Transformations

It’s been two years since I reg­u­larly wrote on this blog — or really any­thing of sub­stance, at least by my own stand­ards. I’ve thought a lot about where this writer’s block must have come from and, more import­antly, how I can smash it. It’s hard to find a clear answer to such a ques­tion, but in ask­ing it — and dis­cuss­ing it with my ther­ap­ist — I’ve slowly come to a degree of self-awareness in sev­eral key respects.

Let’s start with the obvi­ous one. If you knew me, say, before June of this year, you knew me as Oscar, vari­ously referred to as Cat­weazle, Hip­ster Vik­ing or really any­thing beard-and-long-hair-related. Those of you who didn’t know me closely might even have assumed that I was quite a mas­cu­line man, given my pre­dilec­tion for facial hair and loud music (clichés, I know).

Dur­ing the years in which I worked towards my PhD, I’d been suf­fer­ing from low-key depress­ive epis­odes, along with stress-related com­plaints. Not to men­tion severe doubts about my own aca­demic and cre­at­ive cap­ab­il­it­ies, and my future career as a lin­guist. Now, men­tal health prob­lems dur­ing a PhD are unfor­tu­nately a well-known phe­nomenon (see Leveque et al. 2017, repor­ted here), and I can’t emphas­ise enough that if you’re suf­fer­ing from such issues, you’re per­fectly nor­mal. It doesn’t mean you’re unfit for the job, even though I did think that about myself at the time. Nev­er­the­less, it’s vital to con­front your men­tal health issues, talk about them with people you can trust, and make sure they don’t sab­ot­age what you are work­ing towards. In my case, hav­ing a sup­port­ive part­ner, nice col­leagues and very sup­port­ive super­vi­sion also helped me pull through.

Des­pite these hurdles, I defen­ded my PhD suc­cess­fully in Octo­ber 2015, at which time I had also been able to land my cur­rent job at the Uni­ver­sity of Ant­werp, after a year of fin­an­cial pre­cari­ous­ness. How­ever, it was after fin­ish­ing my thesis that my writer’s block kicked in. Ini­tially, it’s under­stand­able. I’d just writ­ten a 200+ page book, so nat­ur­ally some of my cre­at­ive juices were run­ning low. Sadly, I waited and waited for them to be refilled, but little inspir­a­tion struck. My hobby blog­ging on games and music began to suf­fer, as did my aca­demic writ­ing. My depres­sion and anxi­ety also got worse, finally lead­ing to stress-related breath­ing prob­lems and two trips to the ER in the past winter.

It was in that period that I began to ques­tion whether per­haps there was some­thing going on with my gender that was caus­ing my dis­tress. I’d known a num­ber of trans­gender people through the inter­net since sev­eral years, and I knew that I was open to their exper­i­ences; I con­sidered that open­ness to be a nat­ural curi­os­ity into human nature and diversity. Last year, though, I star­ted won­der­ing if there was some­thing more to it. I’d asked myself the ques­tion before, but had always firmly pushed it to the back of my mind. After all, I had the sense that I was OK with being a man. In a way, this is true: I was OK with being a man. The thing is, some­times ‘just OK’ doesn’t cut it, and one’s rela­tion to one’s own gender and body is such a case.

I was liv­ing under the wrong assump­tion that trans­gender people had always known they were trans­gender. In media, many stor­ies are about trans chil­dren, teens, or young adults who have been strug­gling for years. What I didn’t know is that there are quite a few people who only real­ise at a later age that they are trans. Also, crip­pling gender dys­phoria — i.e. the strong sense of dis­con­nect with one’s body — is not a symp­tom for all trans people. Once I learned this, I quickly became more accept­ing of my own ‘trans­ness’, and this feel­ing has grown since speak­ing to other trans people with exper­i­ences sim­ilar to mine. More inform­a­tion about indir­ect dys­phoria can be found in this insight­ful art­icle by Zin­nia Jones.

In June, I transitioned socially; that is to say, I star­ted dress­ing ‘like a woman’, I shaved my beard, I often wear make-up, and I took a new name: Odile.* *Full name Odile Aurora Oscar Strik. I decided to keep my old name in there, because I actu­ally rather like it. Since then, I’ve felt more com­fort­able in my body than I could have ever ima­gined. Rather than intense gender dys­phoria, my exper­i­ence of being trans often involves gender euphoria, the feel­ing of finally feel­ing (more) at home in one’s own body. Now that I am feel­ing a renewed con­nec­tion to my body, dys­phoria some­times rears its head too, still, but it is more con­crete, and easier to relativ­ise than the dif­fuse depres­sion that haunted me through­out the past years.

With trans­form­a­tions of appear­ance and psyche come trans­form­a­tions of prac­tice. My res­ol­u­tion is to face my writer’s block head on, and start blog­ging here reg­u­larly again, ideally on a biweekly basis, on things that occupy me. As before, this can be related to the games I play, philo­soph­ical and psy­cho­lo­gical issues, lit­er­at­ure, lan­guage, and so forth. But also about my jour­ney as a trans woman and about polit­ics — because that is a thing I wish to be less silent on. Until then!

❦ Odile