On my way to the marketplace

After a very long hiatus from writing, i am getting back on track, starting with this lengthy explanation.

A lot has happened in my personal life the past two years, primarily the discovery of my gender fluidity and the ongoing recovery from serious health issues. I guess a lot of people over the years have wondered what happened to me, why all my artistic endeavors dried up, why i haven’t posted new articles on this website, etc.
Below you can find some answers, and the announcement of my inevitable comeback. For those who are getting worried already, you shouldn’t be. This is a positive story.

[ voor de nederlandstalige, vrij vertaalde versie, klik hier ]

NOTICE: this is my personal account and i do not speak in the name of the trans* community, which is a very diverse demographic, much more than most people imagine.
I am aware that the following narrative ismyway of weaving the facts together, but overall i’m pretty good at objectifying reality, including my own life. I let the facts and pictures speak for themselves as much as possible. The most important details are included, at least i hope so.
Some people may feel offended or hurt because i did not give them the following explanation in person, but it takes a lot of time and energy to convey all this to each and everyone separately.  And if there is one thing that i hate, it is repeating myself over and over again. I hope you understand.

Part 1:
A quick resume of my personal history (you can skip this if you want)

A number of things have contributed to the strange path that took me to where i am right now, at age 33: lifelong health problems, an XXL brain, a very sensitive mindbody and last but not least, not fitting into the male / female binary.

As long as i can remember i have had a hard time digesting my meals. Also, my health was quite feeble, being frequently sick as a child, but that is not so abnormal per se. At age 3 or 4 i got examined by multiple doctors to find out the cause of my nausea, but since their instruments could not measure anything significant, i was considered a “psychosomatic case”.

I was an introverted child, very quiet, never causing any trouble, very susceptible to what was going on around me.  I tried to cope with the nausea the best that i could, not to impose any burden on anyone around me.
I became quite resourceful at hiding my discomfort, and it showed me at an early age how limited the perception of most people is. The problem was no longer visible, case closed. For then.

As for the rest, i was the shy kid with the the drawing talent who excelled at school. Took on the role of caring big brother at age 5, spent a great deal of time watching television, reading, drawing, playing outside and building lego.
My emotions got me in trouble a couple of times, so i learnt to block them off. And instead of sticking to the things i was very good at, i tried to master anything that caught my interest, from basketball and skateboarding to copycatting all sorts of comic strip styles and studying school topics i didn’t like that much. Very enriching but at the same time very detrimental to developing your own identity.

I have always had a hard time identifying with people, especially with boys and men, but since there are several reasons that make it harder for me not to fit in socially, i took that for granted. Ironically, i did identify with the comic heroes and one-dimensional television heroes from the 80’s. I mostly lived in my fantasy world, hiding from the real one.

I never liked high school. Too much incomplete knowledge, stress and narrow-mindedness. Played a lot of computer games, especially adventure games.
Around age 14 my feelings got messed with by two girls (all fairly innocent) but it locked me up further. I kept longing for intimacy from that point on though. Began skateboarding (at which i sucked big time) and skimboarding, trying to impress the ladies, without any success.

When i was around 16, i discovered Henry Rollins, who became my role model for many years. First his band’s music, later his spoken word performances and books. The blues, alienation, frustration, raw emotions and crude introspection struck a deep chord, and inspired me to adapt the lone samurai persona and get into power training. It protected me and kept me going for a long time… I tried to come off as tough as i could, which is not so easy with my personality and physique (!). ( Interestingly, not so long ago i discovered this video in which Rollins is psychologically analyzed as very feminine internally. Something i had never realized, but it is obvious once you start noticing.)

My youngest sister was born, i had a brief period of popularity with some of the girls at school, got excellent final grades, was too naive and out of touch with myself and lacked the personality to pursue an artistic career.

I was given the opportunity to go to university.So i went to Brussels, got my first internet connection and got hooked on US underground hip hop. My interest in IT gradually waned and i enjoyed the freedom but i felt terribly lonely, trying to get in touch with girls and failing miserably each and every time. A lot of bad luck, a lack of self-confidence, wrong academic choices, but also because i could not live up to the masculine role i so desperately tried to uphold. In these moments where i had to open up myself the girls i approached probably sensed the disconnect in my conduct. It was not just shyness, anxiety or a lack of experience.
I had had a brief romance at the end of high school though, but from then on i remained solitary for about ten years.  Frequently getting hit on by gay guys did not boost my morale either and drove me further away from my soft side… (in hindsight and it was quite flattering and probably a sign of things to come, they have all my love and respect)

Writing and music became my life, my reason of being. I always kept my notebook at hand to write down my frustrations, making it my trademark for many years. Luckily i never did drugs or alcohol, those would have wrecked me ( thank heaven for sugar & porn though). While i got quite depressed, suicide never came to mind. Somehow i kept believing in what i was doing,  confiding in my own strength to pierce through all illusions, mine, and other’s.
I bought tons of vinyl records, drew some cartoons & flyers and lived mostly secluded. I kept going out though late at night. My middle name back then probably should have been “What’s with him?”

In 2002, still at uni, i got very passionate about J. Krishnamurti’s teachings and his choiceless awareness approach to consciousness via an uncle of mine.  I also ran a crappy hip hop internet radio show for a while and attended some courses sporadically. Emotionally i was still a basket case, not letting anybody (even girls) get too close to me. I started experimenting with various ways to be more mindful. Insight meditations became a second habit during that period.

Time went on. At one point i  had a severe bout of mononucleosis. Shortly after that i recorded my first hip hop demo album, which created a little buzz. The track “Burn Out Man” gives you some idea of my disposition at that time – “… tired like Al Green, so motherfucking tired…”. Went on stage a couple of times, self-published my very dark poetry & prose collection “The Back of Beyond”, and finally got my degree in computer science,  despite my minimal enthusiasm.

Then i went to art school, in search of more meaning and happiness, but it just left me more alienated and burnt out, mentally and physically. My health was vastly deteriorating there in Ghent, the fatigue was getting far worse, especially with the heavy workload. I dropped out in the middle of the year and had a few months to make up my mind on what to do next. Had some talks with people but lived as a samurai monk mostly, questioning the whole world, including my own views.

Then, one summer night, my self-searching, meditating, learning and unlearning and becoming more awake culminated into a mind blowing experience that i rapidly minimized and took for granted afterwards. I was convinced though that i could never be depressed again ever.

Moved back home, crazy and confusing period. I really had no idea how bad the physical shape i was actually in. For example: i became singer of a blues rock band for a short while, and i had the biggest difficulty remembering a couple of lyrics, caused by malnutrition and being stressed out all the time.  Just like the story of the  frog getting gradually boiled without noticing anything…
I became even more of a passive observer, dwelling in emptiness, extremely cerebral.

But i kept moving. Day to day survival instead of fully living. Character. Will power. Utterly foolish.
Started applying for a job, continued to write, self-published “Lobotomy Blues”, tried to become a cartoonist for a while, started an experimental comic strip series that got published here and there, eventually got a job in IT.

Finally decided that i should reveal this nausea monster that i had hidden for so long and that i should go see a doctor, consulted a couple of “specialists” who misdiagnosed me and considered me a hypochondriac psychosomatic loon because i did not buy their standard and erroneous diagnoses. My home doctor was of no help either.

So i researched a lot of papers on nutrition, tried all sorts of diets and supplements to get rid of the nausea and fatigue, with mixed and minor results, found out that i am lactose intolerant, moved to a place of my own, had a very brief romantic interlude and lost my virginity at age 27 (to my great relief), began to realize that my experience in Ghent had changed me profoundly, started self-studying eastern wisdom traditions and slowly found some answers. Also began working part time to have some quality of living and take things easy. The energy to take on personal projects was almost never there and my social life turned minimal.

My by then quasi-constant nausea kept drawing me back to physical reality, but apart from that my head was still my home.

Met a girl that i got very close with and was confronted with my being different from the norm. Among other, it began to dawn on me that deep down i had a very feminine nature (adding “qrtee tha funkee lesbian” to my myriad of online aliases) but not seeing the bigger picture. I still felt out of place and vacant, unable to embody the person i believed myself to be. I was making myself less impossible than before, losing my fake macho traits, but there were still unresolved issues…

The time felt right to start writing articles and launched this “ontoscopy 101″ website.

Through my search for a better health i stumbled upon a qi gong course in my hometown and started to practice. Also discovered the related kiko (Japanese form of qi gong) & stretching exercises, and this mindbody work slowly started loosening up my severely cramped up torso and back (due to the recurring nausea and abdominal cramps), albeit partly. It also started to relax my spirit, eliminating the excess masculine baggage that was not really me.

Then, autumn 2010, i met my wonderful girlfriend Nele, and started my first serious intimate relationship. Very enlightening and emotionally confronting for a lifetime loner.

Together we discovered my latent femininity during the summer of 2011. Whereas most other women would have totally freaked out, she has been so very understanding and supportive, and for that i am eternally grateful.
It is generally accepted for a girl to dress like a boy or for a woman to act manly, but for a man to be sensitive and feminine, that is still a big taboo mostly.

Relationship is a mirror, and Nele helped me realize that i had been neglecting and suppressing a fundamental part of my self, that is my femininity. I had adapted so well to people’s expectations and my own limited outlook on how life should be for me that i lost myself along the way. Very painful to find out after all those years.

I started to embrace my androgynous features that i used to loathe before, began experimenting with looks and went shopping across the gender border. For the first time in my life there was a plenitude of clothes to choose from that actually appealed to me and brought out the best in me, which was quite a shock!
I let my hair grow longer than ever before, tried to figure out how important this feminine side of me actually was and started integrating it with my old masculine self. This process is still going on to some degree as i am writing this.

Before you start thinking this all went smoothly, i also experienced many intense moments of self-doubt, considering all the consequences, not wanting to go outside, thinking it is all a bad idea, …, asking myself if this was what i really wanted and needed. The answer always turned out to be yes.
My health was still in shambles though.

Finally, after switching general physicians and thanks to the effort and patience of my new doctor my health problems were taken seriously by the medical staff at the  UZ Brussels hospital (i did get the “you are a psychosomatic waste of our time” response once again at another uni hospital just before that) .

A battery of tests has shown that most of my problems originate from pancreatic insufficiency, most likely due to a mild form of cystic fibrosis that cannot be formally diagnosed (yet). CF, by the way, is a genetic disease that has a broad spectrum of symptoms, not just the deterioration of the lungs that  most people are familiar with. It can affect a whole range of organs & processes.
That was October 2012.

With the help of digestive supplements and by continuing thekiko and stretching exercises and recently adding some specific physiotherapy my system is getting in better shape, slowly but surely.
The daily hours of nausea and forced inactivity are shortening, my energy levels are turning to normal again, my heavily strained back muscles are loosening up (with loads of pain getting released in the process), my posture is improving, my mind and body are getting fully aligned and in balance, i am becoming more productive.

Part 2:
So here i am, version 2.0: in balance, genderfluid, with an open mind, open heart and open arms (and sometimes a push-up bra & 7 inch heels)

Two years have gone by since i allowed this essential part of myself  to flourish. It has not always been easy.  There has been some verbal aggression, bad stares, and other negative reactions, yet also a whole lot of positive ones.

I understand that this can be a shock to people and hard to comprehend at first. I no longer respond to the static image you might have of me, so there is bound to be some confusion, panic and resistance to accept. Plus, all of a sudden people can be faced with their own femininity and sexuality, but those are not my issues.

Even though i am moving more toward the feminine spectrum, i do not identify as a male-to-female trans person but rather as gender fluid, meaning i reside somewhere in between. I do not want to be pigeonholed again and be forced to meet all sorts of unnecessary expectations.
My personality and my physical makeup will always be a strange mix of male and female / masculine and feminine traits.

Truth is, i feel happier, more at ease and in touch with myself nowadays. I feel like i belong more to this world than ever, the person in the mirror is much more in tune with the person inside of me. I am no longer bound by gender limitations to express myself, i can connect much easier with people, and i feel freer than ever.

I am still me, the same person, expressing myself differently, in a form that suits me better. I still have the same interests (i found some new ones though, i must admit:P ). I don’t wear make up and heels all the time. I may choose to adapt a more feminine appearance and behavior more permanently if that is the way to go for me, time will tell, but i will never claim to be a “real woman”, whatever that means. Just like the concept of a “real man”, one may wonder if that exists at all.

Basically, gender is a spectrum, not a dual or binary thing as many continue to believe. Those two F/M boxes are adequate for the multitude, but not for everyone. It is absurd how much the differences between the two genders are emphasized, while there are usually bigger differences among each.
The gender divide is largely an artificial one, reinforcing stereotypes and discrimination. We need to get rid of all that Venus and Mars crap and start treating boys and girls equally instead of segregating them the minute they are born.

Biological sex or genitalia do not define one’s gender. For most people, these correspond, for some it is more complicated.

To me, my gender (identity and expression) work as what i like to call a  “Gestalt feedback loop”, subtly guided by how others perceive me and how i perceive myself.
What i mean by this is the following: beyond a certain threshold of visual (clothing, hairdo, makeup or none, …) , auditory and behavioral cues, one gets perceived as either male, female or androgynous (unable to tell) and this judgment guides and reinforces further interaction. In other words, if i and the people i am with see me as feminine, i react more feminine, and vice versa. And usually a more feminine role is in better accordance with my thoughts and feelings and takes me less energy to engage in the world, on the contrary. My whole being lights up and i simply feel whole and unrestrained.
— I guess we all undergo this mechanism to some degree. Not just gender, other personality traits get influenced this way as well.

I would really appreciate it if people started calling me Sky instead of my masculine  birth name, but i am not expecting any miracles.
As for that matter, i believe everybody should be given the opportunity once to officially have their first name changed without any hassle, no matter what the reason might be.

Furthermore,  i refuse to be viewed or treated as mentally ill just because i don’t fit binary gender expectations. No human being, no expert on this planet has the right or authority to judge or belittle me or tell me what to do, period. The complexity and subtleties of my mindbody and my ongoing life experience cannot be reduced by any theory. Scientists hardly ever have a clue what they are talking about when it comes to trans* people.

I am abnormal (i.e. deviating from the norm or average) in many ways and my life would have been much easier if i weren’t, but we don’t get to choose, right? We all face challenges in our lives and try to make the best of it.
There is no point in revising my childhood and talking about being born in the wrong body. That is not my story, and i am far from alone in this respect. Only, the media solely pay attention to the clichés and the sensation.

On a side note, it should be clear that it is nobody’s business what is going on inside my pants (or anyone else’s pants for that matter), but just to break one cliche image most people have of trans*people, i am not planning on having sexual reassignment surgery.
Undergoing surgery after getting declared pathological by a psychiatrist is the only officially way for trans* people to get acknowledged in Belgium and many other countries right now, but that is not the ideal solution for a large number of individuals. Each has his or her preferred mind-bodily point of comfort.

I am a big proponent of genderless identity cards and official documents. If there is truly equality between people, regardless of their gender and biological sex, there is no longer the need for an assignment of gender. This is 100% feasible.

As the title suggests, there is also a spiritual side to this story.
Through meditation, introspection and self-actualization i have grown into being a person of truth instead of delusion, inner conflict and fear.

There is nothing else i can do but accept my true nature, even it means losing my cis male privileges and the securities i enjoyed up to this moment. I am fully aware of the fact that i am now subject to a lot of scrutiny, criticism and disapproval, but so be it.

Don’t ask me to justify why i am who i am and why i do what i do. Why you are wearing the clothes you choose to wear? Why do you love the people and things you love? …
The predominant views and the “normal”  never get questioned, but they are not all-encompassing.

In my world, words and labels only have limited significance. Looking at reality on a pre-verbal, pre-conceptual level is much more practical and much healthier.

Every one and every “thing” is a process constantly in motion, even if we don’t directly perceive this. However, it can be sensed and lived by paying full attention and dropping all prejudice and mental images. Categorizing has its use in certain domains and in certain situations perhaps, but we should not become slaves to our limited language.

After long consideration i am doing what feels right and most meaningful to me.
I feel like i have lost a lot of time searching for my health and for my true self, but then again my journey has taught me a great deal that i would not have stumbled upon otherwise. And this wisdom i can incorporate into my artwork and teachings.

My health issues and my ignorance no longer define me. In future i want to live my life at my fullest potential.

Some final words

Please do not turn this into a problem, it is not. Not with me at least, on the contrary.
The actual problem is our patriarchal society, with its binary view of gender instead of a plural one,  and the explicit and implicit sexism anywhere you look or go. Femininity is regarded as inferior, with terrible consequences on so many levels.

This is just one of my many sides as a human being. I shall not be pinpointed solely on this issue.
I am in the middle of working out a varied set of projects, ranging from new drawings and comic strips to a couple of slow news/knowledge websites to a seminal no-nonsense book on wholeness and awareness. Check the “antihype” links in the menu on the right to see what it is about, all will be up and running and updated soon.

It is always possible that my pancreas or lungs are going to fail me one day, so i have got no time to waste at all.

One thing is for sure:
WHATEVER HAPPENS, I AM DETERMINED TO GO OUT WITH A BANG!!!

Recommended reading

Some more food for thought:

3 thoughts on “On my way to the marketplace”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! Great read and it's good to know that we're not alone in this world. Being different is a good thing! Who wants to be average? Not me 🙂

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