Into the darkness

The first storm of winter is upon us.  The early indications predict that we will escape the heavy snow this time, but we have already been treated to gusting winds, steeply dropping temperatures and some sort of snow/sleet/hail thingie that didn’t do any damage, but produced an absolutely deafening roar on my windshield as I headed into work this morning.  Twas the witch of November come stealin’, as the prophet Gordon1 once intoned.

As much as I hate winter, I love a good storm.  Any storm.  I love “sheltering in place,” as they say, looking across the hills and fields out the back (southwest) windows of my home.  I don’t cower in the basement.  I grab a camera.  I step out of the front door to welcome the arrival of the new wind, to take in its measure and flavor.  In my formative years, I loved to go for a run during the height of a downpour, especially when the streetlights were knocked out.2  Like Lieutenant Dan, I climb to the top of the proverbial mast and taunt the sky:  “Is that all you’ve got?”

But not all storms are weather.

There are other kinds of storms which terrify me.  They paralyze–stunning me with a dizzying barrage of emotional lightening and pounding me with the thunder of confusion.  The very foundations of my life erode and I cascade downstream into Mare Crisium–the Sea of Crisis.3  It is there that, for the last several weeks, I have been treading water, at times with some success, but occasionally sinking beneath the waves of doubt.

Enough with the metaphor?  I suppose, but then again, you have never known me to be a particularly linear writer, and, as I have found myself saying more than once recently, I am not at my best.

I prefer to narrate the storm from the relative safety of its aftermath.  “Hey, things got bad, but look at all the nifty rainbows now!”4  I seem to be okay with vulnerability, but usual only with a certain degree of retrospect. I am not immune to shame.

I struggle to find a pathway into describing my whereabouts, but I think the storm is the best place to start.  I am prone to disruptions.  They strike without much warning and make a tangled mess of my thoughts and self-confidence.  If there are warning signs in advance, I am blind to them.  They are infrequent enough lull me into the delusion that they are done and gone.

Almost exactly three weeks ago, I was beset by crippling doubts about my identity.  True, there has always been a “female gravity” bending the trajectory of my life in the direction with which you have become familiar, but this crisis began with an overwhelming sense that, wherever I seem to be headed or feel I need to be, where I am isn’t identifiably feminine to most people, nor, during these dark hours, to me.

The disruption seems to be centered on two perceptions which still loom large in my present state of mind.  First, it is far more than the physical which separates me from other women.  I have been denied (or spared) the particular rhythms and discomforts of feminine physiology, but perhaps even more significantly, I have missed out on so many formative experiences:  I did not grow up in a world which devalued my gender.  I have not been groped or ogled by predatory men.  My size has conferred upon me a degree of protection from conflict.  I have been rewarded, not chastised, for “speaking out”.  I have made one dollar on the dollar.  I have not been asked on a date, nor spent any time worrying that this would never happen.  I have not spent a lifetime being conditioned to fret about my beauty.5  Not only did I get math (many women do, of course); I learned early that I must get math.  Though I have always made friends with women far more naturally than with men, have I ever truly convinced either them or myself that I am one of them?

I am unsurprised that this hit me so hard during the run up and run off of the election, whether or not this was actually the trigger.  Misogyny offends the hell out of me, but have I ever actually felt it?  As much as I desired the election of HRC, would it have produced any sense whatsoever of existential validation for me?  I was born into nearly every privilege imaginable.  What right do I have to see myself as a citizen of Pantsuit Nation?

The second perception was that my identity seems to be largely aspirational.  Am I female or do I simply experience intense conviction hat I ought to be?  I was trained to believe the unbelievable–is this simply the latest version?  Yes, masculinity took effort for me, but does femininity take less?  Without imaging that other women sail from moment to moment free of self-doubt, I observe that they never have to spend a moment convincing anyone else, let alone themselves, of their gender.  I do not think that this is merely to say that I don’t pass in society.  The question is whether I even pass to myself.  I fit the typical profile of a late transitioning transsexual–white, XY socialized male, melancholic, above average intelligence6.  Is there any sense in which transphobic critics, who see my identity as a sustained delusion, have a point?

Suffice it to say, the last several weeks have sucked mightily.  For the first 4-5 days, I was back to being a squirrel in the road, unsure which direction to run and consequently immobilized in front of the approaching headlights.

“Forward?  I can’t go forward!  Back?  I can’t go back!  Oh God, I definitely can’t stay here…”

My brain flip-flopped rapidly, wanting desperately to decide or better, to do something, and yet I knew there was nothing to do.  I just wanted to go back to bed so I could shut it out for a bit.

Fast forwarding a couple of weeks, the intensity has dialed down a little, but I’m still “dazed and confused”, and worse, worried that I won’t ever be able to un-think some of the thoughts of the last couple weeks.  And there is no resolution, no personal victory to report.  I still feel the wind and hear the thunder.

More ominously, this is the first time I have gone through this post-hormonal therapy.  There is certainly a lot more to the sense of calm and general well-being I have tried to convey beyond freedom from crisis, but until now, I really did have freedom from crisis.  For 18 months.  Even more, it had the feeling of resolution.  Peace was the benefit of therapy that justified the various downsides.  What now?

I don’t really know, and I don’t know when I will find out.  Sorry, there is no moral to this story.  Sometimes there isn’t.




  1. PBUH
  2. Not no mo’.  My feet get cold, and I’m not having that.
  3. A real place, if not an actual ocean.


  4. Yes, I realize that I’m at it again, but metaphors, like dead horses, ought to be beaten without mercy.
  5. Yeah, I know.  I ended up being a glamor-puss anyway.  Go figure.
  6. No boast here–fat lot of good it’s done me, honestly.

6 thoughts on “Into the darkness

  1. Larry

    Ironic that earlier today I thought of you as I looked out at the yucky weather we were getting and I wondered how you are doing in this time of “November Rain” Sorry to hear it has been an exceptional struggle recently. Hang in there! You are much loved!

  2. Geneviève

    So sad, I’m feeling your pain.

    As I follow along in your footsteps and those of other mid-lifers (eg Mary Jane Grace and Kristin Beck), the prognosis looks increasingly discouraging. I increasingly fear the neurochemical fragility of this condition. This summer, my progesterone trial dropped me into the abyss followed by brief euphoric rebound before leveling back into malaise. The hole gets temporarily filled by endorphins (exercise) and dopamine/ oxytocin (social affirmation), but just seems to deepen and widen. The coming out process brings ongoing anxiety.

    Please share when you find a solution. Wish you the best.

  3. Amy Gage

    Renae: Thank you for speaking your truth, from who and where you are. That is all I can do in reply. No, I “never have to spend a moment convincing anyone else of [my] gender.” But neither do I believe that this society values me equally to men; and I have felt that acutely since 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8 — the moment when, for me, the new (old) reality began to sink in. You and I, as first cousins, both were raised in privilege. You had the additional benefit of being the privileged gender, of having expectations (such as learning math) placed upon you that ultimately would lead you to a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. I was once told — yes, by a parent — that my ambition should be to “marry well.” Like other respondents to this post. I am sorry to hear of your confusion, and yet, we both know that it ultimately will lead to good, to a deeper understanding of your identity and to a compassion for all of us who are “other,” in some way. Thank you for your honesty. Be well.

    1. rmaddy Post author

      In our branch of the family tree, “marrying well” was an equal-opportunity mandate. It also happens to be one from which I have benefitted immeasurably, so I am conflicted about my reaction to it. None of us received a tabula rasa. My worry is that I do not seem to be thriving in my circumstance even as I understand it somewhat better.

  4. Steve Couture

    Jeesh, a lot of drama there, Renai.

    I think about you occasionally and wonder how you’re doing. You never lack for words, that’s for sure. You’ ll get though this, so cheer up

    your old friend,



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