. All writing is artifice…I know. All writing is self-serving…of course. In fiction, the unreliable narrator is master of the universe. The best liars make the best novelists. But all writers want to tell the truth. Or at least, a truth.
Our lives are myths, so we create tales. We embellish. We even put a gloss over pain.
But after “reviewing” the first three posts of Undrowned, I am wary. Wary of tailoring my story into the kind of narrative expected of a transgender person in the midst of transition. To make clear—I have no doubt about my decision to transition. To me, this is a matter of life and death. (It would be a symbolic death, at minimum, for me to stop transition).
But there are doubts about the voice telling the story.
At this moment, writing down these very words, I feel like a fake. This is one of the things I’ve grappled with my entire life….
Two days ago, I walked into my therapist’s office feeling quite good about myself. I had wrapped my recent days into a narrative of genteel positivity. By the end of my session, I was an emotional wreck. Don’t get me wrong—this is definitely a good thing. It’s all about facing my demons, something I’ve avoided for too long.
Rewinding Tuesday’s session is painful, though. Yes, it’s growth. But it hurts. Growing up Catholic, I am used to guilt. And to confession.
So consider this new post a confession.
When I was a boy (how strange that sounds) I did my best to fit in. I’m a middle child, so this comes naturally to me. I was a scared little boy, timid and anxious. I always felt like an odd little child, inside. But from the outside, people saw me as a “normal” child. So I tried my best to nurture this image. By the fifth grade, I was acting like the “normal” boy—fitting in, playing sports, acting out the part I was supposed to play. Which means, sometimes I played cruelly.
It’s a part of my life that haunts me. It’s a sliver of my life, yes…as my therapist has gently explained. But it haunts me.
I’m still trying to sort it out, so I won’t bother trying to analyze too deeply here. To put things bluntly, there were times in my adolescence that I was a bully. I’m ashamed of this fact. I’m 56 years old, but the memories of those incidents still sicken me. There were two specific episodes I clearly remember. These are the main ones. Most of the time, it was part of a group thing–a mean boys thing. The “proving yourself” shit.
In the fifth grade, there was one boy who was different. A sweet soul who just wanted to be friends with everyone. To fit in. He became the running target for the entire class. And of course, I joined in. One time, after school, I ran up to him and shoved a handful of snow into his face. How else can I put it? I shoved snow into his face. To this day, I don’t know why I did it. To this day, I want to puke every time I think of it. I remember him crying out in rage and pain, his face contorted in tears, red with emotion and the icy with snow. He shouted at me that I was “going to be in trouble”. His reaction baffled me. I try to recall what I felt at that moment—emptiness? I don’t know. His reaction just baffled me. Somehow, I remember feeling little—and I mean this physically. His reaction made me shrink back inside of myself.
Then a strange thing happened. It occurred one week later, after school. I noticed an older boy suddenly leap out of an idling school bus that was waiting to fill up with a few straggling students. He dashed straight for me, scooped up a handful of snow, and shoved it into my unsuspecting face.
To this day, I don’t know if the two incidents were linked. I would like to believe that the tormented boy was clever enough to concoct a story for the older boy—a story that motivated this older boy to seethe in anger and come after me for revenge. That indeed would have been a most marvelous and literary piece of fiction.
Did I deserve it? I’ll let you decide. But I never shoved snow into anyone else’s face again.
(Things eventually got so bad for this bullied student that our gym teacher, along with a few other members of the teaching staff, had to assemble the entire fifth grade class—all the boys, that is—to read us the riot act. Mind you, this was in the late 1960’s when society still hadn’t confronted the culture of bullying).
The other episode concerns a boy who had previously been a student at the Catholic school in our town. For some reason, he became a target for a lot of the boys in our class. To this day I honestly don’t know why—probably due to the classic “real guys aren’t sissies” syndrome. Oh, how ironic!
I never said mean things to him specifically, to this face. It was all a part the group mentality…the separating-out of those who were different, who we perceived as weak, as being unmanly. Yes, young boys certainly know in their confused little hearts what it’s like to be a real man…and sad to say, I played that game.
One day, I was with some guys—older guys–not even friends (I actually had one close friend at the time. Everyone was a classmate, an acquaintance, or someone to play ball with). These guys actually frightened me–so I guess I needed to impress them. They goaded me into harassing this fellow classmate. Like a good little trooper I followed orders. I probably started mocking him about going to a “sissy” school—shit like that. Again, how ironic.
He started crying. He told me that the reason he left his other school was because of the same sort of bullying I was inflicting on him at that very moment. It’s sad, remembering his face. I had never seen raw emotion like that. It stunned me into some kind of recognition. He was pleading with me, trying to reason with me, and to this day I am thankful that I immediately stopped. I went back to the group and said, “Just leave him alone.” Then I headed home.
I’m not saying that I instantly became a saint. I remained a part-time jerk, like every other guy in existence. But my “phase” of bullying was over.
But that part of my life greatly disturbs me—I wonder how much was society, and how much was just me. I know my painful memories pale in comparison to the memories of those bullied students. My pain is from guilt and self-pity. Self-inflicted. Deserved (I tell myself). Their pain is the pain of being victimized, a whole different category.
This is the kind of stuff that comes up in therapy…the dark parts of our lives that need to be examined—no matter how much it hurts. This is why the first three entries of this blog seem almost fatuous now. I know that is a distorted perception. But I have always lived in a stream of distorted perceptions. Those words represented how I was feeling at the time I wrote them. But somehow, they seem false now. Like much of my life.
That’s why I feel broken.