The Year I Take My Stand


I am now thirty years old. It was a bit touch-and-go but I managed to survive at least this long. Had there been a sharper knife, my existence might have ended at age eighteen in a complete enigma. A scruffy, adolescent fanatic who preferred an ideology of stoical totalitarianism to modern civilization's dangerous, degenerate creed of individual liberty would have taken his own life shortly after voicing a passionate desire for gender transition.

Surely those remembering me today would have had to conclude I'd died completely insane like something out of Greek tragedy—Euripides' Bacchae comes to mind. But let us begin our story more cheerfully with the reminiscences of the woman who gave birth to me.

My mother had been up all night peeing every half-hour wondering about the strange pressure caused by the baby due to her in three-and-half weeks. Dismissing these uncomfortable premonitions she counseled my father to proceed with his morning game of golf. He returned to find her by the door with her bag packed for the hospital. I was born an hour after they arrived. Every time I've asked after the delivery horror story I'd been led to believe was the common lore of all mothers I've been told, after some consideration, that there was some pain—but that, “you don't really remember pain.

No great white elephant with tusks of jade greeted my upon my nativity. Nor was an eastern sage seen to somersault off the animal's back to prophecy of my future greatness as an enlightened, messianic philosopher king. Nor did the tiny infant whose body I occupied point towards the heavens and vow to be as a bridge between man and God.

I was, however, born at 3:33 p.m., a number remarkable not only for being three threes, but because it was the exact same birth time as my older brother. Perhaps this was to presage my elementary school nickname: “Ryan Lake's little brother.”

Sadly, however, it is to my coming out and initial suicide attempt that the occasion of my birthday inevitably attaches itself—the former two events forming, in my mind, a sort of nightmarish rebirth experience. Following eighteen years lived as a boy, I grew up to be a woman. Twelve years of living like this and I'm still surprised by it.

As a child, transwomen seemed to me as a mythical race belonging to the shared fictions of television. I understood that, like cowboys, mobsters, and samurai, they really did exist, but only some other entirely inaccessible world. I watched several talk shows a day hoping for any opportunity to see one.

My mother happened to walk in as I was watching such a program and I asked her why it was that a boy might become a girl. “I don't know,” she replied, “I suppose some men just feel more like women.” Her answer could have come straight from a trans rights activist—I hated it.

I didn't feel like a woman! I thought to myself indignantly, I felt like a transsexual! There was nothing appealing about being a woman outside of boys doing it. It was not taboo for a female to be a woman, so, who cares? But that others like myself had breached that wonderful, forbidden realm of feminine pleasure never ceased to fascinate me. That society was horrified by the idea only solidified it's power—surely only something very valuable would need to be rendered forbidden and inaccessible as if by a sociological bank vault.

My rebirth at age eighteen taught me it was possible to transform myself—that I could do the impossible. I spent the next twelve years searching, with little success, for what it was I wanted to transform into—after all, being a transsexual is actually just another frightfully dull lifestyle involving food, sleep, clothes, the bathroom, and very infrequent sex—surely I could have more!

Thirty is an important year for me—not only because I share an all too human preoccupation with round numbers, but because of the following quote from Confucius:

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning.
At thirty, I took my stand.
At forty, I had no doubts.
At fifty, I knew the will of heaven.
At sixty, my ears were attuned to the truth.
At seventy, I follow my heart's desire without doing wrong.

I model myself after Confucius because if I asked what Jesus would do I'd have to be crucified at thirty-three. Far be it for me to know what “三十而立” might have meant to a Chinese philosopher living some 2,500 years before I was born, but I decided early on that I should do likewise whether I understood it or not.

Throughout my twenties I celebrated each anniversary of my birth with a mix of apprehension for the mortality of my doomed, dying twenty-something self, and resolve that I too must be prepared to take my stand at thirty. That I married in time for it seemed auspicious. For someone who had resigned themselves to dying a virgin, alone and unloved, marriage serves as welcome reminder of the fact I exist.

Early in my relationship to Jessica I warned her I looked at life as a dream—that at any moment I might awaken to discover her lost forever, a fading figment of my sleeping imagination. At the time of my thirtieth birthday, the concrete social relationship of our family life together seems to provide the stability and balance I need going forward.

But upon what soapbox am I to take my stand? Over what castle shall I be made king, and who shall be my dirty rascals? Far be it for me to have a ready-made manifesto on hand for the dawn of my thirtieth year—I've had one in development for some time now—but, for today, let us consider the general features of the sandy mass currently between my metaphorical toes.

I've desired to be many things in my life—a mad scientist, a crazy cult leader, a totalitarian dictator—but I don't suppose any such trifles could content me. Were I to conquer the whole world my designs would immediately turn to the universe. Had I the universe, I'd demand time machines ensure there never was an era without my absolute rule. All alternative timeliness and parallel dimensions would need to fall under my dominion.

Were I omnipotent and omniscient I'd demand more power and knowledge exist so I could have it, and that it expand at a constant, infinite acceleration. Should I become God, I'd demand to be whoever it was that God worships.

I am consoled for my deficiencies in all these respects, by my dreams. There, power such as this can be taken for granted and I am free to consider more profound questions: With what sort of person would I like to have sex? How would I punish and humiliate my enemies? What would it most tickle my vanity to look like?

Even these are but distractions robbing me from the infinite possibilities of my own mind—they are like the hateful sound of a neighbour's dance-hop noise-scape booming in over a sub-woofer. There is nothing more disruptive to my dreams than my own self. Only when sleep frees me of myself I may I experience the genius of a life worth living and where anything is possible.

For a long time I supposed that thirty would be the year I'd begin the final artwork for my Magnum Opus—a project to which I've devoted half my life with nothing to show for it. I liked to suppose I'd complete my labour at age sixty before promptly killing myself to celebrate. I'd started the suicide note and everything—but, let's hope my experiments with mortality are behind me.

Frankly, I don't think it matters whether my masterpiece is ever complete, or even ever truly started. How could a piece of art compensate my lack of Godhood? What matters is the dream of the thing—that impossible vision of all the wonderful things that exist only in my mind and which I am hopelessly desperate to see survive me after my death—impossible as that is.

I exist in a perpetual state of a transformation. I am another figment in my own imagination, doomed to disappear as soon as I awaken—but my dreams will go on. As long as they endure I feel I always have place to take my stand.

Allow me to conclude with a quotation from Katsushika Hokusai I have always considered parallel to Confucius:

I've been in the habit of drawing from life since I was six. I became an artist and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing before the age of seventy was worth any attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.