Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sound Mind-Troubled Moments

Bar Harbor Maine.  Its a beautiful place, especially on days when the air is clear like today.  So of course when my Dad suggested hiking, and my uncle selected Bubble Rock, high on Bubble Mountain, I was  ready to go.  So here I am, up on a mountain, and strangely, feeling really insecure despite the relative seclusion.

I look terrible.  My face has a hint of facial hair, as I'm due back for laser in a week.  Little patches around my chin and upper lip are just dark enough and close enough together to cause slight shadowing.  Very large carpenter jeans and a loose, black men's button up shirt drape my body, creating a gangly, figureless appearance.  My hair has been reduced to frizz by humidity, and is now mostly out of sight,  wound atop my head and covered with a ridiculously masculine Cincinnati Bengals ball cap.

 Traveling androgynous with people who consider me male can get dicey.  With every interaction there are all these questions.  Do these people see me as female?  Do they see me as male?  Are they trying to figure out what I am?  Am I embarrassing my Dad?  Trying to present as my own gender was out of the question, and being androgynous feels awkward, second guessing what everyone thinks, so this morning I decided to tip the scales of perception toward male, just for a day, to keep everyone comfortable and make interaction a little easier.  I hated the decision from the moment I made it, but there weren't any better alternatives.

Now, I'm hating the decision even more, as I sit on the mountain trying to enjoy the beautiful landscape while thoughts of my appearance and other people's perception keep slipping into my mind.  The climb up here was not good for my self esteem.  Almost immediately upon hitting the trail, a young couple caught up and passed us.  As I heard the first foot steps I turned for a glimpse, and my heart just sank.  The girl was dressed exactly I wished I could.  Shorts and a tank, only she pulls it off better than I ever could.  Shorter, curvier, just a very normal girl, living an active lifestyle with her boyfriend.

This quick passing stirred my emotions and left me feeling terribly insufficient and inferior.  But I was meant to be humbled further by the end.  The trail turned out to be a parade of such couples.

Still sitting here at the top, looking out over a placid lake far below, I replay the climb's emotional climax in my mind, trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with me.

It happened less than 1/3rd the way up.  Couples kept going by.  Except for my little group, that's all it was. One cute little couple after the other.  Then it happened.  We stopped at a flat section of rock with an interesting view when yet another couple happened by, only they stopped, and proceeded to ask Dad to take a photo of them.  The guy was gorgeous.  Maybe slightly younger than me, but still very cute, striking the perfect balance of boyish charm with a dash or rugged handsomeness.  His hair was dark brown, short and tousled, and he had just a touch of stubble.  Very athletic.  Kind, gentle eyes. Normally he would have had my full attention, but I was focused on his  girlfriend.

Like almost every girl up there, she was actually dressed for the hike, and pulled it off gorgeously.  There she was with her cute little outfit, near perfect body, and gorgeous boyfriend.  And here I was single,  vacationing with my parents, and climbing a mountain in summer, dressed like a male Seattle grunge musician.  She made me feel like such a loser.  Envy was just flaring. Yet at the same time, curiosity.  How much curvier was she than me?  How wrong is my body really?  What kind of shoes did she pick for this?  All these questions  could have been easily answered with a simple glance.

But I couldn't do it.  I just could not look in her direction.  The why is the crazy part.  In the wake of my insecurity and perceived inferiority, I had become hyper aware of my god awful masculine presentation. I just knew that she had to see me as a guy, and that if I looked in her direction for even a moment, that she would think I was attracted to her.  The idea of her writing me off as a guy was annoying, but bearable.  However, imagining this girl thinking privately "Ha! That goofy weird looking little guy is into me."  was just way too much for my pride to take.  I think my sanity was slipping a bit.  My inability to even look in her direction made me feel even more inferior.  So it became a catch 22.  With the idea of looking in her direction, or not, either making me feel bad, my brain basically started going in a feverishly panicked loop.  I settled on finding some other direction to look while the couple conversed with my Dad and Uncle.  I was afraid my envy and emotional turmoil was completely transparent, and I felt ugly and masculine besides.  I didn't want the girl to see me looking so hideously inferior, and I didn't want the guy to see me because next to his girlfriend I'm such a nothing.  I wanted to disappear.

In the end, the cute little couple finally struck a pose for the camera and I casually looked their direction for the first time since their arrival.  A very romantic choice.  She hugged up to his chest and he wrapped his arms around her.  His arms looked so strong, and his chest so solid.  Hurting my pride I even more, I realized that I wished I could be her.  I looked away.

He explained to my Dad that his camera doesn't have a viewfinder, because it was an expensive extra cost option. Hmm, the lack of a built in view finder, and the viewfinder being costly meant the camera was an expensive import like a Leica or something.  His implication that he didn't have loads of cash to waste on something as frivolous as a viewfinder was very humble.  Hmm, moneyed and humble.  She's a lucky girl indeed, I thought.

When they finally left, my nervousness started to fade, but my self esteem was just crushed.  In addition to my physical problems I was now reminded by this sudden frantic interval that I also have some kind of weird social anxiety that is probably completely unique to me.  How many ways can one person BE messed up?

Still sitting here at Bubble Rock I snap out of my reflection.  Its a major curiosity-a curiously rounded bus size rock sitting on a slick, sharply angled cliff face and balanced on assorted smaller rocks beneath it.  Its estimated that it has been here for over 10,000 years.  A glacial erattic.  Fascinating, but I'm focused on my insecurities.  I wish I had a mirror so I could see just how awful I look compared to all these other girls.  What are people seeing when they look at me?

I rise to leave and yet another couple is coming toward us.  They look to be in their fifties and sixties.  After a brief exchange, the husband continues for a closer view of the rock, and the wife chats up me and my uncle.  At first she is mainly talking to me, but my insecurities, inferiority complex and jittery social ineptitude left from the humbling experience farther down the trail have left me feeling to insecure to converse.  The added distraction of wondering how she perceives my gender further scatters my thoughts.  Again I find myself wanting to disappear.

While my uncle is carrying the conversation for a moment, I casually look for a place to sit, innocently picking a spot that puts him between us, so that she can't see me and I speak as seldom as possible.  She leans around my uncle to ask a question of me in particular.  "Isn't he getting awfully close to the edge?"

She is speaking of her husband.  Why didn't she ask my uncle?  Honestly I think she is wanting a woman's opinion.  A new surge of self confidence.  It's a big conclusion to draw, but I'm almost sure.  I mean really.  If you ask a man if someone is standing to close to the edge of a cliff, what's he going to tell you? :P Maybe I don't look that much like a man after all.  Now a let down.  What happens if she catches a glimpse of beard or sees my face at another angle and suddenly has to wonder what on earth she is talking to?  I remain mostly disengaged from the conversation.  Presenting like this, everything is just too much work.


Moral of the story?  Hmmmm.  Being caught visually between genders can be difficult.  Carrying on conversations with people who think you are a woman, at the same time as people who think you are a man, can be difficult.   Being an envious, childish, overwrought loser with an inferiority complex can be difficult.  :P


Stace said...

OK, not that it's going to help you in any way but...

If you think you look bad in that picture then I must look really terrible all of the time.

Wishing you the best (and hoping that you can relax enough to enjoy the vacation a bit),

Melissa said...

Shandy, this post had me in tears reading it. I brought back so many painful personal memories, of comparing myself with carefree, natural born women. Babe, I just want to wrap my arms arms around you and squeeze! I know you had to go through it alone, and how horrible it can feel to compare yourself to girls who where born female and grew up female, while it is still such a chore for us to even come close.

Just be patient sweetie! You are almost there! Just as soon as the rest of your facial hair is gone, you can forget about anyone ever reading you as a male, ever again!

Shandy, you are adorable!

Melissa XX

Leslie Ann said...

I'm not at a point where I'll ever be perceived as female, but I fully understand the envy and the social anxiety. My actions and reactions would have played out a lot like yours. It is soul-crushing to be near beautiful women when you can't present in the way you desire. I know that it ruined what should have been a wonderful experience, tainting the memory forever. I hope there were better days to balance this one out.

I cried a little for you too, babe, because those feelings are so close to home. You are kind and beautiful and sweet and funny, and the world will be your oyster very soon. And I will be giving you a serious hug the next time I see you, okay?

Stay strong, sister!

the CFG said...

"Presenting like this, everything is just too much work"
That's right!
I'm on a walking holiday right now, a couple of years down the road from you, but still trying to figure out how to look slightly fab whilst climbing a hill (it's hard...a lakeside bar in a maxi dress is easier).
I never get misgendered.
I have hair on my face. A bit of top lip shadow, fair hair elsewhere- electrolysis for about another year.
I never get misgendered...
And you're *way* cuter than me :-)
Let me tell you, it's gonna be FAB for you girl... ;-) xxx

Elly said...

That's a real good pic of you, even dressed drab you look super fem with that red cap and shirt. I can't even to begin understanding the difficulty that you have faced on vacation like that and being unable to be you.

Hugs Eleanor

Heidi said...

I'm sorry your trip was so rough. You are really not alone though; I think that being able to share and read about others troubles help them to seem less insurmountable. In that vein, Thank you for writing this post! Isn't Bar Harbor nice though? Did you get to go to a place called 2 Cats?
As with everyone else I think that picture of you is very flattering.

Lori D said...

Your light will shine externally as it does inside you, dear friend. You describe feelings I've not felt in two years, though their very memories seem just as real. I can't wait til you join me at the summit. We'll smile together...ear to ear.

ms.shandy said...

@ Lori I'm already smiling as I read your comment. Such efficiency of language, packing so much encouragement into a few short sentences. :)

@Heidi The trip really was nice except for a few awkward moments, like that hike. Bar Harbor is nice. I didn't get to spend a lot of time in town, but if I had been there by myself, I could have walked around down there all week. :P

@Elly Thanks! The cap is my brother's. I found it in the RV. He bends all his cap brims over like that. Ha!

@Nicki I'm sure all the outfits you put together for climbing are great, because you're always gorgeous. Really a maxi wouldn't be such bad climbing gear though, by my standards. Its all relative. Compared to giant dungaree jeans, it doesn't look like a bad selection at all. The day I go full time, i think I'll invite my local friends over for a party and burn all those stupid oversize pants in a bonfire. ~XXX~ :)

@Leslie Ann I have a bit of a catty, competitive nature when it comes to some things I guess. And getting overshadowed to an extent is fine. But when I'm outdone that badly and feel that inferior its just the most frustrating thing. I don't have to be Miss America or anything, but being around someone that pretty, while presenting like some scrawny, grungy, strung out looking dude... Its just... ARghhhhh! I can't find the words, but I don't need to because I know you've been there. Hopefully we'll both overcome our insecurities and reach points where we are happy with who we are. :)

@Melissa This post actually almost can still make me cry reading back through. Your response leaves me confident that I managed to convey what I needed to here. Its such an awful feeling, and if anyone else is going through that, I want them to know they aren't alone. Today I'm happy as a lark. This walk is.. nearly two weeks past I believe. I could still use the hug though.

@ Stace Thanks Stace. I did get to enjoy most of the trip, and I'm very happy today. Especially after reading all these great comments.

Thanks so much everyone. :)

Anonymous said...

It has often been said that we are our own worst critics. Every time you write about the insecurity you feel concerning your looks...and then I go look at ANY of your pics...I just shake my head.

When I see your pics, I feel kinda like you did when you were encountering so many GG's on the trail. I've seen your pic where you were showing your "shadow" and I was still jealous.

Look GF...you are beautiful...on your WORST day.

My only suggestion would be to shed the androgyny and move to the femme side enough to remove doubt.

I know you're still walking a tightrope with the relatives, et al, but I think you would be happier putting up with odd looks than suffering the inevitable depression of (impossibly) trying to "fit in." Every pic I've seen of you screams that you're past being able to appear androgynous.

It's time for the world to watch Shandy come into focus. :)Suzi

Jerica Truax said...

Awww girl. I can kind of relate it to a similar experience I had when I was in suppression mode at a 4th of july party. *hugs*

Someday soon you won't have to feel like this anymore!!!

<3 Jerica

Tina said...

Sorry you have to go thru all this Sis. We all have and/or do. Dr Anne Vitale PhD, advocates referring to this as Gender Expression Deprivation Anxiety Disorder rather than the common GID. Makes perfect sense when describing what you felt here. Good, good stuff for anyone who wants to Google her up.

Keep the faith sister, the worm is definitely turning for you! Oh, and I think I have a couple pairs of those giant dungarees to donate to the bonfire. Burn baby, Burn!

Peace, <3 Tina