It was a strange weekend. The Superbowl used to be such a big deal to me. It didn’t matter much who was playing in it. I was a fan of the spectacle, the manufactured drama, and the capstone of another season of my favorite sport.
These days it’s simply not that big a deal in my life. It’s mildly entertaining, provided I have nothing better to do. The values that drive my life now have very little overlap with anything done by large men crashing into one another on a bright green field, no matter how clever the surrounding advertisements might be.
My disconnected emotion between the Superbowl now and Superbowls past has me thinking about a topic I rarely see emphasized in transition stories, though I find it pretty common among us. It’s a form of displacement, which plays into our pre-transition lives in a peculiar manner.
During our prior lives we very commonly place absurd amounts of emotion and energy into various pursuits we believe to be acceptable within our gender role. It’s not the same as pretending we like something which we don’t (though we often do that too). It’s more about taking things we find interesting and pouring ourselves into them with enthusiasm bordering on obsessiveness as a means of distracting our minds from our gender conflict. Our participation in most other aspects of our lives suffers as a result.
I look back upon my prior life and see one example of this after another. In addition to an obsession with football (appropriately masculine, no?), I had phases in which I was driven to obsession pursuing gaming, medieval recreation, martial arts, fine wine, religion, politics, and heirloom tomato gardening (the “heirloom” aspect had enough history, science, and elitism within it to feel more masculine than “gardening” alone). There was a kernel of legitimate interest in all of them at the start, but in each case I exploded that interest into borderline mania. In different phases I did the same thing with my job. At least in that case I was left with tangible rewards for driving so single-mindedly into something. Most often the only “reward” came in social situations. I had such voluminous information about all these “masculine” pursuits I could fill conversation space in a gender-appropriate manner while keeping the topic safely distanced from anything personal.
For those of us who eventually pursue transition, the transition journey itself becomes an all-encompassing obsession for a time, more than capable of absorbing all the emotion and energy we might care to invest within it. For some that becomes a problem, as transition eventually comes to an end with no clear replacement obsession to take its place. This can leave some people feeling lost and adrift.
But I think transition can be a nice half-way house for learning to de-couple obsessive interest from authentic living. You get a little (maybe a lot) of obsession as well as authenticity during transition. But then, gradually, the obsessive part begins to calm. You’ve hit the major milestones. The ones remaining begin to seem more like dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s than making fundamental changes. And you’re finally left with a life you don’t feel the need to run away from or distract others from seeing.
But then you’re faced with an unanticipated problem. You suddenly have a lot of time, and an embarrassing inexperience in knowing how to use it. There’s no mono-manic obsession to account for any unplanned hours in the day. As I hit these moments today I can see the temptation to retreat back into old habits and patterns. Even if I don’t need them any more, at least I know how to live like that.
But I think it’s important to resist this temptation. Something I am coming to appreciate these days is that running from obsession to obsession is not a natural way to live. If you’re living a balanced life you have neither the time nor the need for such obsessions. Once you’re relieved of the need to disassociate your mind from your life it suddenly becomes clear that the world was not designed to make obsessives happy. If happiness is your goal, obsession should be your enemy. Balance is critical.
And so, with the irony duly noted, I believe the next phase of my transition will be devoted – perhaps single-mindedly at times – to developing a balanced life. I’m sure with some work that I can have a family life, social life, career, and ordinary hobbies – all playing a healthy role in my life without any one overwhelming the others. The world is full of examples of people doing this. I need to teach myself how to do the same.