Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Disorientation Redux

Since my sister's death, I've felt rather discombobulated. I intended to post the further story of my trip back to Wyoming, but have not yet finished it. Instead I started to explore this discombobulation I'm experiencing, and found it related to the human need for orientation I blogged about earlier.

We all orient our lives around the people who are important to us, and siblings form one of the basic foundations of our psychological orientation, especially when they are close in age, as Jenny was. I don't know if that relates to my grief, but I'm sure it relates to my discombobulation. My world has turned sideways again. I imagine it is really strong for parents, also; we orient around our children, mothers even more than fathers as the intense importance of those first days, of nursing, feeding your baby and keeping her alive with the milk of your body, must form a bond so deep and permanent and beautiful. How can no sense of orientation arise?

I imagine that the change in my gender presentation affects that need for orientation in others – not only for my family, but for everyone else! I wonder; do people who have a firm basis of psychological orientation find it easier to accept and integrate things like my transition, while for someone who orients around fundamentalist religion and the binary gender myth, gender transitions are very threatening as they challenge that orientation? Perhaps it is the nature of one's orientation that makes it harder for some than others. For instance, an orientation to Christian Science doesn't take much of a hit; the body, and gender, are mortal concepts, and the person, the spiritual idea, is intact and immortal. As my mom said when I came out to her, "Your identity is intact, and it doesn't depend on gender." On the other hand, for someone who orients around a strict brand of Christianity that holds rigid barriers between classifications of man and woman, it must be very disorienting, and alarming – it shifts the layout of their psychological map, as if you were to go to a place in your neighborhood and find that the street you'd traveled a thousand times was no longer there and had never existed. It threatens the fabric of their world, as they understand it; there is no room for acceptance, because to do so would be to change the entire orientation, to change the psychological landscape as much as, and as frightening as, to change one's understanding of the physical landscape. The order of nature has been reversed. The creek no longer appears to flow downhill; it seems to flow up – and never mind that they are finally seeing reality. But someone who orients around the science of observed phenomena might think my transition is really cool. "Wow! Look at that! How beautiful! Something new under the sun." I've seen that reaction from people. Some people seem hardly affected by my transition, but many have either a strong positive or a strong negative reaction.

Regardless, a death in the family is going to disorient the survivors. I believe that the feeling of grief is related to a need for orientation unmet. And until I get completely oriented to a world without my sister, I'm going to remain discombobulated.


anne said...

Hey girl,

This is an interesting exploration, because it brings up things that we may not know we are oriented to.

I know many people who grew up in northern latitudes who felt "odd" until they went back there. I've read of people who grew up in Africa and moved back to England and felt weird there (like Nick.) Oriented to the sun's angle and the movement of the seasons.

I read an autobiography of an astronaut who said that when he got back, he just lay in his back yard and looked at the green trees and blue sky, appreciating again that he was so used to green and grass. So if we grew up on the moon, we'd have trouble with being on Earth.

My mom says that I screamed the first time she put me down on grass; I had oriented to snow having spent most of my life during winter in the mountains. I still feel more comfortable in snow and winter and feel like a stranger when I'm in a green land, like Eugene. It's a constant wonder to me, not an irritant, but it's still strange.

I also feel discombobulated in the desert, but at home on the seashore, although I didn't grow up there. The noise does it, the sloughing of the waves which sounds like wind in the pines, a noise I miss constantly.

But, yes, when my father died, it messed up my orientation. I could no longer be his little girl. I was cut off at my roots. If Max died (god forbid) I'd feel family-less, alone and without any biological connection to the world of people. But I'm already oriented to Max's daughter to be, which freaks him out a bit!

I've tried to tell men that being a woman makes you aware of all this stuff that men don't see with growing up being smaller than most people. I've heard people say that they orient to being short. Max says that the world is not designed for him and he's constantly knocking his head on things like exit signs placed at exactly 6'4" when he's 6'6".

I've heard of people who got so used to hooking their feet over the end of a short bed, that when they got a bed long enough for them, they couldn't sleep!

As children, our world changes constantly with our growth. But as adults, our orientation fixes somewhat until we do something radical, or not so. I found that I was so used to being a redhead that the idea of being gray made me feel discombobulated, like I lost my "group" of redheaded mates, not as bad as changing skin color, but like that. If I were to become a man, I could never get used to being dangerous and having to make the appeasements. I'm so used to saying whatever and not being taken seriously because I'm female.

It would be weird to look in the eyes of another man and have it be aggressive rather than a come on.

But we can also be discombobulated in time. I don't feel part of this century, but I also feel that I was born 90 years old and I won't be comfortable until I look that age. You found that you were born female and won't be comfortable until you look that way.

Maybe this deserves a book? It's a rich subject, indeed.

It will take you a long time to get your compass back independent of Jenny. I'm still lost at time and just feel like crying as if I were three and my dad had left me in a strange department store...

Maybe make a icon to Jenny. Do you have pictures? Maybe one of your photo montages to hang in your new bedroom. You could look at that and have a small piece of her. Maybe a shrine in the backyard, something Jenny.

We need our loved ones, without them, we are lost at sea.

take care, girl,

CrackerLilo said...

I have just started reading your blog, so I don't know what to say, really. But I know what it is to feel just knocked completely ass over teakettle by a loved one's death. I am sorry that you feel this way. You get used to the "new normal" eventually, you really do, but this disorientation comes first and can last for a while. *hug*

Seda said...

It is a big subject. And seeing that it was inspired by a book on one aspect of orientation (peer vs. parent orientation in children), yes, I think there is a book in it. Or two. Want to tackle it?

I have a small stone I saved from Jenny's rock collection. It's a piece of sandstone with a perfect hole in it, probably from water dripping over time. I keep it by my computer monitor, where it symbolizes the hole that's been left in my life.

Thanks. It's true, and I've been through it before. It's actually good, though, to be here now. *hug*

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our