Karen Gillan goes stateside
Some days it feels more like ‘possession’. Not the medieval kind where the Devil has sent a succubus to torment me. I know that she is an emanation of my mind, but still she takes me over, and my will-power, normally so strong, is broken because her presence is welcome and exciting. Sometimes she sticks around all day – recently that’s become her habit – and we spend a pleasant but wholly unproductive day, she and I. It is literally like being taken over by another body. In my workaday male body I’ve been suffering from backache; when I ‘become’ her, my pains disappear in her younger body. How uncanny is that? And yet she is not ineluctable. She can be banished by obligation. On working days, and on the eve of working days, she makes herself scarce. Thankfully.
It’s frustrating. As an intellectual, I bring my full cerebral firepower to bear on this problem, yet still I can’t ‘crack’ it. I can’t explain adequately what I feel or why I feel whatever it is I feel.
One reason for my incapacity may be that I’m trying to make distinctions where, in reality, none exist: there are no hard edges, only fluid contours, blurred lines, fuzzy between-states where one thing merges into another, perhaps even chrysalis states where one thing metamorphoses into something else, or pregnant states where one thing is born from another. It might help to think of both gender and sexual orientation in these terms.
The rational mind cannot grasp a phenomenon whose nature is indeterminacy. That said, I never cease to be amazed at the mind’s creativity, its power to invent fantasies, to tell itself stories that make sense of whatever weird shit it’s experiencing at the time. For much of 2014 I was sustained by two fantasies: sometimes I was a hot British actress appearing on an American talk show, like the lovely Karen in the photo above; sometimes an upmarket escort, a sort of Belle de Jour character. By December I was disappointed that both had run out of steam. One night before Christmas I fantasised I was my transitioning self, in bed with a cis man who’d never been with a trans woman before. The brain was inventing stories to make sense of shifting reality – the gender/sex relationship. I think the idea of being a trans woman or of undergoing transition had itself become eroticised. In my fantasy I was explaining to the (inevitably faceless) man: “Have you been with a trans woman before? I’m pre-op… Just so you know what to expect. Or what not to expect!” Fantasy, like myth, has power to bridge the contradictions of existence, but by its nature it speaks untruths.
In what sense is she ‘me’? She is ‘me’ as I might be (or would be?) if I’d been born female in 1990, rather than male in 19--. But that’s a meaningless counterfactual. If I’d been born in 1990, then no way could I have been born to the person I called mother. How can she share all or part of my genetic material? One solution – I surprised myself by stumbling upon this idea – is if she were my daughter. Here is a plausible counterfactual – that I married my on-off girlfriend in the late ‘80s and we had a child in 1990: a girl, tall like her parents.
I internalise an ideal femme and I externalise my vestigial male self as someone who looks at her and desires her. This was fine when my vestigial male self was either a client paying for her sexual services or a middle-aged talk show host flirting with her. But if I think of her as my ‘daughter’ while simultaneously thinking of myself as her ‘father’, then she cannot be arousing to me. Place her opposite her ‘father’ and the mechanism falters, bumping up against the incest taboo. To him she will always be his ‘little girl’.
And yet the alternative is too hard to bear. That she’s not ‘me’ at all, or any part of me – she’s just a character I play, an escapist fantasy. Thus is she reduced to a drag act, and a particularly ineffectual one at that, since I’ve never dared present it in public.
One way out of this impasse is to say that the arousal I sense when putting on her clothes or looking at my female body in the mirror is not the ‘autogynephilic’ response of a male to an internalised female but the bodying forth of the woman who was always within me, repressed, breaking through the restraints of years and coming to realisation of the sensual potential of her own body just as a cis woman might do when she masturbates. But does it have to be 'either/or'? Why not 'both/and'? Here’s what I mean about indeterminacy. One of these personae might merge into the other, or mutate into the other. Or perhaps they both ‘exist’ simultaneously, but the mind struggles to contain two contradictory concepts, so tries to privilege one over the other (or eliminate one altogether).
Can I apply this principle of non-differentiation to my other half? Instead of asking “who in the world is she?” perhaps I should stop interrogating myself (and her). I know some unalterable facts about her: her name, her age, something of her appearance and tastes – not much else. Can’t I leave it at that? Just let her be. Accept her as a real presence. She doesn’t have to be sustained by elaborate fantasies or analysed half to death with psychobabble, for – whoever she is – she is me.