I love every cat I’ve ever met, and I make sure to tell them. I met a cat when I was walking home, and I spent so much time petting her and telling her that my love was eternal and unconditional that I missed my bus. This is not an isolated event.
I scroll through Instagram whispering “I love you” to every dog, cat, owl, and–more recently–snake, I see. But I also struggle to even hug people I’ve known for years, friends who have seen me completely broken and hopeless and lying in a ball drunk on the floor whispering affection to animals on the internet. There are people who probably don’t realize how much hope and joy and life they lend me just from being around them. And they may not realize this because the best I can do at telling them is muttering “cool seeing you again.” When I try to make sense of my anxiety, it helps to think of it in more realistic terms. It’s easier imagining something simple instead of trying to wrap my head around the years of trauma and self-loathing that contribute to my constant doubt and hesitation around every person I’ve ever encountered–along with some humanoid cactuses. So I imagine my own version of the little angel and devil perched on each shoulder, only instead of representing my personal morality, they’re just my whole personality. Often there are two voices in my head that win out over all the other parts: there is a child and a mean librarian.
The child wants friends and naps and to go outside and to be happy, and the librarian says fuck all that you’re sitting in this room, shutting up, and staying out of the way. The child wants affection and to be able to hug people, and the librarian insists more research must be done before we know for sure that a hug is merited depending on the social context. I’d really like to throw a rock at the librarian, but she’s been trained into me. Librarian positions usually require some higher education, and mine has spent years learning exactly what is expected of her field. She’s earned her place, even if that place is keeping me from doing what I want.
I don’t have a solution to most of my problems. That’s not something children are told will happen. What it, on some sunny California day of Kindergarten, my teacher had taken me aside and said “hey, one day there’s going to be parts of your life that, ya know, just stay fucked up, like all the time, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it because even though you’ll have money and be a bit taller, you’re just as impotent and small as an adult as you are when you’re a kid waiting on your turn for the tricycle even though Grant has taken two extra laps with it.” So far, the best I’ve done is learn to listen to other voices, give the librarian a sabbatical and try to replace her with a really incompetent traffic guard. Instead of my librarian’s “you shouldn’t do this because it’s never the time or place for it,” I get “uhhh maybe cross the street? Idk, do what you want as long as you don’t get too hurt.”
Somebody somewhere would probably call that growth.
I can remember exactly how I came out as trans to my therapist. I said “Hey, remember how I’m a nervous mess and my childhood was shit and we’ve been working through that for months? Well boy do I have a doozy for you…”
Anxiety and depression are rough, and being trans doesn’t exactly make it easier. It’s hard to improve your mental health when you have to obsess over the news so you know if people hate you enough that carrying pepper spray isn’t enough anymore. I’m expected to tell people about my intimate medical status, but I can’t even bring myself to hug them without saying “are we really there yet?” A pompous man with a lobster fixation made his career writing generic self-help books and debating my right to exist in front of an audience that doesn’t want to admit he’s the bitter, seemingly brilliant father they wish would pay attention to them. It’s not easy to be comfortable in a world in where people who would see me and my community suffer are gaining popularity.
According to the conversations I’ve had at work, with people who used to be friends, with near-strangers, and with someone else’s student, it’s socially acceptable to ask a trans person about every aspect of their life, including their family, medical history, and what their intimate plans for their future are. It’s not. It’s annoying and intrusive and exhausting and absolutely inappropriate. It also makes it hard to understand and develop healthy boundaries when people are constantly assuming you don’t have any or that they’re the special exception to that boundary.
This is another case when it’s helpful to pick which voices to listen to. This time, however, it’s choosing to ignore a significant portion of the people around me and slowly learning who isn’t just talking to me because I’m a novelty for them to feel like good allies.
I’ll probably always have trouble showing affection. I don’t really know when people hug in a platonic relationship. It’d be nice if there was something measurable that would tell me when certain things are socially acceptable and safe. I don’t know how to quantify friendship, but I feel like hugs come at a 5/10 where 4 is having seen each other on purpose more than three times and 10 is being each other’s contingency spouse if you’re both at risk of dying alone.