Is this turning into a transition photoblog?
Experiments with lip gloss.
I was expecting it to be less shiny, for some reason. The tube it came in makes it kind of tricky to put on without painting half my face, but after spending some time making sure it’s on properly, I go grab the camera and my hair promptly swishes onto my face and smears it. Oy.
I knew I’d end up writing more on the subject. It was inevitable.
Something I haven’t talked about is that I am in some small amount of contact with my mother. The question of contact with your abuser is a thorny one, and one that I avoid broaching because admitting you still talk to the person who abused you is reliably the death of any sympathy you might have garnered from the person you were discussing your abuse with. The reality of why people who are abused continue contact with their abuser is complicated, and maybe I’ll write something longer about it someday, but suffice to say, cutting my mother out of my life means I have to cut other family members out of my life. Family members I like, and want to keep. There’s no chance any of them would believe me if I were to be open about her abusive past, so trying to get them to ostracise her is worthless.
I have confronted my mother about her abusive parenting, twice. The first time I was seeking reconciliation. The second time I was seeking to make my boundaries clear. Each time I was met with a wall of denial and rationalization so thick that I really believed that she would go to her deathbed denying she ever did anything that harmed me. But time and therapy can soften one’s heart, it seems, because some time ago she asked me why I hated her. In what was up until recently the most difficult conversation of my life, I went through the exhausting process of laying out that she was a horrible parent who left me deeply traumatized. After a long conversation, in which I made rather clear to her that every horrible thing she ever complained about her father doing to her she did to me, she apologized.
I was floored. I couldn’t find it in me to accept the apology, and just stared, dumbstruck. I could only think that the apology would have been meaningful had it come the first time, when I was seeking reconciliation. It would have been meaningful if it came at any point when I was still failing to get a night of sleep without nightmares, or crippled by the omnipresent fear of everything, or when I first realized that abuse was the right word for what she’d done and was struggling through the long process of healing and building an a healthy emotional life. She could have been helpful to me, but to have the apology come after she’d become mostly irrelevant in life seemed too little too late. What could she possibly say that would erase a lifetime spent wishing I were dead?
It wasn’t much of an apology. She doesn’t understand what she did wrong, and doesn’t seem to remember any of it, which bewilders me, though perhaps it shouldn’t. After all it took me years to figure out what she did was abusive, and much of what she did probably didn’t even strike her as remarkable at the time. Still, there was some sincerity behind it in that she is willing to explore what she did wrong. Her therapist will have to deal with that. I want nothing to do with it.
I wondered what I owe her for some months after her apology. After talking it out with other parents and abuse survivors, I’ve come to firmly believe I owe her nothing. I’m not unsympathetic; I do realize how enormously difficult it is to face the horrible things that you’ve done. No one wants to be a monster. No doubt she’d benefit from being able to talk it out with me; I do hope she finds some peace in life, but I still want nothing to do with her.
I am practically un-triggerable in my daily life. I triggered extremely easily before the years of introspective work, but these days there’s only one real reliable trigger for me: the sound that her bracelets made clanking against each other when she walked. Aside from the occasional wind chime inspiring unholy terror, my life is mercifully free of getting suddenly yanked back to the horrible moments of my past. There is, however, another reliable trigger: my mother herself.
Two days ago was one of those times where making the bargain to keep other family members meant I had to be around my mother sometimes. I haven’t seen her since the last confrontation. I watched her get angry at a coffee maker when I was in the middle of cooking (aka I couldn’t just leave the room) and was instantly put back into flight mode. But whatever, I can recover quickly from this, right? I’m nowhere near so traumatized as I used to be. I’m a strong, confident, emotionally aware person! I can handle this!
Last night was nothing but dreams of verbal abuse.
And that easily I am not myself anymore. I am suddenly that terrified 12 year old child hiding in the closet, hoping that she won’t find me, hoping that she’s not looking for me, and hoping that looking for me isn’t making her even angrier.
I’ll remember sometime in the next day or two that I’m not completely worthless, powerless and unloved, but it’s difficult to feel it at the moment.
I still want nothing to do with her, but today I learned that even if I were interested in building some kind of new relationship with her, it would be impossible. There is simply too much trauma in the past, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to be around her without being reduced to this. There is no amount of strength in the world. Her anger cuts through me like butter. Even if she became the best person who ever existed and I was the most understanding person who ever existed, this couldn’t be done. Not without sacrificing my mental health in the process.
I hope she understands that someday.
I’m often asked why or how I left Islam. I have my story, though I don’t like to tell it because I’m deeply suspicious of these kinds of narratives. Changing one’s mind about a deeply held worldview is rarely a quick process, and whatever elements you choose to focus on in the story inevitably leave too much out.
One of the difficulties that I’ve had in telling that story is where to start it. It’s easy when looking back in memory to weave everything you can remember as pointing in one direction. I usually start that story at the age of 16, but I had many moments of incredulity in childhood that I could use to paint myself as some kind of proto-atheist from childhood. This strikes me as intellectually dishonest, no matter how tempting it might be. I imagine every religious person has had at least a few moments of incredulity when something they heard in the name of their religion simply couldn’t be true, and that these moments didn’t lead anywhere. They didn’t for me, though now it’s interesting to look back on them and to see that much of my instincts were in the right direction.
Age 6: I wondered why I couldn’t see God. This was actually full on doubt over whether he’s there are all. Merely thinking this terrified me, because it was blasphemous. Having been taught that the devil whispers things to you, I also thought it was the devil. Nonetheless I couldn’t stop asking the question in my mind even as I tried not to think it out of fear of divine punishment.
Eventually I hid under my desk. In my very childlike understanding of things, God was in the sky, so whatever he would send down at me would come from directly above me, and might bounce off the desk. In retrospect it’s not clear what the desk would protect me from that the ceiling did not, but that sense of security at least allowed me to think about the question. Understandably I felt an incredible amount of guilt which I interpreted as God’s punishment, which in some perverse way was proof of his existence.
Age 8ish: I’m memorizing some part of the Quran for school and my mother is hovering over my shoulder watching at. At some point she points out the miraculous rhyme scheme. This immediately strikes me as bullshit, because the part that I was memorizing had three different rhyme endings, and it would have been a lot more impressive if the entire surah had a consistent rhyme.
Also age 8ish: I wondered why Muhammad was the last prophet. It didn’t occur to me that the historical distance was a problem, I just felt jealous of everyone who was alive then and met the prophet, and was sad that I’d never have an opportunity like that. This led to other thoughts and after a time it struck me as very wrong that some people were pretty much assured their place in heaven by luck and the rest of us never got to witness the truth firsthand.
Age 11: I dropped a Quran on the ground at school. The student sitting next to me notices and tells me to kiss the book as I’m wiping the dirt off of it. This strikes me as nonsense. What’s kissing it going to do? It’s not like the dirt is magically going to disappear when I kiss it. Does God really care? At any rate I was kind of grossed out to kiss it after it’s touched the dirty floor. I refuse, saying something like “that’s not a rule” and his eyes go wide. I kiss the book just to avoid any ugliness. (Turns out I was right in the end though)
Age 12: Sitting in religion class, they taught us the one of the many versions of the story of the codification of the Quran. I don’t really remember which it was anymore, but learning that the early manuscripts didn’t have dots or diacritics was the first real hammer blow to my religious certainty. This was a hugely shattering moment to me. That the Quran was perfectly preserved despite the writing system was more fantastical to me than anything else I’d ever heard in Islam. I often wonder why the gravity of this was obvious to me as a 12 year old when it’s seemingly not to most adult Arab Muslims.
h/t Hathor Legacy
Sorry for the lack of content, but my personal life has been consuming all my attention.
In other news, this is a ridiculously flattering picture of me (drink, Jazzy).
This one is better:
Of the 40 or so unfinished blog posts in my drafts, one is titled “not trans enough to be trans.” It was a post venting about how the stories that are told about trans people’s lives leave many of us out of the narrative, and why this is problematic. This was not an academic question for me when I was younger. My attempts at getting through the medical system to start transition have for the most part been utter failures, and one of those failures was the refusal of a therapist to write me a letter for hormones because I didn’t quite fit what he thought a trans person was supposed to be like. One of his objections was that I never “crossed-dressed” as a child(which is to say I never wore clothes associated with my gender, why this is called cross-dressing is beyond me). So this stuff matters. I have never understood this expectation. I understand the symbolic power involved, but clothes are cloth, and why I ought to have sought out women’s clothing in a mystery to me. If it gives you comfort, more power to you, but it’s never done anything for me.
The flip-side though, is that I’ve actually never presented as female. Like in any context, ever. Not until a few days ago when I realized that after months of hormones and whatnot, I look radically different. I have spent the last few days staring at myself in the mirror in an unambiguously vain “holy shit I’m actually kind of cute” kind of way. For the first time in my life I can bear to look at myself in the mirror. The relief is indescribable. Encouraged by this I decided to take the baby step of presenting as female for the first time somewhere online. I put on one of two women’s shirts I own* and hopped on a glbt webcam/chatroom I found.
Three minutes later some guy is perving on me. Umm, fuck. This is not the welcome I was expecting either for being perceived as a woman or for liking how I look and thinking that someone might possibly find me attractive. I got off and spent the next few hours recalling conversations with an ex who was so often harassed that she said she wanted to claw her face so people would leave her alone. I had a sleepless night wondering what’s in store not living as a man anymore.
So I have since showed my face in various glbt communities I hang out in. More creepy sexual attention. Boo! Lots of people think I’m cute. Yay! This has inspired a lot of guilt over whether I ought to want to be attractive, whether I’m buying into a standard that says women are only for sex and so this is validating my identity as a woman in a fucked up way, and whether I’m a horrible person for wanting to look “cis” so that I can keep the privileges attached to that. But mostly I have found this so intoxicating that I had to well deservedly be told to stop fishing for compliments on my minecraft server, ahaha. This is very out of character for me, but a lifetime of frustration has expressed itself these past few days and it’s been difficult not to seek validation like this.
My sexuality is mostly mystery to me. I have never felt like I own my body, so I have never been able to explore it. I feel the question looming now, though, and moving forward in transition is raising a lot of other questions for me. I don’t know how much I want to “perform femininity”, as it’s often called. Like a lot of trans women I’ll probably do it far in excess of what I’m comfortable with out of fear, but to the degree one can separate how much of it one wants to do versus does for practically, I honestly have no idea what of it I’ll enjoy. It’s been so odd to me that everyone expects me to have this question figured out by now, and I’ve gotten no end of “you must not be trans” comments, but I’ve never figured out what clothes, fashion, hair, makeup blah blah blah have to do with me feeling like a woman. That I get this from other trans people is perplexing.
All of the previous adds up to me being very emotionally exhausted right now. But things are heading in a good direction, and I am excited.
*If anyone can tell me where to reliably find shirts with sleeves that are long enough to fit my 5’10 arms, I’d appreciate it.
There’s two posts on the A+ forum talking about the racism and xenophobia behind much of the criticisms of Islam, with the general question of what to do about it. Although I started this blog out of the frustration of all the racism surrounding Islam, I honestly feel out of my depth in the discussion. While I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that I’m contributing to the racism around the subject, I really haven’t gotten to any kind of answers.
Once thing that does occur to me though, is that some direct criticism of people like Robert Spencer would be warranted. When I started this blog I thought I’d spend a small amount of my energy here going through some of the worst of that kind of material, but I quickly found out that I’m not gifted with the spare emotional resources to delve into that writing on a regular basis. Too much of that is still personal to me, because I remember the attitudes I ran into when I was still Muslim, and that I still run into on occasion because Arab=Muslim, regardless of any fact to the contrary. I feel somewhat derelict in my duty on this, in a sense, but I feel little shame in admitting I’m pretty emotionally sensitive and there’s honestly only so much I can take.
An atheist who isn’t so burdened could do well with that, though. I guess it’s kind of a shitty thing to say that someone else should do it, but there you have it.