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When I hear about the recent controversy surrounding Michelle Shocked -- whose music I've not listened to, but who used to live in New Orleans and was reportedly a fan of my books -- I can't help but think of my former friend Thing. She was never particularly comfortable with sexuality or gender labels, but she was female-assigned at birth, identified primarily as female, and had dated several women. She'd lived a very hard life: serious illness, depression, abuse by parents from a fundie cult background. She'd converted to Catholicism a few years back, but so did I, and it didn't make me any less queer/trans/tolerant; she seemed to take a similar nonjudgmental outlook. She hated the place where she was then living, and loved New Orleans more than anywhere else in the world. She had given me a lot of emotional support in my own hard times and I thought she deserved some happiness, so I helped her to move here by letting her stay with me while she found a house and lending her money for a deposit.

Everything was fine until I started testosterone in 2011. She'd known I was FTM and had previously been supportive of my decisions, but once I actually got on T, she just didn't seem to like me anymore. Maybe my sense of humor got cruder. Maybe I seemed more aggressive. I was definitely trying out a lot of new things, and hey, nobody has to like me. It made me sad that she didn't, but I could live with it. What I couldn't live with was the stunt she pulled while I was in Amsterdam that summer. I was relaxing, getting high, taking a vacation from pain, and most definitely not checking my e-mail ... until Thing sent me a text saying, essentially, "Are you mad about that e-mail I sent you?" Well, I logged on and found this MULTIPAGE SCREED about what an asshole I'd turned into, how it was a terrible idea for me to be taking testosterone, how she'd had another FTM friend who started on T and subsequently committed suicide, so I was probably going to kill myself pretty soon too, and gee, she'd just hate to see that happen, and also I smoked too much pot, and by the way, she had taken it upon herself to speak to my mother about all these things. Yes, while I was out of the country, she went to my 73-year-old mom and told her testosterone was probably going to make me kill myself. What a pal, right?

We didn't talk much after that, but since she was living in the neighborhood, I still saw her quite a bit. I also saw her car, which now sported two new bumper stickers: I LOVE MY "GERMAN SHEPHERD" POPE BENEDICT and YOUR MAMA WAS PRO-LIFE, DAWLIN'. There were always groups of people around her house with similar stickers on their cars. The last time I saw her, they appeared to be helping her move out of her house, and she was wearing a T-shirt that said I ♥CHIK-FIL-A. (This was at the height of that chain's push against marriage equality.)

I couldn't bring myself to speak, but I still couldn't hate her either. She'd tried to kill herself twice, she'd had enough misfortune in her life to drive any ten people crazy, and it was obvious to me that her main problem was self-hatred. More than anything else, it's sad to see people flailing away at their own identities like that. The religious right often refers to trans folk as "those poor confused people," but I'll take my kind of confusion over Thing's brand of certainty any day.

Crossposted at Dreamwidth. Comment here or there, as you will.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2013 11:55 pm (UTC)

Fuck. That's just...sad. And angrifying.
Mar. 21st, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
She's still a big fan of yours, last I heard. Not really sure how that works.
Mar. 21st, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)

I can't even begin the understand. I can only be depressed about the whole crazy mess. I'm really sorry you've had to deal with this.

Also, on a brighter note, it does appear I'll be in New Orleans in June.
Mar. 21st, 2013 01:24 am (UTC)
I'm glad that you figured yourself out, and I hope she does, too. Reading about your journey has definitely helped me with mine.
Mar. 21st, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
That's incredibly frustrating. You are a kinder person than I am in your compassion for her.
Mar. 21st, 2013 02:22 am (UTC)
I've been thinking a lot about sympathy and empathy and being generous to people without getting walked all over, and this seems like a good example -- like, you can get to safety through distance without hating the people you need distance from.

On a complete tangent: I LOVE my skull necklace a lot. I haven't worn it yet,, but I'm looking forward to doing so when I can bust out my red dress for the spring.
Mar. 21st, 2013 04:10 am (UTC)
This was beautifully, painfully, written. Nicely done, and thank you. Also, I am in your city (my first time!). I'm here designing a show as part of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. Staying smack-dab in the middle of the French Quarter. Totally in love with everything I've seen so far. :)
Mar. 21st, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
How sad that she couldn't support you in your journey in the same compassionate way you had been supporting her in hers. I come from a Southern Baptist background, but we were NEVER taught to hate anyone. NEVER. I did go through some confusion as a teenager about the 'rightness' and 'wrongness' of people whose sexuality deviated from what I thought at the time to be the norm, but I also knew it was not my place to judge, and that the god I was being taught to worship loved everyone and who was I to argue with that.
Mar. 21st, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
I think you nailed it on the head.
She loathes herself and after a while of prolonged loathsomeness, some people find they can feel better about themselves by not only putting others down - but if there's a peer group that "on their side".

"I hate myself but X smokes pot!" -- So I am better than that.
"I need to inform the parental unit!" -- see how helpful I am? I'm helping my friend take responsibility. I am a saint for going out of my way to help this lower creature.

It's a terrible thing when friends become frenemies. When suddenly they become the bullies that they once tried to protect you from.
Mar. 21st, 2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
Poor Thing :(.

Mar. 21st, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
I think she did you a service by removing herself and her friendship from your life.
Mar. 23rd, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
Beautifully and compassionately said. I used to be that level of crazed. After years of multiple sorts of abuse and self-hatred, when I found a church (at age 18) that taught me my sexuality was wrong, I believed them. For a time. But believing in love (of self and others) got the better of me, and I'm re-embracing my queerness and advocating as much and as often as I can for others in the GLBT community. I wish a similar recovery for Thing, and I'm sorry for the pain she caused you.
Mar. 23rd, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I sympathise. I have had friends like that, that for some reason or another took a complete 180 in their life, and in the process, became intolerant and held views that I disagreed with, but not only that, they could no longer agree to disagree, either.

Calling your mom was just, IMO, fucking manipulative and crazy-making. I'm so sorry you had to go through that, and I think you're probably better without her in your life.
Mar. 23rd, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
shell shocked
Mar. 24th, 2013 01:51 am (UTC)
Had not heard about a Michelle Shocked controversy, but I love her music.

Also used to have that same Benedict German Shepherd sticker on my wheelchair. Peeled it off a few weeks ago when I officially told the church to fuck right out of my life.

So sorry your friend went to your mom. But how could she *not* expect you to be mad?
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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