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.