Love as Capitalism

Author’s Note: I’m probably going to say some things in this blog that confuse, anger, or trigger you. I’m playing with big concepts, and in order to understand what I’m talking about, you’re going to have to go on the ride with me. I promise it will all make sense in the end.

I believe most people have heard of the concept of “conditional vs unconditional love.” In the off chance that you haven’t, “conditional” love is love that is only given if specific conditions are met. “Unconditional” love is love that is held and given regardless of whether you live up to the expectations of the person loving you.

I don’t believe most people have experienced unconditional love. I can’t speak to the experiences people have in other parts of the world, but I can speak to what it’s like growing up in the United States of America, and here, love is doled out by most parents the same way that money is given to workers: Less than is deserved, and only on the condition that it is earned.

I believe that this is the case because we live in a capitalistic society. How do you earn money from a capitalist? Work for them in a way that makes them more money than they will ever give to you. How do you earn love from a capitalistic-loving parent? Make sure you give them more love than they will ever share with you.

At this point it’s probably a good idea to define some terminology. What do I mean when I say “love”? How does one “give” or “receive” love? I think most people think of love as a feeling. A feeling that you either have or do not have when you think about a specific person. And in many cases (at least in our patriarchal world), people tend to conflate the feeling of “love” with the feeling of “sexual desire.”

That’s why we think of jealousy as a “sign of love,” when in reality it is a toxic emotion that often leads to violence or betrayal.

Love is not a feeling. Love is an action. To love someone is to put yourself and your own interests aside and do something solely for the purpose of helping or healing them. Love can take many different forms, and often is completely different depending on the person you are attempting to love. To love someone, you must first understand them—what their boundaries are, how they prefer to receive love, and what their current needs are.

Loving someone is intensely personal, and entirely dependent on the person you are attempting to love.

When my partner and I first got together, we both had a set of rules in our own heads that told us how we were “supposed” to love each other. And frequently, our attempts to give love to one another were met with resistance, anger, or hurt. This is because we didn’t have a shared language of how to love one another. We were acting entirely based on our previous relationships, and our previous relationships had operated on completely different rules—usually rules that we heard in movies, on television, or experienced within our own families.

In her family, she was the person who fixed everyone else’s problems. If anyone came to her to vent about an issue in their lives, she felt it was her responsibility to solve that problem. That was how she knew to give love (and, in return, receive it). She felt that as long as she could solve other people’s problems, she was doing her job, and those people would love her for it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how I receive love. I don’t want my problems solved—usually because my problems don’t have solutions. My issues tend to be emotional, and anyone who has ever felt sad knows that there’s nothing more frustrating than someone trying to “fix” your sadness with overly-cheerful toxic-positivity.

(Toxic Positivity is that particular brand of positivity that offers no real-world solutions but is filled with catchy phrases like “look on the bright side!” or “cheer up!”)

When I’m feeling low, all I really want is a hug. I want to cuddle. I want to spend an hour where we don’t have to talk, where the love that we share can be felt growing inside us until it overwhelms any feeling of unworthiness or sadness that I may be experiencing.

So when I came to her with a problem, and she told me to look on the bright side, or immediately took to the computer to try to find a solution that would work for me, I would feel unloved. Even though what she was doing was attempting to love me, and she was doing it because she had love for me, she wasn’t loving me in a way that I could receive.

And that’s where I think we mess everything up in our society. We get so stuck on loving people the way that we want to love them, or the way that we think we’re supposed to love them, that we end up completely ignoring the needs of the person we’re trying to love.

It’s entirely ego-based. We feel like we’re doing a good thing because it’s something that we would want, or because we’re taking the time (or spending the money) to care for another person. But if you aren’t loving that person in a way that they can understand or appreciate, you might as well be doing nothing at all.

Narcissistic (or even just overly-busy) parents use this as a method to gaslight their own children. A lot of parents think that simply buying toys or games for their kids is a replacement for love. They think that paying for college is the same thing as love. They believe that providing the bare essentials for survival is the same thing as giving love. This is of course ignoring the fact that “paying for your child’s college education” is at least partially an ego pursuit—you feel good that you were able to do it, while using it as a weapon against your children to get them to do what you want.

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation: you hate surprise parties. Loathe them. You hate the fact that you didn’t have a say over who was invited. You hate the fact that you’re the center of attention. You hate planning for a quiet night at home, only to be met with the sudden need to perform emotional labor for a handful of people from your life.

You’ve also made this abundantly clear to your partner/spouse/mother/whoever. They have loudly claimed that they understand, and they won’t throw you a surprise party.

And then they do it anyway.

They believe that this is a way of “loving” you. That doing something extravagant will, even though you said you hate it, win you over in the end, and you’ll be grateful that someone put so much thought and effort into you.

THIS IS NOT LOVE.

When someone sets a boundary, or makes it very clear that they dislike (or even hate) something, and then you do it for them anyway, you are not expressing love. You are expressing control. You are saying, loudly, and in a way that only one person will hear, “I do not care what you want. Loving you is about me, it is not about you.”

Everyone else at that party will think, “wow, what a great person! They went to all this trouble to throw this party, they must really love you.” But the person you threw the party for, the person you were attempting to love, feels alone, unloved, and trapped. And now, they’re in an even more difficult situation, because if they express their inner truth, they will appear “ungrateful” or “crazy.”

The party isn’t an attempt to love someone—it’s an attempt to make yourself look good.

This is only one example, and a rather extreme one, but every time you love someone in a way that directly contradicts their wishes, you are gaslighting. You are making that person feel alone, and you are probably doing the exact opposite of your intention: alienating them instead of making them feel loved. You are saying, “I will love you the way I want, and you will accept it, because the alternative is no love at all.”

Usually, parents participate in this type of “love” because it’s the only type of love they ever received. They were never loved by their parents, either. At least not in a way that they could feel. Add to that the fact that children are inherently an extension of parents’ egos, and you wind up with a dynamic that teaches kids that they have to accept any type of love that is given to them, because no one will ever bother to take the time to get to know them or treat them in a way that they want.

And so the cycle repeats, ad nauseam, until someone is able to break it.

And that brings me around to the reason I decided to write this blog in the first place: Capitalism. Being loved in this conditional “you’ll take what I give you” way primes us to expect the same treatment from the world. We are taught from a very early age, what you want does not matter. What you need does not matter.

And so we enter the workforce with a series of debts and bills, often including rent, healthcare, and the various other services you “need” in order to survive in this country, and a series of job prospects that… will not provide most of those things.

A minimum wage job will not cover rent for a person who lives alone in most cities. It definitely won’t cover rent, healthcare, a car payment, renter’s / auto insurance, and food. There are a limited number of jobs that offer that possibility, and there are far more people than there are jobs available.

Which leaves most of us with very few options. And then, when we mention the fact that we aren’t able to survive, that the cost of living is higher than we will ever be able to learn, we are told the same thing over and over: “If you just worked harder, you wouldn’t have anything to complain about.” “If you had been smarter and chosen a different major, you wouldn’t be in this position.” “You should shut up and be grateful that you even have a job.”

That last one hits particularly hard. Partly because, for me, the phrase “be grateful” reminds me of that thing my parents said every single time I told them that I felt unloved. Those times that they did things I explicitly told them not to do. The times they made it clear that if I were to disobey their orders, I would be kicked out of the house and never welcomed back:

You should be grateful you have parents who love you.”

Parents who loved me enough to read my diary when I wasn’t home. Who loved me enough to force me to pledge myself to a God I didn’t believe in (Catholicism!). Who loved me enough to choose the colleges I was allowed to apply to (right-wing or Catholic only!), the clothing I was allowed to wear (nothing girly!), the girls I was allowed to date (no Blacks!), my major, the car I drove, my gender.

And time and time again I said, “This isn’t who I am… this isn’t what I want.”

And in return, I was called ungrateful. I was told they were doing these things because they loved me. Because they wanted to make sure I had a good life.

And all the while, I was miserable. I hated my life. I wanted to die. Every day for over 20 years, all I felt was despair and self-hatred. You see, I was the problem. I wasn’t grateful enough. If I could learn to be more grateful, and to appreciate love on their terms, well, then I would be happy.

So I learned to accept whatever love was given to me, no matter how toxic or painful it was. Often, the more painful it was the more I believed it was real. Unconditional love felt phony, and I pushed it away in favor of people who told me I wasn’t good enough. That I had to live up to their expectations. Because the only love I was capable of feeling was love that I had truly earned.

It doesn’t have to work this way. If we can accept that all people are different, and that we all have different desires, interests, and needs, we can begin the process of learning to love others on their own terms. One step beyond that is knowing that we need to be able to provide someone’s basic survival needs if we’re going to choose to bring them into the world.

I strongly believe that if you aren’t ready to love your child in the way that they ask you to love them, you shouldn’t bother having children. Your attempt to feel “the most wonderful joy of all” in parenting will only provide that joy to you, but will create nothing but pain in your child, and likely a lot of the people they come into contact with.

We need to do better. As a country. As a planet. As a species.

Because the wonderful thing that happens when you love people on their own terms is that they grow stronger, and they pass that love on. Some of it will return to you, and some of it will make sure that the world we leave behind is a better place for all future humans to enjoy.

—Chloe Jade Skye, September 2020

Why I Deleted My Instagram Account

I started my Instagram account in January 2015. I started it for several reasons, but the main reason was because I’d moved to Los Angeles that same month to pursue a living as an actor. I’d been told through the actor-grapevine (no one really knows where it begins, but if you’re an actor in LA, you’re a grape on that vine) that casting directors weren’t even considering hiring actors who didn’t have large social media followings. That producers, after narrowing their choices for a role down to their favorites, were looking at those numbers to make the final decision. So, I set out to gain a large social following.

As any social media influencer worth their salt would tell you, you can’t gain a large, engaged social media following just by wanting to have a large social media following. People follow you because they like what you’re doing, or because they aspire to be like you. They follow you because they want to see the content you’ll be posting.

On some level, I understood that. I tailored my content to fit a niche, something that I thought was unique about me that people might resonate with: I was an actor and a writer!

So, what does an actor/writer fresh to Los Angeles post on Instagram? If you were me, the answers was, “not a whole lot.” My content included photographs from empty audition rooms or casting offices, screen-grabs of self-tape auditions, selfies, random shots of nature, & gym photos.

These are not things that people who don’t personally know you care about (unless they want to have sex with you, in which case they’ll thirst over literally anything you post). They will not follow you, and if they do, they likely won’t interact with your content, meaning that even if you somehow do manage to gain a large following, the algorithm will ensure that your posts aren’t seen by many people because the people who do will scroll right on by.

I didn’t know any of that at the time. I thought “having a large numbers of followers” would automatically translate to “success.” So, I set out through various methods to attempt to gain a large number of followers.

I downloaded apps that allowed me to mass-follow accounts that followed other actors, and then I’d unfollow everyone who didn’t follow me back within 24 hours. I didn’t want my “followers” and “following” to be the same number, so every month or so, I would go through the accounts I was following and unfollow people who had followed me back months ago, hoping they wouldn’t notice that I’d gone and unfollowed them months later.

It worked. Over the next 18 months, I gained a large number of followers: over 75,000. Best of all, I was only following 1,000 accounts.

To those not in-the-know, it looked great. Many a new actor to LA complimented me on my number. The roles were bound to start rolling in!

But that’s not how acting works, either. Acting is a business. If you want to be a successful actor (or influencer, or anything), you need more than artificially inflated numbers on your social media accounts. You need to be able to show results, or at least prove your capability of showing results. You need people who care about you, and who engage with your content.

The roles did not start rolling in. I ended up making a few films in various combinations of writer and/or actor under my old name, but the reasons I was involved with those projects had literally nothing to do with my social media following (as far as I’m aware).

Over the course of the next 5 years, the reasons I was using Instagram changed. I slowly grew less interested in acting as a profession, and drifted away from “conscious posting” and into “consuming.” It became, instead of a tool for my profession, a past-time. I started following accounts I was interested in, influencers I was interested in, meme pages, political pages (on both sides, to try to always have all the information)… the list went on and on.

It became an addiction. Many times a day, I’d check IG. Usually there weren’t any notifications, because I wasn’t really posting anything anymore. Then Instagram introduced the “story” feature, and it became even more addictive.

I thought about deleting it several times. But every time I’d talk myself out of it for the same reason: what about those 75,000 followers? You did all that work to get them, and now you’re going to throw them away? How long will it take you to get the swipe up feature again?

I kept the account, checking it several times every day, thinking that eventually I would find a use for it. When I began podcasting, I attempted to use the account as a means of advertising those podcasts, but as I would eventually find out, IG followers rarely translate to podcast listeners, even if your followers are incredibly engaged. The account existed in a state of nothingness, existing just to exist.

And, of course, to pass the time.

In 2018, the social media addiction was real. In 2019, I attempted to launch a business that would help break people of their social media addictions. After becoming addicted myself, I knew how serious it was, and how deeply it could spiral you into a state of depression, feeling like the world was ending, like there wasn’t any hope, & like nobody cared. Somehow, that business twisted from its original intent into a social media management business, because companies were more interested in paying us for our social media knowledge than IG users were in spending money to give up their accounts (or we just weren’t very good salespeople).

COVID sent the last of our clients screaming for the hills, and we closed the business for good.

And my 75,000 followers were still just sitting there. Every day, I shared maybe a dozen or two dozen memes or videos to my IG story. Every day, the same 85-130 people would look at those stories. I wasn’t in a state of growth or decline. The account… merely existed.

And why? What am I saving it for? What use could I ever have for 75,000 people who probably don’t even remember that they’re following me?

And then I watched the new Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an important one, and I recognized a lot of the symptoms they were describing in myself and in my own habits. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in 2018, but the effects were still there. Every time I checked social media, I stayed on longer than I intended. Every time I opened Instagram, I closed the app feeling worse about the future of our world than when I’d opened it. Every meme, every story, every “hot topic of the day”… it was getting overwhelming. And I’d had enough.

Tonight, a mere 3 hours ago, I permanently deleted the account. Maybe I’ll start one up again one day when I better understand how to use it to benefit me instead of harm me, or maybe I’ll avoid it forever. Maybe Instagram will get their shit together and stop investing into our own self-destruction, at which point I would join even if I didn’t have a “greater purpose” in having the account.

The love affair with Instagram is over. The magic is gone, and honestly, I feel like Instagram is getting a lot more out of the relationship than I am. I’m tired of feeling like Instagram’s dutiful wife, playing my role quietly, acknowledging his flaws but always believing it’s going to get better.

It’s not going to get better unless we do something. Unless we say something. And without us, the users, these social media apps have no way of generating revenue. So let’s put our money where our mouths are, shall we? Let’s not let these apps destroy our future.

-Chloe Skye

PS! I never had any association with Star Trek growing up. The first Star Trek property I ever saw was JJ Abrams’s reboot in 2009. I recently started watching The Next Generation, and I have to say, I feel like I’ve been lied to by just about everyone in my life who said this show was a positive and exciting vision for our future. I’m thinking about writing a longer blog about Star Trek and why the very concept of the show is only an ideal future if you’re a White male who is still more or less brainwashed by imperialism… if that sounds interesting, or if the idea of that blog makes you want to strangle me, you can let me know at chloejadeskye@gmail.com!

My First Time Presenting Publicly as Female

The first time I went out in public in “women’s clothing” was in 2015, in Burbank, California.

I put “women’s clothing” in quotes because although I’m aware our clothing is socially accepted as gendered, I don’t think it should be. Clothing is clothing, and people should be able to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. Standing on my soapbox, however, is not what this post is about.

At the time, I had no concept that I was trans. I had a mental block, as I had never met a person who was transgender, and held a series of beliefs about what it means to be trans that were simply false. Firstly, I thought that trans people felt that they “were born into the wrong body.” That’s true for some people, but I don’t think it’s the majority. It’s certainly not true for me. In fact, since coming out as trans, I’ve loved and appreciated my body more than I ever have before at any time in my life (but that’s a story for another time). Next, I believed that in order to be “actually trans,” you needed to have surgery. As I wasn’t interested in having any sort of surgery, there was some sort of protective wall in my brain that stopped me from even having the thought, “I might be trans.”

And in 2015, I decided to pick out a dress, a pair of heels, and some jewelry, and I was going to go out on the town. During broad daylight. The reasons why I decided to do this are complicated, and questioning my own motivations is one of the reasons it took me so long to finally admit that I am trans.

Some of you may know this, and some of you may not, but for almost the entirety of 2015, I was in a cult. It’s not a big fancy one that you’ve heard of. It’s not a cult that’s going to have an in-depth documentary appear on Netflix or HBO. It was a small cult that was just getting started. We were known to one another as AJR, which were the initials of our fearless leader. He presented himself as a casting director, but in truth was simply a con man with a plan for eventual greatness. He was a big proponent of “new thought,” which is the spiritual movement where if you believe something hard enough, it will magically happen for you. I think he thought that if he could convince us that he was a casting director, and guide us to the right point in life, he would eventually be everything that he had always presented himself as.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good cult leader, and the cult fell apart not long after it began. Probably because he started the sexual abuse too early in the cycle, before he got us to stop fully trusting one another. Victims talked, and the cult split. This was his third or fourth attempt to start a cult that I was able to find out about. He tried different techniques each time, sometimes only recruiting males, sometimes pretending to be a photographer or a former professional model. And always, the cult fell apart when he started sexually abusing the men.

I was one of those men.

(Or so I thought at the time)

AJ was a very flawed man, and definitely an abuser, but he was also charismatic as hell, and just manipulative enough to be a magnet for actors with daddy issues (guilty). That’s not to say everyone in the cult had daddy issues, but for those who did, he was able to dig his claws in and really fuck with you.

One of the things he stressed most frequently was the need to conquer your fears by intentionally participating in activities that scare you. On some level, this is good advice, so nobody questioned his motivations, and everyone wanted to please him. So we went about attempting to conquer all our fears, so that we could become the best versions of ourselves, so that we could become movie stars.

As I grew up in a very traditional Catholic household, I had a lot of unconscious fears surrounding “being perceived as gay” or “people thinking I’m too feminine.” I over-corrected most of the time, and presented as a sort of stereotype of a cis- White male.

In one of our weekly “classes”, AJ talked about how the most successful actors are the ones who push boundaries; the ones who dare to play transgender characters, or take risks like “putting on weight” or “being ugly.” With modern eyes, I recognize that it is neither daring nor risky to pretend to have lived a struggle you do not understand—it’s insulting.

I heard about a study about White authors who write books about “The Black Experience”, and how those White authors reported feeling closer and better connected to Black people after doing the thought exercise. At the same time, Black people who read the book felt even more disconnected from the author than they had before reading their work. My takeaway was that no matter how much research you do, you can’t just conjure up a complete life experience, and you’re likely to alienate the very people you’re trying to connect with.

So anyway, Eddie Redmayne was up for best actor for pretending to be a trans woman in The Danish Girl. Personally, I think it was a mediocre performance in a worse movie that was guilty of exactly the type of misdirected connection attempt in that study about White authors. And when I sat down in the theater to watch The Danish Girl, I left feeling exactly the same way. Alienated.

So AJ was praising Eddie Redmayne’s bravery for daring to pretend to be a woman for a few months (how did he manage it? Lo!, the complexities of women!).

I tease Eddie Redmayne so hard because as a 24-year-old, I was equally guilty of everything he was doing in taking that role. As the enterprising young actor that I was, I decided that I wanted this major Hollywood casting director to think of me as brave and daring. Because that might help my chances in being cast in something. Because I was brave, damn it, and now I would be able to prove it!

I asked one of the girls in the cult if she would help me thrift for a cute outfit to wear to class, and if she’d get up early to help me do my hair and makeup. She was honored, and I remember being slightly confused as to why. Looking back, I think she may have been a bit more aware of my inner self than I was, and was excited to help me on a journey that I didn’t even know I was on.

The day in question, I definitely wanted AJ’s approval. I know that. When I went to class (which took place in his 2-car garage in the house he was renting in Burbank, paid for by his husband’s Dave & Buster’s manager salary), the first thing I did was try to find him to show him what I had done. I said my (probably fairly curt) hellos to my classmates, but ultimately I was there for one reason.

The first thing he said to me when he saw me was, “I should have known it would be you.”

And I felt like I had won. Like he was saying, “Out of everyone in my class, I should have known that you would be the one brave enough to pass my test.” Of course, it also meant, “We all see how much feminine energy you carry around all the time; this fits perfectly.”

And maybe it meant something else, too. It’s hard to tell with cult leaders, because even though they seem like they’re always being fully honest with you, there comes a point when you realize they’ve always been utterly full of shit.

After class I wanted to go out in public. I wanted to see and feel how people would react. I wanted to really “face my fear.” So a couple of my girlfriends and I went to a burger place (I wasn’t vegan yet, either) and hung out.

And…………. I had a terrible experience.

If you’ve never seen me, I am a large person. 6’0″, with extremely broad shoulders and a frame suitable for bodybuilding. I was at my absolute skinniest, which still put me at around 180lbs. None of this means that I “can’t be a woman,” or that I’m “trapped in a man’s body,” but it does mean, that no matter what I wear or how hard I try, there is almost no person who doesn’t immediately perceive me as male.

And in this particular burger shop on this particular day, people were not pleased to see “a man in a dress.” Every person did a double take, and my friends told me that whenever I wasn’t looking, they were all staring at me with disgust.

I stopped feeling “brave,” and started to feel scared. Ashamed. Unworthy.

And I hung up my dress and I never put it on again until 2020.

When I was finally capable of admitting that AJ was sexually abusing me, I left the cult. Over the next few years, I learned a lot more about what it means to be transgender, and I met more people who are transgender, and I began to understand that a lot of those feelings that I’d felt growing up, and the feelings that I still felt inside but kept hidden away, and the way that I wanted to be perceived, all ultimately tied together in a way that looked remarkably similar to the experiences of other trans people.

And yet, I still doubted myself.

What if the only reason I think I’m trans is because I wanted to impress the man who raped me?

What if the only reason I think I’m a woman is because I was raped? That’s deeply misogynistic.

What if I’m still just looking for attention and I can’t tell the difference between my true feelings and a potential path to my goals?

These feelings and questions swirled together, and because they were so deeply linked to a time in my life where I had been traumatized, it took me a lot longer than it should have to slow down long enough to legitimately consider their answers. I couldn’t see myself as a woman without feeling like a fraud, and I couldn’t work through those feelings without hitting an emotional brick wall where my abuser lived.

On some level, my experiences in that cult jump started the engine of the car on the road to my personal development, and then laid out a spike strip.

BUT!

Here I am. It’s 2020, and the world feels like it’s ending, and that, I guess, was all I really needed to push aside all the BS that doesn’t matter and focus on me, and what I want, and what would make me happy. And even though I still have fear (imagine that! the cult didn’t magically cure my fear!), I also have hope. Maybe for the first time.

-Chloe Skye

PS! Thanks for reading! This post was inspired by Jupiter Stone. I can’t remember what question she asked to make me tell this story, but I told it to her at dinner and she was like, “you should probably write a blog about that.” So, if you liked it, head over to @iamjupiterstone on IG and thank her.

Also, check out my podcast BROADS YOU SHOULD KNOW, about amazing and noteworthy (and usually overlooked) women from history. Or, if you don’t want to hear about badass and powerful women for some reason but you like watching television, I do a podcast with Jupiter Stone called SKYE AND STONE DO TELEVISION. We’ve covered Euphoria, Watchmen, and Lovecraft Country so far. I promise, we’re not only doing HBO shows on purpose, but the shows we’ve been most excited to cover in the past 15 months have all been on HBO!

The Last Leader: An Attempt at Hopeful Sci-fi

I’ve been writing more lately!

I’d hoped that doing blog posts would help me get back into it, and they have. I’ve also been freelancing a little, and I have a steady thing writing an article once a week for a local business. Being paid a little bit of money to write stuff had renewed some of the confidence that I lost during quarantine, and reminded me that writing for money is something I can continue to do, even if it feels like the world stopped spinning.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what inspires art. About the overall cultural attitude that contributes to creators while they’re creating, and how those messages change over time. Understanding art in the context of history is one of my favorite things about art, especially when the art has nothing to do with what’s happening during that moment in history.

Creating art during COVID & Trump almost feels cruel to the people who will consume it in the future. I know my writing is inspired by the world around me, even if I don’t want it to be. Even if I wish it wouldn’t be. So I’ve been trying to immerse myself in a different mentality before creating.

I’ve been trying to intentionally consume only positive and hopeful depictions of the future. I asked for recommendations on Facebook and was recommended a few things, but generally speaking, it’s been difficult to find things that don’t remind me that they were written or produced by men with very limited imaginations when it comes to the types of people who exist or could potentially exist.

The story below is my attempt at hopeful science fiction. I worry that my own imagination is sorely limited due to the time I grew up in, and the types of content I’ve consumed, but I did my best to tell a story that feels both honest and encouraging. It’s told in three parts, all many many years apart. What I ended up writing isn’t what I thought I was writing when I started, but then, nothing ever is. It’s still science fiction, and it inspires hope in me, even if it also makes me feel a bit melancholy.

But then, that’s been my emotional baseline lately: Hopeful, if a bit melancholy.

If you’re interested, enjoy reading “The Last Leader.” -Chloe ❤

The Last Leader

Discovery

“The planet is called §Æ37. We first discovered it just under a thousand years
ago. Last week, for the first time, we had a probe return from the planet with
samples. We were able to gather enough data to extrapolate backwards a few
hundred million years, at least.”

Behind Analyst Seven, the slide changed from a picture of the planet from
space to a photograph from the planet’s surface: ice and snow, as far as was visible.
Then it changed again: another photograph of a stony, ice-covered landscape.

“At this point, we have no evidence to suggest that intelligent life has ever
originated from this planet.”

“Intelligent life?” Commander One stared quizzically at the screen.

“Our rover was able to gather evidence of single-celled organisms, but they
didn’t survive the return trip. Beyond that, we haven’t found anything. It seems this
planet is very early in its evolutionary cycle. If we manage to survive and continue
monitoring for the next few million years, I believe we might witness an entire chain
of evolution. The birth of new species. It could give us clues into the mysteries of our
own existence.”

“But that isn’t why you’re here, is it?”

“No ma’am.”

“Let’s get to it.”

Analyst Seven could see there wasn’t a face in the room that wasn’t locked
onto her, intently awaiting what was coming next. She clicked her remote, and the
slide changed once more. Now, it looked like an x-ray, but not of a body. An x-ray of
a planet, with chunks of stone stacked together and compressed into varying shapes
and viscosities.

But there was something wrong.

“What’s that black square in the middle? Was something wrong with the
scanner?”

“That’s what we thought at first, too. But then we checked the other readings,
and…” the slide changed to another x-ray from a different angle. This time, the
square wasn’t so square, but appeared to be a diamond. “We discovered that
something is buried beneath the surface of the planet. We’ve checked the numbers
as many ways as we can, and they all say the same thing.”

“What do they say? What the hell is that thing?”

“We aren’t sure. But it’s a perfect cube. It’s exactly 407.3 meters on every
side, it’s about three miles deep, and the top face is perfectly parallel with the
surface. Whatever it is, it was designed. It was built. And it was buried there on
purpose.”

Commander Four was first to break the silence. “Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. We have a few working theories about what it could be,
but we don’t have a lot to go on. All we can say for sure is—”

Commander One leaned forward in her seat. “We aren’t the only intelligent
species in the universe.”


§Æ37 — 712 Solar Revolutions Later

Commander One looked out over the encampment. What had once been a
desolate and snow-covered landscape was now a bustling hive of activity. Massive
dunes of excavated earth and stone surrounded a small city of atmospheric tents
where the geologists and construction teams were stationed.

“All teams are in place, Commander.” The voice was static in her ear. “We’re
ready to open the cube.”

The image of the surface of §Æ37 blinked off, and a new image filled
Commander One’s visor: The Cube. Surrounding it was the entire team, eagerly
awaiting the doors to be opened. Some had given up their entire lifetimes, traveling
across the universe to live on an uninhabited planet for the sole purpose of finding
out what was inside.

Commander One knew what a responsibility this was. Since her elevation
from Commander Two thirteen solar revolutions prior, she’d always known the
opening of the cube would be her true legacy. In some ways, she resented that
something they’d been working on since before her conception would be what she
was remembered for. But looking out at her team, many of whom had died on this
planet, she knew it was up to her to make sure that this moment was as historic as
the buildup.

“On your command,” spoke the scientist closest to the transmitter.
Commander One couldn’t remember if she was Scientist Three or Four.

“Bring me up,” she said.

Inside the darkness on §Æ37, a hologram of Commander One appeared from
within the transmitter. The workers began to applaud.

“I want to start by saying that I’ll keep this short. I know how eager we all are
to find out what’s inside The Cube. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention
the sheer magnitude of this endeavor. A little over 700 revolutions ago, The Cube
was located by a returning rover. Since then, countless members of our community,
including everyone here today, gave up their lives at home in pursuit of the ultimate
goal: understanding. Whatever we find inside, know that it would have been
impossible without each and every one of you, and all of those who came before.”
The hologram of Commander One began to applaud. “This is for you.”

The room cheered and applauded along with her.

“Now… who wants to open it up?!”

As the cheering grew louder, Commander One gave the order.

A small team muscled the latch open. The rest of the construction team,
strapped to one another by an enormous rope, began to pull. Slowly, the door began to swing open. It took effort, and by the time they were done, every working had broken a sweat.

Engineer One grabbed the transmitter and approached the opening.

Commander One would be the first to see what was inside. Well, second. The
transmitter had a slight delay, so Engineer One would technically be first, but that wasn’t a major issue. She tried hard to push that thought out of her mind.

The image in her visor went dark for a moment as they crossed the threshold.

When the image was restored, she found herself in a chamber. Before her lay rows
and rows of computer hardware, stacked from floor to ceiling.

“What am I looking at?”

“It looks like a server farm. Whoever hid this down here was storing a
massive amount of data.”

The engineer carried the transmitter forward, down a hallway of servers. The
room remained dark; opening the door had not triggered any sort of lighting system.
“If they’re hiding data, why did they leave it abandoned for so long? Why
wasn’t the door locked?”

Behind them, the workers began entering The Cube.

“Tell them not—” Commander One began, but Engineer One had already
ordered them not to touch anything. He wouldn’t even receive her transmission for
another few seconds. Thankfully, he said nothing when he received it.

They continued down the hallway until they reached the end. Before them
was a large, dark, empty space. As soon as Engineer One stepped into it, an
enormous white light kicked on overhead.

“Everybody down!” Commander One heard him yell as her image tilted
forward. For a few seconds, all she could see was the ground. When nothing else
happened, she heard Engineer One getting to his feet.

“Sorry about that, Commander,” he said as he lifted the transmitter and
pointed it at what had formerly been a dark, empty room. Now, she could see that
this entire wall of The Cube was a monitor, and a video was playing. On the screen,
there was a small, pale-looking creature that was speaking directly to them.

“Is this live?” she asked.

Engineer One waved his hands and called out. There was no reaction from
the creature on screen.

“I don’t think so.”

“What is it saying? Can we translate?”

“We need a whole lot more context before we can decipher their language.
We’d need access to…” Engineer One trailed off.

“Access to what?”

The creature on the screen was pointing straight at them—or, more
accurately, straight at the server farm. It opened its arms wide and paused. Or
perhaps it was done speaking.

“They’ve given it to us. Everything we need to understand their language.
And who knows what else is here… they weren’t hiding this Cube. It’s a gift. They
wanted us to find it. If we plug into this, I believe we’ll have exactly what we need to
translate. Hold on.”

Engineer One approached the screen and began looking around for
something. Then it appeared he found what he was looking for. He plugged
something into the wall of The Cube and turned around to face the transmitter.

“Analyzing,” was all he said. Commander One waited impatiently while he
worked. He pulled a device out of his pocket and began clicking buttons furiously.
Then his eyes glazed over as he contacted another Engineer. When he returned, he
pressed one more button on the device, and suddenly, the voice coming from the
creature on the screen was speaking their language.

“…tunately, we don’t have much time left. Our planet is dying, and it’s entirely
our fault. Our last-ditch effort was to combine the collective knowledge of the
human race and preserve it, deep underground. What you’re standing in is
everything. Everything we ever learned. Everything we ever built. Every lesson we
failed to learn before we destroyed not just ourselves, but every bit of life on Earth.
We have no idea if anyone will ever find this. Our plan is to bury it beneath our
nation’s capitol city, where only a sufficiently advanced technology will be able to
sense its presence. Hopefully, if our planet ever recovers, or if humans somehow
manage to evolve again, you’ll be able to pick up where we left off. If you’re watching
this, then you’re it. You’re the last hope we have. Use what we’ve learned. Combine it
with your own knowledge. Stand on the shoulders of giants. With this information,
hopefully you’ll be able to see farther than we ever could. Achieve things we could
only imagine.”

Then the human on screen began to laugh.

“This is so fucking pointless.”

The screen went dark.

The room was silent.

“How long ago was this video made?” Commander One asked. “How long ago
did these… humans live here?”

“I’ve had my team running the data. Based on the current state of the surface
and the readings we’ve been sending back, if their civilization was as large as their
data suggests, they must have been wiped out at least 20 million solar revolutions
ago.”


§Æ37 (aka Earth) — 1,000 Solar Revolutions Later

“Magnificent.”

The sky grew a more pleasant hue with each passing day. Commander One
reached forward and pressed one of her feelers against the bark of a newly
sprouting tree. A cool breeze rustled the leaves and she closed her eyes to
experience the sensation.

Every planet has its wonders.

Her communicator beeped and brought her back to the present. She clicked a
button and the face of Advisor Three appeared in the air before her.

“Everyone is in place, Commander,” they spoke. “We’re ready for you.”

Commander One merely nodded before disconnecting. She rolled herself into
walking stance and headed for the lift.

She rehearsed the speech in her mind as the lift carried her to the stage. She didn’t need to, but she wasn’t sure what else to do.

The audience cheered the moment they saw her, and continued cheering until she practically begged them to stop at the podium.

“One thousand years ago, one of my predecessors made a discovery that
changed the course of this planet forever. To the members of my species, that
number is meaningless. But to your ancestors and their base-10 counting
system—probably due to the ten fingers on your hands—that number was imbued
with tremendous significance.”

The humans sat enraptured.

“It took us a long time to bring this planet back to life. Your species destroyed
everything that called this place home. But the reason we brought you back is
because you also did something profound: the best and brightest amongst you made
a plan to ensure no one would ever make the same mistake again.

“We have restored this planet. For the last thousand years, we have worked
tirelessly to create a balance of all living things. And now, on the anniversary of the
decision to restore Earth to its former glory, we would like to give you a gift.”

Curtains at the front of the stage pulled back to reveal that it had been built
above The Cube. The humans’ eyes widened in shock and bafflement.

“This is what we discovered all those years ago. We give it to you now so that
you may learn from their mistakes—because that is what they are, mistakes—and
find redemption by continuing to explore what paths of research interest you.
“We learned a lot from you. What we learned, we will bring with us to our
home, which will likely grow and change because of it.”

A bird landing on the corner of the stage caught her eye. It chirped softly,
pruned its feathers, and took off towards a line of trees in the distance.

“There is much I will miss about this place. I’ve been here over half my
lifetime, but its time for me to leave. I must return home and lead my people
through our own challenges. I am grateful to you, because after studying this place, I
know that there is a solution. What comes next, here, is for you to decide.”

Even after she was out of earshot, the applause continued. Advisor Three
intercepted her at the bottom of the lift.

“We’re leaving, Commander? All of us?”

“Yes.”

“One of the most important lessons contained in their history is that humans need to feel in control of their own future. It’s part of what doomed them in the first place—all those people fighting for control. But if they’re ever going to learn the lesson that we learned from watching their mistakes, they have to do it themselves. I’m the last leader they will ever know who they didn’t choose.”

As the last ship exited Earth’s atmosphere, Commander One took one final
look at the planet she helped restore. It looked nothing like the videos she’d seen of
those early days, the ones that were nothing but white and gray.

My Attempt at Hopeful Sci-fi

I’ve been writing more lately!

I’d hoped that doing blog posts would help me get back into it, and they have. I’ve also been freelancing a little, and I have a steady thing writing an article once a week for a local business. Being paid a little bit of money to write stuff had renewed some of the confidence that I lost during quarantine, and reminded me that writing for money is something I can continue to do, even if it feels like the world stopped spinning.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what inspires art. About the overall cultural attitude that contributes to creators while they’re creating, and how those messages change over time. Understanding art in the context of history is one of my favorite things about art, especially when the art has nothing to do with what’s happening during that moment in history.

Creating art during COVID & Trump almost feels cruel to the people who will consume it in the future. I know my writing is inspired by the world around me, even if I don’t want it to be. Even if I wish it wouldn’t be. So I’ve been trying to immerse myself in a different mentality before creating.

I’ve been trying to intentionally consume only positive and hopeful depictions of the future. I asked for recommendations on Facebook and was recommended a few things, but generally speaking, it’s been difficult to find things that don’t remind me that they were written or produced by men with very limited imaginations when it comes to the types of people who exist or could potentially exist.

The story below is my attempt at hopeful science fiction. I worry that my own imagination is sorely limited due to the time I grew up in, and the types of content I’ve consumed, but I did my best to tell a story that feels both honest and encouraging. It’s told in three parts, all many many years apart. What I ended up writing isn’t what I thought I was writing when I started, but then, nothing ever is. It’s still science fiction, and it inspires hope in me, even if it also makes me feel a bit melancholy.

But then, that’s been my emotional baseline lately: Hopeful, if a bit melancholy.

If you’re interested, enjoy reading “The Last Leader.” -Chloe ❤

The Last Leader

Discovery

“The planet is called §Æ37. We first discovered it just under a thousand years
ago. Last week, for the first time, we had a probe return from the planet with
samples. We were able to gather enough data to extrapolate backwards a few
hundred million years, at least.”

Behind Analyst Seven, the slide changed from a picture of the planet from
space to a photograph from the planet’s surface: ice and snow, as far as was visible.
Then it changed again: another photograph of a stony, ice-covered landscape.

“At this point, we have no evidence to suggest that intelligent life has ever
originated from this planet.”

“Intelligent life?” Commander One stared quizzically at the screen.

“Our rover was able to gather evidence of single-celled organisms, but they
didn’t survive the return trip. Beyond that, we haven’t found anything. It seems this
planet is very early in its evolutionary cycle. If we manage to survive and continue
monitoring for the next few million years, I believe we might witness an entire chain
of evolution. The birth of new species. It could give us clues into the mysteries of our
own existence.”

“But that isn’t why you’re here, is it?”

“No ma’am.”

“Let’s get to it.”

Analyst Seven could see there wasn’t a face in the room that wasn’t locked
onto her, intently awaiting what was coming next. She clicked her remote, and the
slide changed once more. Now, it looked like an x-ray, but not of a body. An x-ray of
a planet, with chunks of stone stacked together and compressed into varying shapes
and viscosities.

But there was something wrong.

“What’s that black square in the middle? Was something wrong with the
scanner?”

“That’s what we thought at first, too. But then we checked the other readings,
and…” the slide changed to another x-ray from a different angle. This time, the
square wasn’t so square, but appeared to be a diamond. “We discovered that
something is buried beneath the surface of the planet. We’ve checked the numbers
as many ways as we can, and they all say the same thing.”

“What do they say? What the hell is that thing?”

“We aren’t sure. But it’s a perfect cube. It’s exactly 407.3 meters on every
side, it’s about three miles deep, and the top face is perfectly parallel with the
surface. Whatever it is, it was designed. It was built. And it was buried there on
purpose.”

Commander Four was first to break the silence. “Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. We have a few working theories about what it could be,
but we don’t have a lot to go on. All we can say for sure is—”

Commander One leaned forward in her seat. “We aren’t the only intelligent
species in the universe.”


§Æ37 — 712 Solar Revolutions Later

Commander One looked out over the encampment. What had once been a
desolate and snow-covered landscape was now a bustling hive of activity. Massive
dunes of excavated earth and stone surrounded a small city of atmospheric tents
where the geologists and construction teams were stationed.

“All teams are in place, Commander.” The voice was static in her ear. “We’re
ready to open the cube.”

The image of the surface of §Æ37 blinked off, and a new image filled
Commander One’s visor: The Cube. Surrounding it was the entire team, eagerly
awaiting the doors to be opened. Some had given up their entire lifetimes, traveling
across the universe to live on an uninhabited planet for the sole purpose of finding
out what was inside.

Commander One knew what a responsibility this was. Since her elevation
from Commander Two thirteen solar revolutions prior, she’d always known the
opening of the cube would be her true legacy. In some ways, she resented that
something they’d been working on since before her conception would be what she
was remembered for. But looking out at her team, many of whom had died on this
planet, she knew it was up to her to make sure that this moment was as historic as
the buildup.

“On your command,” spoke the scientist closest to the transmitter.
Commander One couldn’t remember if she was Scientist Three or Four.

“Bring me up,” she said.

Inside the darkness on §Æ37, a hologram of Commander One appeared from
within the transmitter. The workers began to applaud.

“I want to start by saying that I’ll keep this short. I know how eager we all are
to find out what’s inside The Cube. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention
the sheer magnitude of this endeavor. A little over 700 revolutions ago, The Cube
was located by a returning rover. Since then, countless members of our community,
including everyone here today, gave up their lives at home in pursuit of the ultimate
goal: understanding. Whatever we find inside, know that it would have been
impossible without each and every one of you, and all of those who came before.”
The hologram of Commander One began to applaud. “This is for you.”

The room cheered and applauded along with her.

“Now… who wants to open it up?!”

As the cheering grew louder, Commander One gave the order.

A small team muscled the latch open. The rest of the construction team,
strapped to one another by an enormous rope, began to pull. Slowly, the door began to swing open. It took effort, and by the time they were done, every working had broken a sweat.

Engineer One grabbed the transmitter and approached the opening.

Commander One would be the first to see what was inside. Well, second. The
transmitter had a slight delay, so Engineer One would technically be first, but that wasn’t a major issue. She tried hard to push that thought out of her mind.

The image in her visor went dark for a moment as they crossed the threshold.

When the image was restored, she found herself in a chamber. Before her lay rows
and rows of computer hardware, stacked from floor to ceiling.

“What am I looking at?”

“It looks like a server farm. Whoever hid this down here was storing a
massive amount of data.”

The engineer carried the transmitter forward, down a hallway of servers. The
room remained dark; opening the door had not triggered any sort of lighting system.
“If they’re hiding data, why did they leave it abandoned for so long? Why
wasn’t the door locked?”

Behind them, the workers began entering The Cube.

“Tell them not—” Commander One began, but Engineer One had already
ordered them not to touch anything. He wouldn’t even receive her transmission for
another few seconds. Thankfully, he said nothing when he received it.

They continued down the hallway until they reached the end. Before them
was a large, dark, empty space. As soon as Engineer One stepped into it, an
enormous white light kicked on overhead.

“Everybody down!” Commander One heard him yell as her image tilted
forward. For a few seconds, all she could see was the ground. When nothing else
happened, she heard Engineer One getting to his feet.

“Sorry about that, Commander,” he said as he lifted the transmitter and
pointed it at what had formerly been a dark, empty room. Now, she could see that
this entire wall of The Cube was a monitor, and a video was playing. On the screen,
there was a small, pale-looking creature that was speaking directly to them.

“Is this live?” she asked.

Engineer One waved his hands and called out. There was no reaction from
the creature on screen.

“I don’t think so.”

“What is it saying? Can we translate?”

“We need a whole lot more context before we can decipher their language.
We’d need access to…” Engineer One trailed off.

“Access to what?”

The creature on the screen was pointing straight at them—or, more
accurately, straight at the server farm. It opened its arms wide and paused. Or
perhaps it was done speaking.

“They’ve given it to us. Everything we need to understand their language.
And who knows what else is here… they weren’t hiding this Cube. It’s a gift. They
wanted us to find it. If we plug into this, I believe we’ll have exactly what we need to
translate. Hold on.”

Engineer One approached the screen and began looking around for
something. Then it appeared he found what he was looking for. He plugged
something into the wall of The Cube and turned around to face the transmitter.

“Analyzing,” was all he said. Commander One waited impatiently while he
worked. He pulled a device out of his pocket and began clicking buttons furiously.
Then his eyes glazed over as he contacted another Engineer. When he returned, he
pressed one more button on the device, and suddenly, the voice coming from the
creature on the screen was speaking their language.

“…tunately, we don’t have much time left. Our planet is dying, and it’s entirely
our fault. Our last-ditch effort was to combine the collective knowledge of the
human race and preserve it, deep underground. What you’re standing in is
everything. Everything we ever learned. Everything we ever built. Every lesson we
failed to learn before we destroyed not just ourselves, but every bit of life on Earth.
We have no idea if anyone will ever find this. Our plan is to bury it beneath our
nation’s capitol city, where only a sufficiently advanced technology will be able to
sense its presence. Hopefully, if our planet ever recovers, or if humans somehow
manage to evolve again, you’ll be able to pick up where we left off. If you’re watching
this, then you’re it. You’re the last hope we have. Use what we’ve learned. Combine it
with your own knowledge. Stand on the shoulders of giants. With this information,
hopefully you’ll be able to see farther than we ever could. Achieve things we could
only imagine.”

Then the human on screen began to laugh.

“This is so fucking pointless.”

The screen went dark.

The room was silent.

“How long ago was this video made?” Commander One asked. “How long ago
did these… humans live here?”

“I’ve had my team running the data. Based on the current state of the surface
and the readings we’ve been sending back, if their civilization was as large as their
data suggests, they must have been wiped out at least 20 million solar revolutions
ago.”


§Æ37 (aka Earth) — 1,000 Solar Revolutions Later

“Magnificent.”

The sky grew a more pleasant hue with each passing day. Commander One
reached forward and pressed one of her feelers against the bark of a newly
sprouting tree. A cool breeze rustled the leaves and she closed her eyes to
experience the sensation.

Every planet has its wonders.

Her communicator beeped and brought her back to the present. She clicked a
button and the face of Advisor Three appeared in the air before her.

“Everyone is in place, Commander,” they spoke. “We’re ready for you.”

Commander One merely nodded before disconnecting. She rolled herself into
walking stance and headed for the lift.

She rehearsed the speech in her mind as the lift carried her to the stage. She didn’t need to, but she wasn’t sure what else to do.

The audience cheered the moment they saw her, and continued cheering until she practically begged them to stop at the podium.

“One thousand years ago, one of my predecessors made a discovery that
changed the course of this planet forever. To the members of my species, that
number is meaningless. But to your ancestors and their base-10 counting
system—probably due to the ten fingers on your hands—that number was imbued
with tremendous significance.”

The humans sat enraptured.

“It took us a long time to bring this planet back to life. Your species destroyed
everything that called this place home. But the reason we brought you back is
because you also did something profound: the best and brightest amongst you made
a plan to ensure no one would ever make the same mistake again.

“We have restored this planet. For the last thousand years, we have worked
tirelessly to create a balance of all living things. And now, on the anniversary of the
decision to restore Earth to its former glory, we would like to give you a gift.”

Curtains at the front of the stage pulled back to reveal that it had been built
above The Cube. The humans’ eyes widened in shock and bafflement.

“This is what we discovered all those years ago. We give it to you now so that
you may learn from their mistakes—because that is what they are, mistakes—and
find redemption by continuing to explore what paths of research interest you.
“We learned a lot from you. What we learned, we will bring with us to our
home, which will likely grow and change because of it.”

A bird landing on the corner of the stage caught her eye. It chirped softly,
pruned its feathers, and took off towards a line of trees in the distance.

“There is much I will miss about this place. I’ve been here over half my
lifetime, but its time for me to leave. I must return home and lead my people
through our own challenges. I am grateful to you, because after studying this place, I
know that there is a solution. What comes next, here, is for you to decide.”

Even after she was out of earshot, the applause continued. Advisor Three
intercepted her at the bottom of the lift.

“We’re leaving, Commander? All of us?”

“Yes.”

“One of the most important lessons contained in their history is that humans need to feel in control of their own future. It’s part of what doomed them in the first place—all those people fighting for control. But if they’re ever going to learn the lesson that we learned from watching their mistakes, they have to do it themselves. I’m the last leader they will ever know who they didn’t choose.”

As the last ship exited Earth’s atmosphere, Commander One took one final
look at the planet she helped restore. It looked nothing like the videos she’d seen of
those early days, the ones that were nothing but white and gray.

I’m Not the “Trans Police”

I decided to write this post a week or so ago, because I was noticing a trend in regards to how people began to speak to me differently after coming out. Sometimes, three or four people will say *the exact same thing* to you in regards to a subject, and that to me usually feels like a coincidence. But when it turns into eight, nine, ten people all saying, nearly word-for-word, the same thing, I feel like I may have stumbled upon something that’s more cultural than I might have otherwise thought.

The overwhelming response to my coming out as trans can be boiled down to one phrase: “I’m so happy for you; I really, really don’t want to make any mistakes.”

I imagine it’s a similar thing as to what happens when someone tells you something terrible happened in their lives, like the death of a grandparent. You just aren’t quite sure what to say, and you want to be reassuring and consoling, but you also don’t want to step on any feelings and say the wrong thing, so you just say, “I’m so sorry, I have no idea what to say, I’m so sorry.”

At least, that’s what I do. There’s usually a period of forethought, maybe 10 to 15 minutes, where I’m just running through the entire list of possible responses, and eventually I just go, “fuck it, there’s nothing I can say that will make this any better, so I’ll just acknowledge the pain and move on.”

Obviously, my circumstances are quite a bit different. My grandparent didn’t die: I did. Or at least, the version of me that you knew. “Justin Xavier” died (and to that I say, good riddance! He was just a collection of other people’s fears & insecurities and I never much enjoyed being him in the first place). This is not, however, a sorrowful or mournful death. It is a rebirth, and I finally feel capable of being who I want and accomplishing what I want to in my life.

And that brings me back to the purpose of this particular blog post. I know you don’t know what to say. I know you’re scared of treading on my feelings and making me feel unsafe or unseen. But I just want to say, to everyone: it is absolutely okay that you make mistakes.

I’m making them, too! I referred to myself as “he/him” and “a regular white guy” for 30 years. I introduced myself by a male name. I had jokes made about my male-ness. I wrote entire novels about myself as a male. And sometimes, when I’m not paying attention, or when I’m focused on something else, I slip up.

I’ve referred to myself as “Luna’s Dad” a good half dozen times since coming out, and it’s not because I feel fatherly or because I think I’m actually a man, it’s just because it’s a habit. When you do something for 30 years and then decide to do it differently moving forward, there’s always a transitional period where you have to catch yourself and correct your own errors.

And I’ve been thinking of myself as a woman for a good 6 months.

I fully understand that this is new for you. I am so, so grateful to the people who have adapted quickly and are referring to me as Chloe and using she/her pronouns. But I also have no hard feelings when my friends (especially people I’ve known for years!) accidentally refer to me by the name they always knew me as.

I’m never going to be offended if I know you’re trying. I’m never going to be offended if you make an honest mistake. I’m not the “trans police,” out here trying to make sure everyone else is perfectly adhering to the “trans rules,” and honestly, I’m pretty new to this world so I’m sure I’m making mistakes that I don’t even understand yet.

Now, all this being said… Please don’t use this article as an excuse to give up trying. Don’t be the person who goes, “oh, cool, she gave me permission to make mistakes, I don’t even have to put in effort anymore.” If it becomes an ongoing issue, it’s going to start feeling less like an honest mistake and more like a complete lack of empathy, and that isn’t going to sit well with me for long. ALSO… don’t use this as an excuse to mistreat or misgender other trans people. I don’t speak for all trans people, I speak for myself. I know there are trans men and women out there who may not agree with me on this point.

If you call me Chloe, you get the added benefit of putting a smile on my face and endearing yourself to me to an even greater degree than you already are 🙂

I’m the same person you remember… I’m just a whole lot happier now. I finally feel the freedom to live my life for myself, instead of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of who they felt I was “supposed” to be.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting. Thank you to everyone who poured love into my world when I came out.

-Chloe

COVID Diary: Losing Hope

I honestly don’t know what to say.

I keep wanting to write about how fucking lonely and depressing being quarantined is, but everything I write feels hollow and pointless.

I can already hear all the responses I might get from people after I post this. “Cheer up, we’re with you.” “Hey, it’s okay, Chloe, we love you!” “Are you okay? You can talk to me!”

I’m grateful to have those people in my life who are willing to be an ear and a helpful voice in the darkness. I’m grateful that there are people out there who do have hope.

But what if we’re all wrong? What if there is no hope? What if our planet is truly doomed, and the only hope it has left, and the only hope the rest of the living creatures on this planet have, is if the human race is completely destroyed? I mean, what good are we doing? What’s the point of any of this?

I worked a job where we tutored children. And one of my roles at that job was to call up people who hadn’t payed their monthly fee and try to get them to pay. One day, I called up a woman who sounded like she was about to have a complete emotional break.

“I’m so sorry about the money,” she said. “My husband died, and I’m dying. I may only have six months left. I’ll definitely pay you, because the last thing I want to leave my son before I die is an education. I have to know that he’s going to be okay after he loses both of his parents.”

When I brought this story to the owner, to the other managers, there was only one response: “So she didn’t pay yet?”

And my heart broke in two. I quit that job the next day.

What I’ve learned, the more jobs I’ve had and the more people I’ve worked for, is that there are pretty much only two options: Care about people, or make money.

And holy fuck, there are a LOT of people out there who are solely trying to make money. To “get theirs.” And once they do, they just… stop giving a fuck about all the other people. Maybe they donate a little money to charity once in awhile, to make themselves feel better, but I’m living in one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles county and I can say that it isn’t doing shit.

Every day, my street has a new homeless person living on it. Some of them, I know, because they used to be my neighbors. I then know the whole story: COVID put them out of work, they weren’t able to afford rent, and even though they aren’t legally able to be evicted, that doesn’t stop the eviction paperwork. The first month I wasn’t able to pay rent (before Unemployment kicked in), I received an eviction notice. I see them up on the doors around my complex, around the 5th of the month, every single month. It’s never the same doors, but there’s a man (the manager) whose ONLY JOB at this point is to go around trying to get money out of these people.

That was my job, back at the tutoring center. I’m sympathetic to the situation, but I can’t help but feel the entire system is just fucking heartless.

“WORK HARD OR ELSE!” is the motto of the world.

“What if there are no jobs?” millions of people say.

“THEN YOU DON’T DESERVE TO HAVE A HOME OR FOOD!” they say.

And once they’re on the street, the police roll in and “relocate” them, or kill them.

I don’t want to live in this world anymore. Every day, I see it get worse. Every day, I see more and more people I’ve considered my friends saying truly awful things about “The Unemployed,” not realizing they’re talking about me. Every day, I see people saying horrible things about transgendered individuals, not realizing that they’re talking about me. Every day, there’s a new “trending topic” that reveals to me the sinister true beliefs and feelings of so many of those people I’ve considered to be “good.”

Maybe our species was a mistake. And if so, what are we all still doing here?

Civilization has wrecked this planet. We’ve just about tilled all the farmland for what it’s worth, eradicated hundreds (if not thousands) of species, polluted the atmosphere, filled the oceans with our trash, and we’re not showing any signs of slowing down.

What if the only chance we have is to stop? To end ourselves, before it gets worse? I mean, how many times do we have to go through the cycle of ending slave labor & concentration camps before we realize that we can’t treat people like objects, and start treating one another with love and compassion?

I don’t know what to do. I’ve used up the last ounce of hope I had left. The world, and nearly all of the people in it, have left me feeling used, abused, spit out, chewed up, stomped on, and kicked aside. If I don’t have anything “meaningful” to “contribute” to “society,” then I suppose I might as well not fucking exist, eh?

I don’t want to alarm anyone by using this word, because it’s a very heavy word that a lot of people have associations with, and there are a lot of preconceived notions about the “type of person” who thinks about things like this, but I want to talk about suicide.

I’m not at a place where I feel suicide is my “only option.” I’m not at a place where I feel like “it’s the only way to end the pain.” But I am at a place where I’m thinking, “it sounds a whole lot better than what my life currently is, and probably a whole lot better than anything my life could become.”

I think people react too selfishly to someone else’s suicide. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to say when we want to leave this world? We didn’t choose to be here in the first place, and it’s honestly a terrible, painful place to be. The more I see and the more I learn, the more I empathize and feel everyone else’s pain. I can’t stop myself from imagining the life of a Huigar Muslim in the Chinese concentration camps. I can’t stop myself from imagining the absolute pain and turmoil the Mexican children in America’s border facilities must be feeling; the ones who have been taken from their parents and will likely never see them again. I can’t stop myself from feeling the pain of the families of the men and women who are murdered by our police force with no repercussions. I feel the fear and terror of the Lebanese citizens who may not get food and water before they die at home.

All day, every day, I can’t stop feeling the pain.

And I’ve been reading self help books. I’ve been talking to a therapist. I’ve been doing gratitude journals every morning, trying to find the little things to be happy about, to be grateful for, to be excited for. But nothing helps. No matter how many of these mental health tricks I do, I still just watch every day as my fellow humans destroy each other.

And I don’t want to feel it anymore. I don’t want to watch and not be able to do anything. I don’t want to have to get a job to help make money for the people who are causing all of these problems, just to have them look down on me as a lesser person because I wasn’t lucky enough to be born into their family.

So if you ask me, “Chloe, do you want to kill yourself?”, the answer is, “No.”

No I don’t want to. But do I feel it might be the only recourse I have left? Do I feel like, one day very soon, it might be the only thing I can do to try to help the billions of other lives on this planet?

Yes.

I’m still here. I’m still in this. But I don’t believe I’m going to live to be 100. I don’t believe I’m going to be sitting on a rocking chair on a porch in my old age. I firmly believe there will be a day where I choose to end things myself, not because I’m too sad, but because there’s just nothing for me here.

Maybe I’ll feel differently if this Pandemic ever ends. Maybe I’ll change my mind if we manage to turn things around and start helping people instead of treating everyone like equipment. But I’m really, really losing hope that that’s ever going to happen.

The “Coming Out” Hangover

The day I came out to the world was filled with love, support, and encouragement. It was a day where I felt validated, beautiful, and capable of anything. I went to bed with a smile on my face, feeling good about my choices in who I’ve picked as friends over the years.

And then I woke up the next day filled with more anxiety than I had before I came out. I suddenly felt this overwhelming pressure to conform to society’s sexist and stereotypical ideas of what a woman is “supposed” to be.

I had a game of Dungeons and Dragons scheduled for a little later in the week, and went into full-on panic mode, fearful that my friends would roll their eyes or give me a hard time for not putting on a full face of make-up or “looking more feminine.” I’d already been asked by someone, “if you aren’t going to change your appearance, what’s the point of identifying as a woman at all?”

So I bought some makeup (that I actually really like and I’m excited to try out). Not much, mind you, I’m still trying to spend as little as possible while we’re all on quarantine, but enough to put on a full face and feel good about the way I looked.

But I’ve never presented that way publicly before. And I haven’t had a lot of practice putting makeup on. And I’m color-blind, so there’s always this underlying fear that whatever I do, even if it looks good to me, is going to look like hot garbage to the 95% of the population that has one more color cone in their eyes than I do. Add to that the fact that I only own a single dress that I bought at a thrift shop in 2015 (but it somehow fits me better now than it did then). Add to that the fact that it seems completely absurd to get dressed up to play a game over the internet via Skype that I never bothered to get dressed up for even when we were still playing in person.

It took me awhile to realize that I was experiencing some extreme dysphoria. I thought I’d felt dysphoria before, before I came out. I thought the feeling of “I don’t think I’m a man. I feel more like a woman” was the dysphoria, but I was wrong. The dysphoria kicked in after the fact. It started happening not because I wanted to present differently, but because I felt other people might now expect me to.

Growing up “male,” and following the “rules” of being male, meant I never had any girl friends to help me learn the “skills” of being a woman. My mother never sat me down to have a conversation about boys. My sisters and I never played dress-up. Coming to this new internal realization later in life means I’ve suddenly thrust myself into a world that I have no skills for. And it’s terrifying.

The other frustrating part is that the reason I came out isn’t because I want to present differently, it’s because I want to present accurately. At this point, I have a long journey ahead of me before I know what that even means. I don’t know what my “style” is.

I never really thought of clothes as anything other than an unfortunate societal necessity. As a male, shopping for clothes was always the most miserable, painful experience. I’ve come to the understanding that I actually enjoy shopping for clothes, I just didn’t like the options that were available to me as a male (and my opinions were rarely heard anyway, so what did it matter?).

Fairly recently, but before I came out to anyone, my girlfriend asked me my opinion on something that she was wearing, and I gave it. She seemed rather surprised by my answer. I thought I had offended her, so I started apologizing, and she said, “no… I’ve just never met a guy with such strong opinions on women’s clothing.”

I thought about it for a minute and remembered: this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. A flood of memories came to me at once. Every girl I’ve ever dated has, at some point or another, said roughly the same thing to me. It’s just that before now, I always thought that meant there was something wrong with me. I always thought it meant I was failing as a boyfriend, and that I should keep my opinions to myself.

Well, Dungeons & Dragons was cancelled due to illness, and my first time Skypeing anyone happened yesterday during a recording of my podcast Broads You Should Know (about amazing and noteworthy women who live by their own rules). I felt confident that neither of my co-hosts would judge me for showing up how I usually do, but I still felt some amount of pressure to “make it seem real,” so I threw on some mascara and a long black robe.

I felt a little silly afterwards, because there wasn’t a single issue. I just haven’t yet learned how to cope with the fact that I’m not always going to live up to people’s expectations. I have to learn how to be okay with that, and just confidently go through life as myself. And before I can do that, I need to spend some time figuring out how exactly I want to present, and how I can go about acquiring the skills & clothing that I feel are an accurate representation of who I really am inside.

–Chloe

PS! D&D is scheduled again this week, but thanks to the BYSK recording session I’m definitely less afraid than I was before. Now the main concern is whether or now we’ll roll well. We’re trying to pull off a heist this week and we lost our Rogue recently so we’re gonna have to improvise… Wish us lucky rolls, because a couple weeks ago I rolled a nat1 (with advantage!!) and ended up getting my soul devoured by a Devourer so my character’s a little bit trepidatious lately.

Why I Decided to Come Out as Trans During a Pandemic

First off, wow. That didn’t take long. I think we’re only three weeks out from when I said I hoped this blog would help me find the courage to come out, and I’ve already changed my name publicly on all social media, and I made a big ol’ post about my new name & identity. I’m Chloe Jade Skye, and I’m here to stay.

So… why now? How did I get here? What led to this decision? And… now that I have a name, is the title of the blog going to stay the same…?

BIG QUESTIONS! Don’t worry. I’m going to get around to all of them.

So… why now?

I’d be lying if I said current events weren’t a factor. The combination of being locked indoors for over four months, the collapsing economy, and the general sense of isolation and doom we’re all feeling because of COVID really made me ask myself, “What am I so afraid of? What the hell am I waiting for?!”

I couldn’t scratch the thought, “If I die next week, I’m going to be pretty devastated that I never had the chance to show people who I really am.” I don’t think I’m the only person thinking, LIFE IS SHORT!

So, privately, over the last few months, I’ve been exploring my gender. Allowing myself to truly feel the things that I always just had a hunch were true. And even though the world feels like it’s falling apart, I’ve found happiness in my own personal growth and evolution. The issue was, all of the personal development that I was doing in secret was taking me farther and farther away from the person I was playing socially. When I was alone, or with my partner, I was free to be myself. But as “myself” evolved, it became more and more difficult to embody my old self. “Snapping back,” so to speak, was getting harder and harder.

And I started to realize that, on top of constantly pausing my growth to play an older version of myself, I was holding myself back from growing further. Things that I wanted to do, like post pictures of myself in makeup and dresses, weren’t happening, because I was afraid someone might find out.

So… I started this blog. Because I thought, maybe if I have a place to put all of my worries and thoughts and lessons and growth, I won’t feel the need to put it anywhere else. But that only made it worse! Once I’d written about all my thoughts and fears, and once strangers had read them, and validated me, and encouraged and supported me… I wasn’t feeling the fear anymore!

“But I’m not ready.”

Brief detour. I’ve been watching The West Wing. I never watched it when it was on, so this is my first time through. I got to the season 3 episode where the president has to go to therapy because Toby tells him his father never liked him. And the therapist tells the president that the reason he always “plays it safe,” the reason he never takes a stand for what he really believes in, is because he’s still trying to win his father’s approval. It’s more important for him to play a little dumb so that more people like him.

And it was the final nail in the coffin. It clicked all of the last pieces into place for me. Why I wasn’t coming forward. Why I was afraid I would alienate my friends. Why I constantly pretend to be someone I’m not because I think it will make me more socially acceptable.

And when I sat down to write my blog post for the weekend, everything I wanted to write felt false. Every post I wanted to write about my growth or how far I’ve come, or “what I learned this week in my gender exploration”… it all felt like bullshit. Because what I really learned was that it’s more important to say something than it is to fit in. And in a country where it feels like almost every day transgender rights are rolled back another decade, I couldn’t just sit back and let all of my trans brothers and sisters fight alone.

So I came out. And I was terrified. But I did it anyway.

I have to say… it went over exceptionally well. It makes me feel a little silly for being so afraid for so long. I didn’t even realize, but I had a little list in my head of all the people in my life who I hoped I wouldn’t lose. People I was afraid wouldn’t understand, or who would react negatively. But within the first 2 hours of my post, every single one of those people, and some people I never would have imagined, responded with love, support, and encouragement.

There’s another bunch of people who I know for certain will reject me, but… fuck those people. I don’t have time in my life for those people.

Now! What I’m sure is the REAL reason you came to this blog: Am I keeping the title? Does “A Trans Girl Has No Name” apply when you actually do have a name?

I’m keeping it. I think it does something special, in that it captures a moment. It’s the perfect title for the moment that I’m sure happens in a lot of trans women’s lives. The moment where you know you’re trans, and you’re ready to start exploring, but you have no idea what your name is supposed to be. I believe it’s a moment that binds us together. The realization of, “I am not the name that was chosen for me.”

Much like the journey of Arya Stark (or Cat of the Canals, or any of those identities) from A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s not meant to be a permanent destination. It’s a growth opportunity. You shed your name. You assume no identity at all. And during that time, you’re able to look deep into yourself and see who you really are, and decide who you want to be.

For Arya Stark (at least on the show), that meant choosing her old identity. For me, it meant choosing a new one. One that more fully encompasses and represents who I feel I am inside. One that ensures the people who stay in my life will only be the most open-minded. One where I don’t have to pretend to be anything less than I am.

So… what is this blog going to become?

It’s going to be a place where I continue to explore my gender, for sure. I’ll post stories about transformative moments in my life where I considered that I might not fit my gender identity, or moments that scared or shamed me into hiding myself. I’ll write about the struggle to come out. I’ll write my experience.

But I also want to write about things that have nothing to do with being trans. I’ve been a writer a lot longer than I’ve been a woman, and I have ideas that have nothing to do with gender. So I’ll post some short stories I’ve been working on, and maybe some other stuff, as well. I’m not 100% sure what this blog is going to become, but I know it’s something I’m going to devote a lot of time to.

Hopefully “A Trans Girl Has No Name” clues people into the fact that it’s going to be a little bit nerdy. If not, well… some people might be in for a surprise 🙂

-Chloe Jade Skye, July 26 2020

Claiming My Identity

It’s amazing what the simple act of starting a blog can do.

I mean, I guess I did more than just “start a blog.” I think on a personal level what I did was, “internalize my truth.” Before the blog was even a twinkle in my eye, I constantly struggled with my trans identity. More to the point: I didn’t really have one. I knew I felt more like a woman than a man. I knew I wanted to be a woman. But the concept of actually calling myself “a trans woman” was terrifying.

Mostly, the fear was of other people. The “What Will They Think?!” of it all. Fear of no one believing me. Fear of discovering that I was somehow wrong about my feelings, like there’s some checklist for “Being A Woman” out there, and I’d find out I was a few ticks short. Fear of people playing nice to my face but harboring resentments and judgments inside. (But then, how would that be different from my every day life?)

For close to a year now, I’ve had exactly two confidants. People who I trusted to speak with about my identity, but only in private — only in hushed whispers; whispers rooted in shame. And every time we’ve had the conversation about how I feel about my gender, it’s essentially been the same conversation. I wasn’t progressing in any measurable or meaningful way, and it had nothing to do with them. They were both good listeners, willing to let me speak without judgment or interruption, who encouraged me many times, in many small ways, to explore my gender instead of just thinking about it. They were opening up a space for me to allow myself to let go of the male facade that I’ve been holding up for so long, but I was the one who was afraid.

Of myself.

The act of CLAIMING an identity is powerful. It allows you permission to feel something that you already believe or know to be true. It changes shame into confidence, confusion into certainty, & fear into strength. And I think that’s what starting this blog was for me. In the short week since launching it, I’ve said and done things I never imagined I’d be comfortable doing so early in my process (I hesitate to use the word “transition” only because I’m not sure if that terminology directly implies being on hormones, which I currently am not, and could not afford). I’ve put on clothes that I would have been terrified to see myself in before. I’ve taken cute photos where I liked the way I looked (which I honestly don’t think has ever happened before, ever). I’ve said, out loud, the words, “I am a trans woman” and “I am a woman” more times than in the rest of my life combined. And this time… it didn’t feel like something that could be disputed. It felt like something that is true, rather than something I wish were true.

Of course, everything good comes with a little bit of bad. It took me less than a week to get my first hater. Some nameless, faceless IG account for an organization that had something to do with God sent me a message because they had something super important to tell me. They didn’t care if I had anything going on, or how I was feeling, because this bit of information — hoo, boy — this bit of information was going to change the game. According to this person, there’s no such thing as being Trans! God never intended for transgenderism to exist, because there is no biological precedent for it. Therefore, I was suffering from a mental illness and the fact that I had started an IG account AT ALL was proof that I was trying to force this person to disobey their God!!!

It was literally the thing I was always afraid of. I was shocked to discover that my reaction wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. Instead of being sad, angry, or hurt (the ways I always reacted before when I saw someone commenting this shit on another trans person’s page)… no, I felt empowered.

My existence is apparently such a threat to this person’s ideology — and life — that they took an hour out of their day to send me a message filled with hate. But not hate for me, hate for themself (I struggled with whether or not this is a word. What’s the gender-neutral singular version of what I’m saying here? Is ‘themself’ acceptable?). I made this person waste their time, their energy, their data… by living. By existing at all.

If this is all it takes to fight the hateful, bring it the fuck on.

I responded by saying, “You don’t think trans people exist, and I don’t think God exists, so I guess we all have something.” (Their response: “How dare you try to force your beliefs onto me!”, followed by blocking me.)

At the same time, I’m willing to accept the possibility that this was a fluke. Maybe this particular person didn’t upset me because their hatred was rooted in God’s judgment, and I, an atheist, am immune from such punishment. Maybe the next person will dig at something deep inside me, and it’ll tear me apart. But somehow I doubt it.

Not to say I won’t ever be affected by anything hateful that anyone says to me online again, I’m still human, flawed, and quite abnormal, but this felt different. I’ve argued with those religious haters online before. I’ve felt burned and hurt by their words before. But today I felt nothing.

Who knew the way to feel confident in your identity is to say it out loud? I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m feeling more and more confident about coming out to more people in my life.

I’m not going to rush myself, but empowerment is a fantastic feeling.

-A Trans Girl Has No Name

P.S. OH! I know I’m late to the party, but I finally finished The Wachowskis’ Sense8 on Netflix, and it is in the running for top 5 television series of all time. The Wachowskis have always been some of my favorite filmmakers, but I don’t know what stopped me from finishing their Magnum Opus. I’m going to write a longer piece on here breaking down their entire filmography at some point (Cloud Atlas alone may be a multi-blog thesis), so I’m not going to say too much, but Sense8 so perfectly expresses the ideas, “We are so much stronger together than alone,” “love conquers hate,” & “claim your identity!” that it’s quite possibly I’m still just riding a high from finishing that series and that’s why GodloverIGPerson didn’t offend me.

Anyways, thanks so much for reading and I’ll be back sometime next weekend 🙂

Defining “Womanhood”

Being a writer, I’m naturally someone who interrogates our collective definitions & understandings of words. As a writer who is also a woman in transition, a word that’s been on my mind a lot lately is “womanhood.” What does it mean to be a woman, and why is that such a nebulous concept that so many people (including lots of women!) disagree on?

Most people have the luxury of never having to question their gender identity. This is probably because most people tend to align with the gender they are assigned — their biological sex & gender identity line up perfectly (or, perhaps not perfectly, but close enough not to arouse suspicion). And for those people who believe gender to be entirely determined by biology, the thought of questioning their assigned gender may feel like some form of cruel joke.

For the majority of my lived experience, I fell into that latter camp. Raised in an ultra-conservative Catholic home, I was taught that there are only two genders, and they are determined by your genitalia/sex organs (intersex people, I was told, were a “mistake”!). Sometimes, I lay awake at night remembering times in high school when I argued “even if you surgically change your genitals, your DNA won’t change, and a clone of you would still have those original genitals. How can you argue with science?” I was incapable of seeing the difference between sex & gender (and also why it mattered).

This is because I was locked into a rigid set of beliefs — it didn’t matter what people “felt,” it mattered what was “verifiable.” The data I was willing to accept were only the data that matched my pre-existing beliefs, and everything else (even if it included mountains of evidence) was discarded. Masculinity and femininity were not concepts that lived inside of everyone and were there for us to explore, but rather fixed criteria that you either matched or didn’t. Anyone who dared check boxes on the “wrong” list or blur those lines in any way was a sinner, spitting in the face of God’s grand design.

Only… I didn’t match my own criteria. I had “male” genitals, but I actively disliked most things described as “masculine” traits or interests. Sports, cars, brotherhood, getting laid, strength, no emotions, dominance, survival… these are the things that men in our modern society are taught to love & revere. They are concepts to aspire to, to measure yourself by, and to compare yourself to others using. They are also things that I wholly rejected.

To excel in sports, one must bury their emotions & devote themselves to an ideal of “excellence,” which usually means “superiority” or “dominance.” Both of those things actively disinterested me. I wanted to stay in at recess and create. When my parents put me into the Boy Scouts (despite my protests), it meant heading into the wilderness and learning “survival” skills, most of which involved killing something. Whether it was fishing, hunting, gun shooting, or archery, we were being trained to track, hunt, and kill in order to survive.

Boy Scouts also meant being surrounded by men and boys, most of whom I found to be morally reprehensible in the ways they treated themselves, their sons, and most notably their wives and daughters. The way they would talk about being married, as if it was something they’d been forced into and were suffering through, and only this “bro time” could possibly bring them any amount of satisfaction. This led me to believe that marriage was an inherently poisonous institution — because even though I knew many, many people who were married, I had yet to meet a person who actually enjoyed it.

Although I disliked (and often reviled) what it took to “be a man,” I can’t lie and say that I disliked feeling superior. The unspoken truth behind the “bro code” is that all women are beneath men — they wanted what we had, and would lie, cheat, manipulate, and abuse us in order to get it (the term you may have heard is “penis envy,” although with a lot of hindsight I suppose I’d re-categorize that as “male privilege envy”). We had to look out for each other, and avoid allowing any of our friends to become “pussy-whipped,” the catch-all put-down that just meant someone had the audacity to respect their partner’s boundaries, aka “giving away their power.” Like all things, looking for “proof” that women were lesser, more fragile, overly emotional beings was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as subject to confirmation bias as anything.

Secretly, I wished I could be allowed into girls groups. I wanted to be a Girl Scout — my sisters were both girl scouts, and at one of the meetings I “had” to attend (I think my mom was in charge of snacks and couldn’t take me home?), even though I wasn’t allowed to participate, I so wanted to sit in the feelings circle, design bracelets, & make friends without worrying that they might tease me or hurt me if I wasn’t good enough at sports.

And that was a strange and confusing feeling for me. It’s a strange thing to actively want to be closer to a group of people you’re told want to take everything from you. Stranger, still, when you believe it to be true. So I did what most people do when faced with an impossibility: I lied to myself. I pushed female friends away & slowly slipped further and further into the mind-state best described as “toxic masculinity.”

My “male”ness was a facade — an act that I performed for everyone else’s comfort because it was what was expected of me. At night, I dreamed of swapping bodies with girls that I knew — especially girls who treated me with kindness and made me feel accepted. In high school, I attempted a number of times to invite myself to “Girls Night,” because I desperately wanted to talk about feelings and bond with girls over shared interests or mutual respect. Instead, I was always told I wasn’t allowed. So I’d go to “Boys Night,” where the list of activities included (almost exclusively) things that bored me to tears: First-Person Shooting games, backyard sports, TPing absent friends’ houses, & watching dumb “bro” comedy.

That isn’t to say there weren’t things I enjoyed. I loved the times we would lie down to go to sleep but would end up talking instead. If asked what I wanted to do, my answer was usually “just sit here and talk to each other.” I enjoyed when we would sit around a table and play board or card games (usually Magic: The Gathering, which I still play and enjoy). I loved when I could get my friends to commit to a shared artistic project, like a short film that I would write and direct.

There were a few weeks where I tried to own & speak to people about feeling like a woman. I felt strongly that I was much more of a woman than a man, but I was also attracted to women, and that felt like I was breaking some form of rule. Eventually, I settled on calling myself a lesbian. The response from everyone was pretty much exactly the same: “You can’t be a lesbian, lesbians are girls.” And then I would say, “I like women. I’m a woman. Therefore, I’m a lesbian.” And the response to that was also, always the same:

“You can’t be a woman. You have a penis.”

It wasn’t too long before the idea slipped back into the recesses of my mind. I think I even convinced myself I was just trying to troll people, but I also couldn’t deny that every time I said it, I felt a little weight lifting off my chest.

During and after college, I dated a string of girls, almost all of whom would later confide in me that they were pretty sure they were gay. Some of them broke it off with me to pursue other women, some of them maintained a “casual” thing with me while they pursued other women, but I started to realize that “forever,” or at least a “long-term” relationship, wasn’t going to happen for me if I didn’t start being honest about who I was.

But I still didn’t know what that was. I felt pretty strongly that I was much more “woman” than “man,” but that pesky thought kept overriding the whole procedure: “You can’t be a woman… you have a penis.” So I figured, if I couldn’t be a woman, perhaps I could just reject masculinity with all my power. There was a period of time when I thought I might go into stand-up comedy, and every joke I wrote was about how much I failed at “being a man.” I wrote a ten-minute routine breaking down all of the “requirements” of being male, and then explained why I fell far short of that.

At the same time, I was beginning to learn about “privilege,” specifically “White Privilege” and “Male Privilege,” both of which I had been benefiting from my whole life. As I became more and more of a radical feminist, I believed (perhaps foolishly) that I could be of “Most Value” to the cause by remaining in disguise as a man, and using both my white & male privileges to gain access to male spaces so that I could convince these men to support women’s causes. There was an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggested men are far more likely to listen & hear complaints if they come from a fellow man, so I appointed myself the male advocate for feminism, and used that as an excuse to keep hiding.

What I found instead was that most men didn’t give a shit what I had to say about women’s issues, regardless of the context. In addition, presenting as male meant most women didn’t want me as an advocate or spokesperson for feminism in the first place. I was then shamed and rejected from both sides: by men for being “virtue-signaling” and “pretending to be a feminist so I could get laid,” and by women for attempting to speak “for” them on a subject I couldn’t possibly know anything about (remember: penis).

(Looking back, I think my main mistake was attempting to use the Internet as a medium for meaningful dialogue.)

For years, I felt marooned and alone in that space — too afraid to come out as a woman, and too self-aware to keep pretending I was a man. Add to all of this the constant underlying fear: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is something else entirely. Maybe I’m only mistaking it for “being a woman” because I’m an egotistical idiot with a penis who couldn’t possibly understand (and yes, I’ve been down the path & considered that I might be “non-binary,” but I feel much closer to the female end of the gender spectrum than I do to the middle). Maybe my reasons for feeling like a woman aren’t valid — maybe I’m using sexist criteria. Rejection of masculinity isn’t necessarily the acceptance of femininity.

And that brings me all the way back around to where I started, and the title of this entry: How exactly do I define WOMANHOOD? What does it mean to “be a woman” in 2020 America? Do I have to be certain of the answer before I start exploring, or is it like most things in life, where it’s constantly being redefined and updated?

That religious upbringing I mentioned would have defined womanhood as “the ability to become pregnant & care for a family.” I think that definition is pretty one-sided, and reduces women down to a single aspect of what they’re capable of. I know plenty of women (with vaginas!) who are incapable of becoming pregnant. I also know women who would be the first to tell you they have no interest in or skill for raising a family. I know stay-at-home dads. I know so many wonderful people who break the Catholic definition of womanhood that I know it’s bullshit.

Then, there are people who define womanhood as “being in touch with your emotions,” or at least cite that ability as one of the defining characteristics. Problem is, this definition reinforces patriarchal ideas that men can’t feel or don’t have emotions, which is a dangerous idea. Most men today who can’t feel their emotions are that way because they were conditioned to be, not because they are incapable or “shouldn’t.”

“Overcoming tremendous adversity” is another one I’ve seen, and I understand the appeal… but why define ourselves based on the struggle, rather than the outcome? I’ve learned not to define myself by the rapist who hurt me, but I am proud of the emotional skills I developed in order to move past that incident. I don’t want that to be “part of my story,” but it is, so it’s complicated.

I also feel judged for my emotions. I know all too well what it’s like to receive unsolicited dick pics from strangers who claim to love me. I like wearing makeup, but it mortifies me because I’m color-blind and have no skill for applying it. I regularly shave all the hair off my body. I enjoy the feeling of a dress or skirt.

None of these things even begins to scratch the surface of the lived experience of being a woman. And that is something I’ve never done. It’s a Catch-22: I’ll only truly feel like a woman, and like I’m worthy of claiming that I’m a woman, if I live a lifetime as a woman, but I’ll only be allowed to live a lifetime as a woman if I truly feel like a woman…

What if the mere existence of a gender binary reinforces gender stereotypes and causes gender disparity? What if the only way to defeat the patriarchy is to reject the concept of gender as a whole? Does my identifying as a woman help or hurt that cause? Should that be irrelevant to my thoughts and feelings?

I’ve read about trans women who choose to continue dressing in “masculine” clothes and reject the concept of make-up as a patriarchal concept, and then are told that, therefore, they are not really women. It seems the only way cis- people will accept me as a woman is if I play into their pre-existing stereotypes, including the ones that many cis-women also reject, and the ones that hold women back.

It’s a lot.

And I fully acknowledge that, as I’m thinking through all of this, I continue to benefit daily from White male privilege. I am lucky enough to have the luxury of time to sit with and sort through all of these feelings. Others, particularly Black trans women, do not. So, on top of all of this, I feel like a coward. I feel like I’m clinging to my White male privilege as a life raft, knowing that I’ve been so sheltered and protected because of the part I’ve been playing. And it feels particularly insulting to say that the very White male privilege that has protected me, to me, felt like oppression. How could I dare say that, when I know how many people have had it so much worse?

Suffice to say, I’m still processing through all of this. I’m going to continue exploring my womanhood and searching for a definition (although, honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever find one). I decided that writing about my feelings was the only way I’d be able to track my progress and growth, so I’ll be using this blog as a way to do exactly that. You’re welcome to follow along. I’m “out” here, but I haven’t come out to many people in my personal life. Perhaps this journey will encourage me to do so.

You’re welcome to follow along, and I am very, very open to encouragement, resources, and other things to help guide me.