Friday, July 13, 2018

"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin and stories of being seen

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, an under-known feminist classic from the turn of the century has always been my favorite book. I awoke today to a brilliantly written personal reflection on it on Electric Literature titled "‘The Awakening’ Made Me Realize That Motherhood Would Drown Me." I found myself very moved by this author's journey and decided to share my own in the comments section of that article. I've also decided to share that journey, in relation to "The Awakening" here with you all (reprinted from the comments section on Electric Literature):


It was more than 20 years ago when a high-school English teacher had the crazy idea that her students should actually read quality literature in class (thank you!) and introduced me to The Awakening, a book that immediately became my all-time favorite and has continued to be to this day. 

At the time I was a man (boy actually, and unfortunately still am after a lot of wishing otherwise) who didn’t have language for what I had always experienced. It wouldn’t be until so many years later that I could put a word to it: female or feminine or woman or girl (I still struggle with the label trans because I don’t feel trans, I feel like a woman…). But that teenage boy saw himself (herself) in Edna right away. This book said and felt everything I quietly felt and never spoke out loud (and didn’t even have terms to explore and express it with).

I loved The Awakening for its prose, it’s still the most important quality I look for in a book, but I also connected to Edna in a way I had only connected with a few characters in books before, maybe Ender from Ender’s Game would have been the closest, but for entirely different reasons there. I wonder if in the 80s and 90s there had been more books with non-conforming and strong female characters if I would have seen myself more?

I so understood this woman raging inside her own body, trapped by others’ expectations, unable to put it into words, and equally unbelieving that anything could be done about it if she had. Seven months ago I officially came out to my wife and our 14-year-old daughter (who has enough on her plate with her own identity formation without having to process through her father revealing that he feels more like a 14-year-old girl than a 38-year-old man). We’re at the very early stages of growing forward as a family with this, once unspoken, now spoken, truth in front of us. 

Thinking about the article’s author’s college boyfriend and former husband and her final line “I had been seen,” I had that experience, for the first time in my life, just weeks ago. My wife and I see an amazing therapist who is helping us through the complexities my “coming out” has added to an already complex relationship (a relationship started at 18 is rarely the same one at 38, yet here we are, still together!). In that session, like so many others, we often focused on what my wife was needing and how I could help with that. This is by no means to suggest that either my wife or therapist are focused on her needs only, simply that for 38 years I have struggled to every tell anyone what I need or feel, or even been able to articulate it to myself (so much Edna in that). The therapist (she’s incredible) wouldn’t accept a single-sided focus and knowingly asked me, “So what do you need?” It took me a while, but I was determined to give an honest answer for once, not to keep it all bottled inside. I struggled to find a word for it before settling on: “permission.” 

We had talked earlier in the session about where I might go next in exploring making my internal identity more external because I still have no idea what that might look like, nor that I want to (the joy of being 38 and not 18 is that as a fairly well adjusted adult I don’t have the same intense need to make everything about me externally visible to the world — so transitioning is somehow less urgent now, than it probably would have been in my teens, had I had the words about gender that I have now…). I answered her question that probably getting rid of body hair would be the first big experiment I would want to try. I’ve always hated and been embarrassed by my chest hair and leg hair — nothing feels quite so uncute as chest hair.

So when the question came: “So what do you need?” and I responded with “Permission” my wife turns, and casually said it would be totally fine if I got rid of all my hair. In that moment, everything changed. All the “momentum” (as I had been describing it to them) of the past months (now that this secret was out, it felt like we were rolling down a hill building steam toward some inevitable end), just evaporated. I felt equilibrium, I felt no rush. I had been seen. Maybe it wasn’t transitioning externally that I wanted. Maybe being an integrated, whole, person in front of those I loved mattered more: the ability to take all this inside identity and simply not have to hide it anymore.

That certainly won’t be a popular narrative, that as a trans person I might not transition. But I don’t know, truly, whether transitioning will address anything at this stage in my life, but with that simple “okay” from my wife, I don’t feel that I have to match actions to my “coming out” as an inevitable conclusion. To not transition does not make me less a woman. Here I was, sitting with my wife, and for the first time it felt like she was acknowledging that I was a woman. For her, an external change in my appearance had major implications, so this “permission” (which for all the advocates out there, I know I don’t really need anyone else’s permission —that was simply the best word I had at the time) was what Edna never had. Unlike Edna, I had been seen, not just by friends or a lover I could never be with, but seen by my wife. She would not be the fetter that held be back until I broke, but a partner, scared as all hell, but a partner still, facing this uncertain journey, with no maps and no destinations, with me.

Published in response to: (retrieved 7/13/18)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3