18 April 2009

Love means being able to predict your boyfriend's menses.

The S.O. is out east this weekend, visiting family. He's at the ocean now, and I texted to ask whether he could send me a picture of the stars. I miss them, living in Chicago. Upon his response that it was too cloudy for stars, I cried a little. I told him so and he informed me that werewolf week, my personal favorite euphemism for menstruation, is indeed imminent. I am now ensconced on the couch with chocolate, tea, and a fleece blanket, and it occurs to me that love means being able to predict your boyfriend's menses.

Perhaps, admittedly, not for most. But it's what love I am in means, in part. I am trans, I still menstruate, and I hate it. I repress it for the three weeks out of the month that I'm not bleeding from my obsolete reproductive system, and consequentially have no idea when to expect to begin bleeding again. The S.O., for whatever reason, keeps track for me. This weekend is the first time since January that we've been apart overnight; it took his absence to reinforce exactly what his presence means, from letting me know when I'm PMSing to rolling cigarettes for me when my hands aren't up to it.

Neither he nor I like to refer to certain aspects of our relationship as caretaking. Of course he does things beyond the call of duty for most engaged twenty-somethings -- I don't think most people our age routinely help their partners dress or shower, for example. But that doesn't make either of us consider how we function to be other than completely normal. After all, most partnered gay men don't keep track of when their boyfriends get their periods; nor do most people of any age learn how to ground and support their partners through flashbacks. We don't see any of the above as weird or burdensome -- it's common fucking decency. The person you love needs help with some things, you provide that help. The person you love is a survivor of sexual abuse, you stay away from things that will trigger.

I'm beginning to add to that opinion. Most of it, I still maintain, is just common decency, or common sense. Of course you ask every single time whether something physical is okay. Of course you're going to notice a trend in the menstrual cycle of someone with whom you cohabitate. But increasingly I think a lot of what the S.O. is doing amounts to unpaid carework. A quick Google search for the term brings back a definition of carer as "Someone whose life is in some way restricted by the need to be responsible for the care of someone who is mentally ill, mentally handicapped, physically disabled or whose health is impaired by sickness or old age" (Baroness Pitkeathley). Whose life is in some way restricted, I repeat for emphasis. Ouch.

No, I don't think the boy would be sipping daquiris on a tropical beach if he weren't acting as a caregiver. But maybe, I don't know, he'd get out more, he'd write the Great American Novel, he'd study more, something. I'm feeling guilty, obviously. Carework is not something I feel entitled to from him or anyone, but I'm afraid that by allowing it I'm demanding it. In fact, I feel like he didn't really know the extent of my disability until we moved in together; I feel like I pulled him in under false pretenses in some nefarious plan to have someone around to button my oxfords and help me get up stairs and things. Clearly, that's not how it went at all. I continue not to think of him as "caregiver." He's my boyfriend, my fiancé when we get technical, my partner sometimes, my significant other, et cetera. But he's also other things -- among them student, writer, queer, agnostic, survivor -- and maybe caregiver goes on that list too. I'm not entirely sure whether I'm allowed to say that without him identifying as such (oh dear can you tell I came up transqueer? One may never impose adjectives on another without explicit consent!), but spending even a day-and-a-half without him throws into pretty sharp relief what my life is like with him.

To give you an idea, I haven't showered today; I wore clothes that I took off buttoned and buckled, which means they're recently worn. I'm not smoking unless in company, as the only tobacco we have is of the roll-it-yourself variety. Also, I keep dropping pens on the floor and not being able to pick them up (until I thought to do it with my toes, in which I retain freakish dexterity). There are a thousand tiny things that sound trivial individually, but make a dramatic difference when missing en masse. So yes, I do think my romantic relationship has elements of caregiving about it -- in both directions, as in all relationships, but I feel that the care coming from him to me is indeed CAREGIVING, in the Baroness Pitkeathley way, and what I do for him is just common decency.

For the moment, I'm too tired to angst about it, and will only add that love also means excusing shared showers as medically necessary.

10 April 2009

My Life as a Giant Twitching Insect

"He told himself again that it was impossible to stay in bed and that the most sensible course was to risk everything for the smallest hope of getting away from it."
Kafka's Metamorphosis*

I'm going a bit mad, having been in bed for about a week when not in class, and yet again I find that Kafka has something to say about my particular malady. I over-identify with Gregor Samsa for too many reasons to count. In sum, we both have bodies that do horrible things to us without our consent; we lose control over the way we're perceived because of our bodies; the people closest to us regard us as disgusting monsters. Welcome to my transsexual childhood, basically. Since the tender age of ten, I've had the language to describe gender dysphoria: it's Kafkaesque. It's like turning into a giant cockroach. It's like watching your mother sob when she looks at your fucking monstrous body. Kafka may as well have been writing about my puberty, I feel.

I'm re-reading The Metamorphosis for my humanities course just now, and am taken aback at how much I still feel like Gregor. In terms of my dysphoria, this isn't surprising. (Hint to the cis: it doesn't get better.) I'm reading disability into his transformation now, projecting like no one's business. Lo and behold, that first morning -- those first sickening steps in a new body -- has lasted a year by now. I still don't quite know how to get out of bed without injuring my lower parts, as it were. I still can't quite accept that anything has changed; after all, "if they took it calmly, then he had no reason either to be upset, and could really get to the station for the eight o'clock train if he hurried." Gregor does not let his massive physical transformation mean anything in isolation; it is when it is first exposed in company that he realizes the weight of what has transpired.

Samsa had it easy. He changed all at once; he didn't have the pleasure of feeling his body metamorphose around him through time, now bent, now swollen, now stiff, now fused. His adjustment period was finite. He didn't wake up yesterday from a nap unable to breathe and realize that now it's in his lungs, that this really is systemic, isn't it, that any organ could be next. Doctors and Gregor had nothing, ultimately, to do with one another; I can only map my new body with medical assistance. In short, fuck you, Gregor.

All that aside, I've got a new answer to the ubiquitous "what's it like?" question: Kafkaesque. If there's anything more sickening than watching your body change without your consent, I sincerely hope it never happens to me.

*My edition is Kafka, Franz, 1883-1924. The Complete Stories. Edited by Nahum N. Glatzer. Schoken Books, Inc, 1971. The Metamorphosis in this edition was translated by Willa and Edwin Muir.