Invisible Monster

On Saturday, I had a plan. I managed to buy tickets to see Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard for Saturday night within the 15 minute window they were available for sale. I was in the final weekend of my first quarter of grad school. My workload was minimal in comparison to the previous nine weeks and it felt like, for the first time in a long time, I had time to go on a date with Katie.

I spent the day getting done as much as I could for a final portfolio, attempting to eliminate how much work I’d need to do Sunday. My routine when working on homework while Katie is home is to put in headphones to silence the distractions of her movement around me. I could go to the library or a coffee house, but the time to get there is honestly something I can’t afford as of late. So, in my own headspace, I didn’t see Katie transform, didn’t notice the slow creep of dysphoria grab ahold of her and manipulate her reflection.

I knew when Katie woke up on Saturday, something was wrong. I don’t know why or how I can tell in these moments and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve concluded there must be something in her energy that translates to me as something not quite right.

Throughout the day, I could see out of the corner of my eye Katie on her phone, funneling all energy into the social media world. I’d ask her if she was okay, and she insisted on being fine. I have to give myself permission to not take responsibility for making her feel better in these moments. I want to jump in, make suggestions, provide potential solutions that would uplift her mood, but I also need to complete what I need to for school so I can enjoy our plan for the evening. I need to take care of me.

As we approached the time I needed to start getting ready, I took out my headphones to realize Katie had been in the shower for a long time, more than 30 minutes. I peaked open the door and asked the same question again, “Are you okay?”. This time, I recieved the answer I knew the first time I asked that morning. No, she wasn’t. Katie looked in the mirror to start getting ready and didn’t see herself in it. She saw the imposter I can’t see, the horrible thief that continuously takes over her body without permission.

It is this point in our evening, knowing we need to leave by 7:15pm to be on time to the show, that I know I have to become the cheerleader. Dysphoria doesn’t care if Katie is on time. Dysphoria slows Katie down, becomes the heavy chains jailing her from the ability to see through the curtain of her discomfort. She didn’t want to put on makeup, but I encouraged her to do so. I’d seen makeup help her mood before and figure it’s worth a try. She didn’t want to put on female clothes, but I suggest she at least wear a form-fitting sweater. Dysphoria makes Katie want to hide underneath big clothing that that hide her female-forming figure, almost begging the trigger of being misgendered by strangers. Dysphoria is irrational and cruel. If there is anything I could do or give to make Katie not ever feel the way dysphoria makes her feel, I would.

As we finished getting ready, a bit behind schedule, I called the Uber. We somehow made it to a packed Paramount theater despite getting stuck going down 3rd avenue the wrong direction. There wasn’t time for wine and as we sat waiting, watching the audience, I could feel Katie’s energy anxiously sitting next to me. She couldn’t have conversation with me. Anything she says was in response to a question or comment prompted by me and I felt like I was working overtime.

As Dax came onstage to the delight of his audience (and me!), Katie leaned over and let me know she was starting to feel better. I felt relieved. I had a feeling earlier in our journey to that point that maybe distraction in a crowded room with a performance would help stuff dysphoria back down. It’s hard to know. Sometimes distraction works, sometimes it induces more anxiety and causes Katie to retreat further within her own mind.

By some divine alignment, the guest for the night was Dan Savage. While Dan’s journey is, without argument, different than ours, a lot of his journey to validate queer people in their quest for acceptance is relatable to our own. It was exactly the right Seattleite to speak indirectly to Katie on learning how to love yourself as you are, on learning how to accept family might take more time to understand your identity and it’s not your responsibility to gain their trust, on accepting the journey you are on for what it is. We all grapple with our own battles, with our own understanding of our identity and place in this world. We all have invisible monsters.

9 thoughts on “Invisible Monster

  1. Wood, Greg

    Your writing is just wonderful. Makes me tear up, often, not sure happy or sad or both kinds of tears. We do have our invisible monsters. I’m glad Katie has a dragon slayer on her side.

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  2. My partner’s dysphoria comes out more when she is upset her hair is taking too long to grow out, and is in an ugly stage of growth. I now have to threaten her when I leave home early that I will not becoming home to a shaved head again. Yes that has happened a couple times the last few years. I for the life of me don’t understand why she didn’t grow it out from her male hair syle, which was way longer than a shaved head. I have made plans for her to go see my cousin for a dye and hair styling next month. It will be done in mycousin’s apartment, so this first real girl look will be private. My cousin is also trying to talk (through messaging with me on facebook) her into getting a weave done so she has the look of long hair without having to worry about a wig, and a weave will fit under a motorcycle helmet instead of a wig. Decisions, decisions.

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    1. I asked Katie about this because I was curious if she’d experienced it. She explained that she has felt a need to shave her hair in order to exert control over the dysphoria before she knew she was transgender. Katie described feeling relief in the temporary control of shaving her head, but it was always short lived.

      As Katie’s partner, it was so hard to watch this pattern. My best advice is to be patient. Also, we had luck with our hair dresser-friend styling Katie every once in a while as it grew out to provide a feminine touch and upkeep as it grew.

      I also have hair A.D.D. and can never muster the strength to wait through the ugly-duckling hair growth stage. I relate strongly to the impatience on this matter, although admittedly for very different reasons that don’t compare in emotional weight as heavy as your wife’s.

      Katie had a 6-month+ stage of wearing beanies while her hair grew. It was rough and she often looked like 90s Sean Mathews (Boy Meets World), but now her hair is much longer and almost fits all back in the pony tail.

      It does get better! At least it did for us. I appreciate you sharing.

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  3. We search for the mask. When we look in the mirror, we want to see us, but we look harder than most trying to see if there are any remains of the mask still there. Of course, there is, so it fills our vision, making us unable to see anything else. Those of us that lived behind it longer see it more easily, but we all see it. I try my best to look at the mask as a scar, it is something I lived through and something people may or may not notice, but it means I survived. Dysphoria is such a mean spirit, and it can strike even when we are happiest. One step, one moment at a time.

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  4. Well Iam happy the Invisible Monster is not rearing it’s ugly head in our house today. Yesterday Madison went for a consult and test treatment for laser hair removal. So she couldn’t shave. We went for breakfast, a couple servers double taked. One said a questioning sir. I don’t think she caught the double takes. Then after breakfast, going to the bank for me to get a new bank card, to Starbucks, then off to her appt. All this in the same shopping area. I went and did the food shopping as she had her consult. When I got back, I was flustered and locked my keys in the suv. So she called a locksmith and walked across the lot to the bank we were at not even an hour ago, to get cash for the locksmith. She inserted her card, punched in her pin number and said she needed to $90 cash. The cashier read her screen and said she can’t do that, as it is her wife Madison’s card. She told the bank teller she is Madison and threw her driver’s licence across the counter. After we finally got back on the road. I asked to go bra shopping, or leave it for another weekend. We went shopping. She seemed so ackward standing there. She said after a bit that she did feel out of place being there, looking like a guy because the facial hair. That she never wants to go out again without shaving and make up because her gender has been questioned too much without it. I said from now on we can just do the laser treatments and go home, if that is better for her.

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  5. Spoke too soon. Madison’s disphoria was worse that I thought. Monday we has power outages scheduled at our work. She didn’t want to sit around work with no internet, so she drove over 4 hrs to get the last ID card done that she has been having troubles getting. We had planned to go as a family in October. Oh well I hope this helps her get over this weekend’s gender mislabelling.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. She seems more relaxed yesterday and today. She has tried 3 times to get this last ID card done since March. Their last rejection of it said she had to go to the head office in Vancouver BC. 10 hours total trip. I am hoping she goes with the laser hair removal and doesn’t have too many more days that she has to go out with full facial hair and no makeup.

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