“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”— e.e. cummings
I don’t know if I’d agree that the very hardest fight that exists is to be “nobody-but-yourself” — it seems that that may diminish the significance of war and corruption in the world — but it often seems that my personal most difficult struggle is to be true to myself. The pressure seems especially intense right now to live someone else’s gender, to turn my back on my more radical politics, to play it safe.
I know that someone is going to argue, at least in their mind, that we don’t live in a vacuum and cannot be unaffected by society, but that misses the point entirely. There is a vast difference between being influenced by the world (which is part of being human) and being someone else entirely.
Right now, the people where I work think I’m a woman. They’re very nice, but I almost feel like someone else. I’m certainly not Ryan, the queer, transmasculine mermaid with the radical, abolitionist framework. I’m not Ryan, he of the rambling stories and endless hugs, the one who talks about the Mawr enough to be called “Bryn Mawr” and glows about TJLP to anyone who’ll listen. And that’s understandable — there’s a time and a place, and this office is neither, unhappy as that makes me. But I’m not even Ryan, the quiet, efficient, little guy. I’m Ryan, one of the “ladies” (there are two other, presumably woman-identified, new temps).
I decided back in April that I was going to be out at work. It didn’t work the first time around. And it hasn’t worked so well this time around either (read: it hasn’t happened at all, other than my clothing choices). I don’t know how long I’m going to be at the job; it may be over very soon. Plus, I don’t really know how to come out as trans in a work environment (one that doesn’t begin by asking for preferred pronouns, that is), and it’s really hard for me to speak out about the pronouns I like around people who don’t have an easy acceptance and understanding of preferred pronouns. Unfortunately, being assumed a woman is causing me a ton of stress, piled on top of existing anxiety about where my life is going and deep concern for CeCe, youth of color in Boystown, and the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and elsewhere.
E. E. Cummings’s quote speaks to me. I feel especially isolated right now, physically outside my Chicago trans/genderqueer circles and not yet really connected into Minneapolis trans circles, and it just leaves a lot of room for society’s expectations to move in — to attempt to make me “everybody else.” My parents are absolutely supportive, and I am immensely grateful for them, but they’re still not the same as having trans/genderqueer friends.
Part of why being nobody-but-yourself is so hard is that, as Cummings puts it, you must “never stop fighting.” It is a constant struggle (or a constant celebration, perhaps, but it never ends) — whether my struggle is to be seen as a trans person, or to express that I don’t actually think the prison industrial complex makes us safer, or to explain why I’m not avidly following the latest news regarding ENDA/DADT/gay marriage, or to confess that I don’t actually want to be like “most men” and don’t truly care whether what I’m doing is traditionally masculine or societally acceptable for men (even though I do, in fact, identify as transmasculine).
If being nobody-but-myself is indeed a battle (and it certainly can feel that way), I suppose there’s really only one way to approach fighting it — fighting to win. That should be my goal.