On very rare and special occasions in the middle of summer, I’ll come across a butterfly or moth emerging from its chrysalis or cocoon. They are such strange creatures in those moments, their wrinkled wings still folded close to their bodies, their bodies distended with the blood that will fill their wings. As full of life as they are, expanding with every passing second, it seems a wonder that they ever fit into the cracked shell beside them. It must simply be too small to hold all of that color and pattern and complexity unfolding nearby.
But the chrysalis did hold the butterfly for a time, and allowed it to become what it was to become.
Over the past few months I have been feeling more and more constrained by this blog, by the accompanying tumblr, by being ThisSoftSpace in this Discourse on the Internet. This blog has been a chrysalis of sorts for me; it was a place to crawl into when I was needing a sheltered spot to process my shit, to see if I could figure out what I was supposed to become. A part of me hoped that by putting it on the Internet, other women who needed to process their shit would see that they were not alone. Another part of me just appreciated my story being witnessed by others. There’s a lot of validation in that. A part of me learned I have the right to my story and the right to tell it and that is very empowering to someone who has spent a great amount of time alone in the closet.
All along, I was still inside the chrysalis. Others have come by and measured and eyeballed and printed up labels for What Sort of Creature This Is. A lot of words get thrown around. Female. Woman. Lesbian. Amazon. Detransitioned. Gender Non-Conforming. Gender Defiant. Maybe Butch? Maybe not. Maybe “Straightbian” because I got some words wrong. TERF, certainly. Radical Feminist, maybe. White Colonialist Imperialist Predator. That last one was one of my favorites.
As personal as this blog has been, none of its readers really knows who or what I am. There are a handful of women who have been in contact with me off these pages and I have appreciated the relief that comes with being more of a real person with them. It is very, very difficult to try to deal with these issues interpersonally while behind a pseudonym – very difficult to reconcile who you really are with who others want you to be when you are just a handful of letters on a screen to them. When Maria Catt began making videos of her real self under her real name, I was floored by her bravery – and her sincere, authentic dedication that unfurled in her voice, in her physical presence. It shows so clearly what sort of butterfly she’s become, what flowers she’s going to pollinate, what sort of beauty she’s going to bring to the world. We have all been watching her metamorphosis, too, after all.
When I first began reaching out to detransitioners last summer, one of the first I emailed was 23xx, who had written a raw and moving account on tumblr and had helped create the private forum for those seeking support. Around the same time I joined that forum and began my own process through it all, she announced that she had to be moving on to her real life away from her accounts online. I was rather taken aback – here was one of the strongest, most compassionate voices around stepping away from it all. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to stay involved, if this was her story, if these were her people. But I was very new to it all, too.
One of the beautiful things about the word “transition” is that it implies movement and change. “The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.” It is synonymous with “metamorphosis”, in fact.
A week or so ago 23xx returned to tumblr with the post I’m not dysphoric anymore. It was inspiring, honest, and simply very clear. She, too, had transformed over time, healed and strengthened and spread her wings. A certain tone in that post differed greatly from the words I had read the year before, crouched over my copy of Blood & Visions, seeking comfort. She seemed so much more an independent person I hardly knew, and so much less the similar soul I had encountered during the most dramatic days, when everything was still so raw and processing our trauma was the thing to do. She was what I needed once upon a time but now we both have changed. There is another side to all of this, another transition to be made. We spread our wings and fly away from shattered pupae skins; they belonged to us at one time but are a part of us no more.
As the Buddhists say, once you use the boat to cross the river, you don’t keep carrying the boat with you.
I have been feeling constrained by this chrysalis, and the words written upon it by others. I have been feeling constrained by the arguments, the constant – so often petty – discourse. This morning I offered on tumblr that it’s okay if women want to shave their legs, and got a “No offense but… maybe think about a positive contribution next time,” from a 19-year-old lesbian feminist. I find myself often on the wrong side of lesbian and radical feminism, often still an outlier. I am tired of the black and white arguments from those trying to prove their points. I don’t have the energy to keep up with the ideological passions of the young. And I don’t have the constitution to argue with the irrational voices that keep trying to erase biological reality by claiming, “Transwomen are women!” Biological reality is going to win out on its own, I truly believe, in time. Our goal in the meantime is damage control. So I ask myself, how can I better support women and lesbians? How can I give them confidence to stand up for themselves and their love, their desires, the lives they want to live? How can I do this as what I am, as who I am, authentically?
The beautiful thing about being aware of detransitioned and reconciling women is seeing them pull themselves out of their cocoons and start pumping their wings full of blood. Seeing them going back to school, seeing them enjoying healthy relationships, seeing them building the authentic lives they want to live. Like 23xx, I wonder when the new will outweigh the old, when they will fly so far from their experiences of disidentification that it will seem far from them – perhaps always a pattern written into their wings but no longer a carapace they have to carry on their backs.
And I wonder, for myself, what it would be like to fly away from this chrysalis and rebuild my life as who and what I am, beyond these pages that have held so much of my processing, so many of my thoughts, and so much of my time this past year.
Mercury is in retrograde. It’s the week before my period. There’s a massive thunderstorm happening while I write this and I’ve been looking for omens. I may try taking a break from all of this for a while. I may try to see what lies beyond the constraints of the chrysalis.
I will let you know what happens.