The Wall pt. 2 — The Oubliette
“You enter a maze to lose yourself and a Labyrinth to find yourself.” — Dr. Sharron Stroud
Hoggle: This is an oubliette, labyrinth’s full of ’em.
Sarah: Really. I didn’t know that.
Hoggle: Oh don’t act so smart. You don’t even know what an oubliette is.
Sarah: Do you?
Hoggle: Yes. It’s a place you put people… to forget about ‘em!
I’ll proudly admit that I saw the movie, Labyrinth, multiple times in the theatre and untold numbers of views since. It is a major part of my geek DNA and a fertile, oft-used source of reference quotes and wisdom. While not the reason I’ve had a long fascination with labyrinths (that dates back to my early love of Greek mythology), it is certainly a source of visualization of what I believe a good labyrinthine city should resemble, complete with oubliettes.
When I returned to my life in L.A. after my failed attempt to begin transitioning in Denver, the reason I gave everyone was that I needed to “find myself”. Finding one’s self seemed to be a thing people did and it was certainly the closest I would ever come to the truth about why I had left without so much as a note. After all, is there a better definition for transition than “to find one’s self”. That’s what we do when we start stripping away all of the everything that we use to hide being trans (at least for those of us who went about hiding).
On a tangent, the language trans people have for life after coming out is really clunky. I wish we had better descriptors than “living as my true [replace ‘true’ with any other synonym] self” or “living authentically”. Or worse, describing the level of transition based on the amount of time one is no longer hiding by describing the period of “living ‘full time’” such as:
“I’ve been living full time [or ‘as my true self’; ‘as a woman’; etc.] for 6 years.”
I’m just not satisfied with the choices, like going out to eat and the menu has 5 items and they all come with Brussels spouts as the only side.
I didn’t go to Denver to ‘find myself’. The whole reason I left to disappear into stealthy anonymity was because I could no longer deny who I was. It wasn’t a matter of seeking myself out, but rather just being myself. I went there to BE myself. But Denver turned out to be a rather tricky part of my labyrinth because being myself was far too frightening and rather than bravely seeking out the path to freedom, I took the me I was there to be and tossed her into an oubliette.
It’s a place you put people… to forget about ‘em!
It was a form of self-defense. I was so close to suicide at that point that the only way to stay alive was to wall my ‘true self’ up — to find some kind of workable peace with living as a man. While I didn’t initially go to Denver to find my ‘self’, that is exactly what I did. And then I imprisoned that self and left it for dead so that I could go on living.
And I did just that. I went on living. Bricking that self up in the dark corner of my mind. At first moment by moment as it took all the moments to make the wall as strong as possible. The moments became less frequent as I was able to embrace life after Denver as I could. I was often depressed, but depression has always been part of my status quo, so it seemed to be something I would just have to deal with to get by.
At one point, the depression got so bad that suicide was back on the table as an option. I shared that with my parents and they paid for a couple of months of rigorous day-long therapy (groups and individual sessions with mediated confrontations with my parents) and that therapy was successful in that it allowed me to tie it all to the shit I was dealing with regarding my relationship with my father. At no time during any of it did I mention that I had operated under the belief that I was a transsexual for most of my life. For some reason, it didn’t seem germane.
That is how strong the prison was. That was how bloody good the oubliette turned out to be. It wasn’t that I had no memory of where I had trapped my self; it was that I was able to operate as if that self was not the dominant issue. I could put the blame for all my crap on poor parental communication or my weight or my inability to follow through on anything.
My inability to follow through…. I kept starting things and not finishing. College. Writing projects. Careers. I would continually begin things and be passionate about the beginnings and then when I hit a rough patch, the passion would evaporate, as would my energy for the project or the goal. Which would lead to more depression…second verse same as the first.
All the while, my self that was walled up would occasionally cry out and I would answer with some half-hearted cross-dressing that just about always made me feel ridiculous and reinforce the prison just a little more.
I want to be clear about this: Cross-dressing rarely brought me anything but distress. There would be a moment of imagined authenticity, of wearing the ‘right’ clothes, followed immediately by disgust, especially if I caught a glimpse of my reflection — a funhouse-mirror version of a ‘real’ woman. That would almost always be followed by some measure of binge eating and than purging whatever pieces of women’s clothing I owned.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand cross-dressing. But I don’t have to.
The other way my self cried out was through the wish to be someone I was not. Part of being depressed is simply not being happy with one’s self and a salve for that is a complex fantasy, a wish to wake up as someone else — preferably a successful person. Funny thing, my daydreams just about never involved waking up as a successful man. This is not to say I did not try those imagined lives on for size — a successful athlete or performer perhaps. It’s just that those personas were never as comforting as the ones where I woke up the next day as a woman.
You might think that at this point, I should have realized that it was all part and parcel of being trans. You might be right, but the thing is that a well-built oubliette does its job. It’s where I put my trans self — the connections that come with that acceptance resided there as well. It was all well and truly lost. So much so that when I met my spouse, it didn’t seem necessary to mention. That it was ever even an aspect of my life seemed imprudent to disclose.
And after I met her, I was well and truly happy — happy with my life and with myself. She made me believe I was a person worth loving. She also convinced me to start finishing things. I finished my college degree and found a career. I finished my first master’s degree. I started working towards finishing my first novel.
In all of that happiness, I neglected the regular maintenance that a good oubliette needs to hold its prisoner.
Continued: The Wall Pt. 3 — Escape