As a raging extrovert, I’m not the kind of person who likes to be alone. I write literature reviews in bars because I like knowing other people are around. I’m a social person, and being around others basically recharges my batteries.
(And, aside from preferring the company of others, I also hope one of them may know CPR when I fall face-down in my hummus having read yet another take on Marx. Seriously, if you do search for “Marx” in Google Scholar, there’s some 16,300 listings, with 150 written in just 2017 alone. And here’s the worst part: those are just the results for “Groucho Marx;” I lit you not.)
The truth is, however, even us raging humanity sponges find ourselves alone once in awhile. I, for instance, will not have any friends at the next political economy conference after my crack about Marx.
Sometimes, though, my solitude is voluntary. I prefer to walk on the beach alone, for instance. Certainly, pre-marriage I never thought this would be true; having seen from “From Here to Eternity” more than a few times, I just figured everyone ended up making out in the sand. But having been married once to a person that believes in stopping every foot – really – to look at shells and rocks and water molecules, I’m more inclined to think Tom Hanks in “Castaway” is the way to go.
I also like to read alone. The beach, a park, a dimly lit corner of my favorite pub: I’ve been known to sink alone into a chair with a glass of wine (or two) and read for hours. Often wondering to myself: “Why don’t I do this more often?” and “How the hell do people read in dimly lit corners? Jeez, is it dark in here.”
Middle-aged eyesight aside, I’ve been so dedicated to this concept of reading solo that I used to have a fellow lone-reader go with me, just so we could read our books together and jointly send off an “I’m not lonely; I just want to be left alone” vibe. It was either that or start bringing a blood-painted volleyball with me to put on the other side of the table.
Now, of course, I’m transgender and that seems to set off it’s own vibe – and I still get to read alone whenever I choose. Good enough.
Recently, however, I found myself at a mass-market chain restaurant reading a book all by my lonesome, and I wasn’t happy about it at all. For one thing, I pretty much have to go to chains these days as they’re the only places I can see to read my damn book. After spending all that money on faux-tchotchkes they want to make quite sure you see them.
More critically, however, I was eating alone because I wasn’t invited to a dinner that I would have been pre-transition. Some of my oldest friends were there. But I was not there – and that was quite by design. It seems my transgender status would be “confusing” to children who might be in attendance.
Purely from a bullshit perspective this is insulting. It’s not children who have problems with transgender people – it’s many of the closed-minded adults that raise them that are clueless. Indeed, when I heard this, that was just the first of many logical arguments that filled my thoughts. Thank God, even with my mind full of Karl Marx citations there’s still some room for other things like indignity. (With nearly 3,000 Karl Marx-Google Scholar hits in 2017 alone, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.)
After I’d calmed down a bit, however, and really thought about it, I realized I wasn’t thinking at all. I simply hurt. I ached, like a part of me had been torn away. Four decades of friendship, gone – because I made a choice that never hurt another living soul.
It’s hard to explain this pain to people. It’s hard to explain it to myself – logically, anyway. I have far more people now in my life that want me around than don’t. More, that gap has gotten bigger since I transitioned. I’m a calmer person than I was, less frenetic to be around. Wiser, maybe. Wise enough to know if they don’t want to be around me, that’s their loss, not mine.
And yet it is my loss, too. Uniquely, painfully, horribly, mine. Yes, transitioning was the right thing for me, and I’m still overjoyed that I’m doing it. But to be rejected by someone that once cared about me hurts like hell. That part of me that they’ve torn away was the history of our lives together.
I have changed so many things about myself, but I have never rejected my past. I do not deny who I was, nor the friends I had. The woman I am is defined by the man I was, the life I lived, and the joyous role my friends played in all of it. I reject none of that.
But some of them do. Rejecting me now, they’re telling me they don’t want to be part of who I am. The past sinks into a shadow I never wanted.
Yes, some transgender people want this, I know. To leave behind their “dead” lives, their “dead” names, to just move on. I can respect that choice – but it is not mine. I never wanted that. Never.
But now, as I sit alone at my table, staring at a plate that is not mine, I can think only of the place I am supposed to be but I am not. I am supposed to be with my friends of a lifetime. I am not. And the shadows that I never wanted to cloak my past smother my night.
I more than hurt. I feel as if I have been violated.
The dictionary defines ostracization as the act of excluding someone from conversation, friendship and society; to be banished. That’s what I have been, what so many transgender people are: excluded from where we have every right to be simply because we are different. Victims of a deliberate, intentional act, one that is completely indifferent to the pain it inflicts.
At my rawest, I’m inclined to call it emotional violence – but I won’t. There are too many transgender people out there who bear scars from real violence, not a denied dinner invite.
Still, however, there is something about being ostracized that hurts more than the other scars I bear from my transition. It’s more than technical definitions, more than feelings denied, more than a denial of history. It’s more than all of those – because it’s deliberate.
Intentional at worst, indifferent at best, calculated and calcifying, to the violator and the violated. Psychological manslaughter, perhaps – if I’m being kind.
Staring at the page number in my book, it’s unchanged from the time I sat down. I think about all the times I have eaten alone, and I tell myself that this is no different. Turn another page, order another glass of wine (or two). That this is where so very often I choose to be.
Except tonight it wasn’t my choice at all.