I’ve heard the phrase tonnes of times, but what the heck does “choosing yourself” even mean? On the one hand, it sounds like the most self-indulged self-absorbed approach to moving forward, an embarrassment. On the other it seems like a redundant turn of phrase, some commercial catch phrase for a process you’d undergo anyway. Maybe it is a lot of wank. But this week just gone, it’s been the resounding understanding of what can be gained from a country swamped in pain, where I’ve been dodging feelings of being lost, and being disregarded. These feelings aren’t new, they have followed me from Australia, and I have made an effort this week to turn and face them.
We left Washington with optimism about stepping away from the manicured lawns, wrap-around porches and Pollyanna pretenses about America. Homophobia was very close to the surface of our interactions, and we found the impassioned allegiance to “our forefathers” bizarre, when these men advocated for equality and valued diversity of life. I wonder how they feel about their words being twisted to justify murder, injustice and poverty.
We enjoyed brief spells in Baltimore and then Philadelphia where I was struck by the honouring of LGBTIQA+ rights progresses, as well as comforts made for the homeless population where we were visiting Giovanni’s Room, an iconic queer bookstore and thrift shop. Onward then to New York, where the trip’s speed, intensity and sheer density of memories truly caught up with me. My capacity for taking in the wonder around me evaporated. I couldn’t be present. I literally started walking away from experiences before I’d even had them. And the expectations of how seeing certain things would feel, left much of New York feeling like a strange museum rather than an experience. I kept feeling like I was too late, just missed something, or someone, like I was behind the 8-ball, not on the pulse, not cool enough, not hot enough, not passionate enough for this dream kingdom, this peak of success.
I read something not long ago, that whenever you feel as though you aren’t being picked, or that people aren’t choosing you, this is a reflection of you not choosing yourself, of believing the falsehood that something you are makes you an unworthy candidate for the kind of life and relationships you’re seeking. The reality is that who you are gives you access to what you want, just not the way you’ve either pictured it, or the way it’s been shown to you. Happiness, love, fulfilment, success come in an infinite variety of forms and are reached by a labyrinth with infinite entries and paths. I’ve felt for a long time like I keep not being picked, that there’s no-one to whom I’m the most important. Not even myself, and that’s the root of much of the problem.
Spending time with people I treasure and even idolise who lifted me up, made me feel special, treated me to all kinds of experience and all the while urging me to agree that I deserved such bestowing – it was bizarre, but I had to make the decision to flourish in the gifts – it’s the best way to show gratitude to those who would honour you with them. I want more than their generosity to evidence my belief in my own value. That’s what it means to choose yourself. Fake it until you make it, sure, but let each experience feel like a personal gift. Treat every day like your birthday.
Just when I thought it was too late for me to feel any real connection to New York, fate conspired that I would take walk for a last look at The Stonewall Inn. As I stood there contemplating how gay liberation began as a riot, and how that riot needs to continue on, I was met by a homeless man named Bishop who I spoke to and gave my last dollar. He picked me to share his story with. As I wandered home, feeling gratitude for the life and opportunities I have, someone else got off their bike to come talk to me, saying they were a trans woman and my energy prompted them to believe they could reach a femininity and beauty they craved, and asked me about the process I’d gone through. “Let your transition speak to you” I told her, and we had a cry together for the miracle for family. She picked me to seek affirmation from. In so doing, she reminded me of the value of choosing myself and flourishing as best I can, because that establishes in turn the attraction I want to generate.
This trip has been littered with booking cancellations, emergencies taking friends out of town, sudden unexpected costs and that’s all added up to our feelings of vulnerability and belief that what we’re being shown is important. As we headed to Holyoke to stay with Tori Amos connections Alex and Matt in witchy Massachusetts, we realised that we were in dire need of a rest, a chance to catch up, to process. In the mix, Teague had headed home as planned, which had us all feeling a sense of “without”-ness, that we needed to rebalance from going from trio to duo. Whilst there, a friend had to withdraw their offer of accommodation, which we replaced with a night in Provincetown, which we were often told to visit as a kind of gay mecca where queerness was in the majority, roaming the streets in joy and liberation. Little did we know this excursion would result in what for me has been the lowest point of this whole adventure.
Gay mecca it was, though for a very particular body type, and I was informed by someone that there was an unspoken ‘no girls allowed’ policy. What we had been sold as a perfect opportunity to get our rocks off and feel our pride, swiftly turned into a sinkhole apocalypse for our self esteem. However, it was important for our journey to feel into the darker parts of recovery from trauma, where a very common coping mechanism becomes burying oneself in someone else, engaging in a numbing form of sex. “Getting back on the horse” they call it. Seeing that play out en masse, people hiding their dysmorphia, their fear, their shame and their needs in the game of desire, showed me how poisonous and addictive it can all be when you gamble yourself out repeatedly to whoever sits at your table in the casino. Known when to choose to write off your losses, gather up your remaining assets and go invest in the accumulation of self-worth, generate your own wealth. It’s not easy, but it’s far more secure a return.
Next week we’re taking a much more chilled journey through upstate New York, into Toronto then down to Ohio. Much more time with friends, much more creative exploration and creation. A great deal to look forward to, and very indicative of the part of healing where you start to turn your pain into someone that expresses it out, and ripples into the healing of the people and world around you.
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