Pragmaticism vs. Shame: on Self-Censorship

Today, for the first time in about three weeks, my nails aren’t painted.

You have to understand, I love painting my nails. I give myself manicures themed around superheroes, pokemon, figure skaters–whatever strikes my fancy. I have well over a dozen different colours and types of nail polish. I own a separate nail art brush and dotting tool. I have three polish apps on my iPod.

But today my nails are bare. Scrubbed my most recent polish  (a Pacific Rim-inspired manicure featuring three different glitters in blue and black) off this morning, and didn’t put anything on to replace them. Why? It’s not as though I’m afraid to go out in public with nail polish on–I do so regularly, just as I often wear daisy-duke style shorts, or even dresses. My gender presentation is very frequently, very visibly non-normative, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I had planned out a new nail display for this morning, but when it came time to put it on, I hesitated.

You see, today I have my second appointment with my psychiatrist. And it’s an important one–I need to update him on medication and how that’s going (well, thank you for asking), but also I need to seek referrals; I am moving to a new city in the fall and will need medical care there. It’s a lot to cover and I want to be sure there’s time for it.

I stopped myself from painting my nails this morning because I was scared. I was worried that my psychiatrist–who I don’t know that well–would see them and be given pause. That he’d want to make our appointment about my gender, about how I understand it and present it. That deflecting those questions would take more time than we had to spare, and would distract from the real issues I want to discuss.

So that’s practical, right? I made a decision based on objective factors rather than on anxiety or uncertainty. Or so I’d like to tell myself.

But I don’t know. I can be pretty weak-willed sometimes, though I’m teaching myself not to. And I think the reason I want to avoid having a gender conversation with my psychiatrist is more than a time concern. I don’t know if I want to talk about gender head-on right now. I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m worried that he could talk me into viewing things about myself in a way that isn’t true, that isn’t right for me.

I’m worried that if I give him the opportunity he can talk me into feeling ashamed, even though I’m not, generally. My self-confidence is constantly in a delicate equilibrium, and I’m always afraid that if I subject it to scrutiny it’ll crumble. 

But the practicality aspect is part of it too–time is important. I can’t separate out the two. I wish I was in a place where I could just slap on the polish, psychiatrist’s opinion be damned. But I can’t. I made the choice not to, for several reasons combined.

This post doesn’t have a tidy ending; I just have a lot of thoughts about this morning’s decision and the factors contributing to it tangled up in my head. Can pragmaticism be a mask for insecurity? Can the two coexist? Where does one end and the other begin?

I’m painting my nails when I get home tonight. But in the meantime, every time I look at them they’ll remind me just how little I still understand about myself.

 

Narrative Resonance and You (meaning me)

I am typically loath to make generalizations, but I am gonna open this post with one, heedless of the consequences: I think we all have a specific form of narrative that speaks to us. It’s not necessarily our favourite, but for whatever reason, we connect to it on a deeper level than we do other kinds of stories. Many of my friends, for example, tell me that found family narratives hold special significance for them, that even mediocre stories have the power to profoundly affect them if a found-family scenario is involved.

I think the stories in which a person finds meaning can say a lot about that person. About their hopes, their fears, their experiences. Again, this is not about favourite tropes; it’s about the ones that reach into your chest and give your heart a twist–for good or ill, regardless of the story’s quality or the circumstances in which the thematic element comes up.

The category of stories that do this to me is simultaneously simple and complex: tales of self-actualization affect me like nothing else. Stories where someone has to overcome opposition–internal or societal–in order to simply be who they are. Musicals, books, movies, anything where this is the core theme is gonna hit me hard.

It’s, obviously, a huge category, which predictably means I spend a lot of time emotionally compromised by the media I consume. I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one either, as this struggle, the fight to be who you are regardless of forces telling you you shouldn’t, is one that members of oppressed communities know well.

These stories, regardless of their trappings, are for me about accepting myself as queer, a journey that eight years in is still unfinished. They are about understanding and finding the confidence to express my gender. About being Native, despite growing up with my white family. About being proud to be disabled, to be a caregiver, to be me. About being proud to be, to exist in the world and to take up space.

Whether it’s Billy Elliott learning to dance or Matilda realizing her family doesn’t define her path, whether it’s the titular character of Sunday in the Park with George struggling to reconnect with art or Charlie Price of Kinky Boots realizing that making shoes is what he wants to do…

All of these characters come to a place where, regardless of their self-doubt, regardless of the censure of peers or scorn of family, they simply are. They are themselves without apology or subdual, without uncertainty or second guesses.

I’d like to get to that point one day. I feel like I’m moving that way, on good days, and these stories make me feel like I can do it, like this journey is worthwhile.

And that is why if you need me you’ll find me crying about musicals.