I recently had the opportunity to try something new, namely building a set of puppets and costumes for a production of the play She Kills Monsters at Iowa City Community Theatre. I've worked in theater before, but making monsters was a new area for me and I'm very proud of what I was able to build and what I learned in the process. Of course it helped to be working with an excellent director and a cast that brought everything beautifully to life, from the brief cameo of Vera the Beholder, to the goopy interlude with Miles the Gelatinous Cube, to the genuinely epic final battle with the five-headed dragon Tiamat. It was a fantastic show and I'm very glad to have been a part of it.
I first came out as trans four years ago today, at 11:34 PM in a Facebook chat with my dear friend Max. It wasn't very long or very detailed, but it was probably one of the most important conversations I've ever had. It took something that was very Big and Scary in my head and turned it into something Intimidating-but-Manageable in the wider world. I said the words and was not struck down. I didn't know where to go but I could, at least, Begin.
I still sort of feel like a beginner. It's been an odd four years, and it isn't just my name that's changed, it's the way I think about myself, and the way I approach life, and the things I think are important. And that's always evolving, I suppose, but overall those things are shifting from being determined by others to being self-determined. Rather than being a person solely for other people, I'm learning to be a person for myself. And this isn't easy. It goes very much against my programming and causes quite a lot of internal sound and fury. Despite that, it's been very important, and has helped me learn how to love myself, and care for myself. I am becoming a person who does things for others because she feels whole and wants to share, not because she has this terrible howling vacuum within herself that she's trying to fill with external praise.
At some point a few years ago I remember saying to my parents that being out and transitioning "wasn't about being a woman, it was about being a whole person". In retrospect I think that sentiment had an element of obfuscation at the time, a need to soft-pedal the potential changes and ward off rejection. But the importance of becoming a whole person is nonetheless a guiding principle for me. Changing my name and pronouns is part of that. Piercing my ears is part of that. Hormones are part of that. Seeing a therapist and really dealing with many years of utter self-loathing and depression is part of that. A person is many different pieces and in its turn I’m working with each one.
There are days when it sucks. There are days when I hate everything about myself and feel very unnecessary and inconvenient. There are clashes with bureaucracy that make me feel less than human and worries about money and healthcare and The State of Things that gnaw me down to the bone. There are times when it feels like being trans is just a layer of shit icing on an already garbage cake. But those are either external things I can't control, or the lies that Shame tells me to keep me in its clutches, and that doesn't make them less real or hurtful, but it means that they aren’t, ultimately, The Truth.
The Truth is that I love myself, and I'm no longer afraid to do so. The Truth is that I love others, and I am able to accept and take joy in the love they give to me. The Truth is that I'm an artist and I want that to define the path of my life more than anything else. The Truth is that I'm a woman. The Truth is that I love women. The Truth is that this is can all be very hard, but I am very strong. The Truth is that despite everything I am becoming a person that I am happy to be.
The phrase "living your truth" gets thrown around in regards to transitioning, not incorrectly, but maybe without consideration that "living your truth" is so very much more than what you're wearing. Of course that's what's fun to look at, and everybody wants to see your new clothes and speculate on what's under them, but I think living your truth has nothing to do with what other people might see. It's the moments where you're by yourself, existing in whatever form you do when nobody's looking, doing nothing but being a human for your own sake.
Living my truth is being in my studio and making weird faces while I draw. Living my truth is giving myself a hug as I go to sleep and telling myself how proud and happy I am to be here and to be me. Living my truth is sitting at home and happily daydreaming while looking out the window. Living my truth is being present and alive for myself, because that's simply what needs to be done.
I don't know if there's a conclusion here. This is more of a prologue anyway, but to sum up I can say this: Four years ago I decided to plant a little seed, and that seed has blossomed into a garden which I could never have imagined, and which I am very happy to tend.
India Ink and Silkscreen on Paper - 10"x14" - 2017
This series of prints is about reconnecting with my younger self while I was sorting through all the art I made in high school. For a long time I’d been feeling as though the line between past and present had been irrevocably broken. I knew objectively that the sad and angry boy who stared at the ceiling of his bedroom at night desperately wishing for a change that seemed impossible was me, but that version of me never felt real, and all I could do was hate it.
But as I was digging through those boxes of photos and drawings and cassette tapes and typed and hand-written pages, I found something I wasn’t expecting: I found myself. I found that girl who didn’t yet have a name, but who showed herself through her irrepressible creativity and curiosity. I was able to re-draw the line between past and present, connecting them, and connecting us.
These three prints are a letter to her, the message of which is very simple: I love you, and I’m immensely proud of you.
HORIZON had its opening reception at the Grinnell Arts Center's Stewart Gallery last night (26th August). We had an excellent turnout and received a great deal of positive feedback from everyone who attended. I'm very proud to have been involved with putting this show together, and of the work I contributed.
I'm working on a small series of prints for an upcoming show (with the Iowa City Press Co-Op) at the Grinnell Arts Center and getting experimental with inkblots and ink washes. I'll be screen printing over these to build up the image, but I thought I'd share some of my favorite details from what I've done so far (click the image to see more).