Truth and narrative

“True story” is an oxymoron.

I phoned the Tax Credits helpline for advisers, and got nowhere. “You’re being very condensating,” said the man I was referred to, and after half an hour my brain was so cabbaged that I knew he meant something else, but did not know the word for it. Thank you, you don’t need to say it now, I worked it out for myself later.

In the nineties I knew a man, still the most boring man I have ever met. I can’t remember his name, but it ended in an í sound, a contemptuous diminutive, Nicky or Ricky or Donny or something- anyway, he got very drunk on whisky, and ever thereafter could not drink it. He found a sip nauseating. Dismissively contemptuous, Neil said he probably had had no head for it anyway, he got drunk on a couple of glasses.

I associated those stories. “Condensating” was the moment I got nowhere with the benefits authorities, that I could not take any more. I cannot bear it. I could not bear another such conversation, it nauseates me.

Another myth. Margaret saw me as Clare for the first time, and said, “It’s as if you are acting when you’re Stephen, just you when you’re Clare”. Aha, I am a woman really, I am right to transition. The story becomes my conclusive evidence that I am right, the judgment of another person which I cling to, and take out for reassurance from time to time. It is my self-image: I know who I am, and “you’re just you when you’re Clare” is part of it.

Then about a year ago, I took off my wig and put on my cycle helmet, appearing androgynous, but continued talking, and H said “You have this lovely male energy”. Her beliefs, her politics, or her individual judgment of me need have no bearing on me, but have had. I could if I wanted call that comment on Wednesday 2 March 2016 the decisive moment

where my lies came apart
where my truth was undermined

Several times I have picked on particular dates where all changed, changed utterly for me. H has changed my view of the world. I am not sure if I have ever been entirely sure that I am a woman- I joked “I don’t know, and neither does my psychiatrist”, and said “I’m both and neither and in between”. Her word “lovely” just makes the blade sharper.

Either it is liberating- yes, I am a man, I need no longer assert a falsehood that I am a woman- or terrifying and destructuring, and I try to piece together the shards of my framework, world map, understanding which lets me navigate the world. “I am a man, but transition was the best I could do,” I say. “Bad things happen to good people.”

Or I create a new narrative. “I am a trans woman”. I have the right to be this way.

Brexit and Trump, and possibly this year Fillon and AfD, change my comforting narrative, one which is probably yours too. It is a debased Whig version of history: just as the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was a decisive moment of progress, which changed the way of doing politics in England from battles to individual murders, a clear improvement, so Obergefell v Hodges was a step into the light, which could not be reversed. A Tory version of history, that there are random events with no broader significance, is reasserted, so that Trump’s Muslim ban is not a pathetic attempt by the failing forces of reaction, but a random event of quite as much significance as Obergefell.

We need to change our stories. Since 2016, our stories have not been the Truth, but a comforting lie to help us get through the day without collapsing on the floor, screaming. The words “male energy” are a stake through their heart, as is the Muslim ban. “Do your duty, Republicans,” says the New York Times. “Prosecute him!” Trump meanwhile promises a new Muslim ban which will be less vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.

I have been reading of stories. Here’s Rachel Cusk in the NYT:

In psychoanalysis, events are reconstructed in the knowledge of their outcome: The therapeutic properties of narrative lie in its capacity to ascribe meaning to sufferings that at the time seemed to have no purpose. The liberal elite are in shock; they fall upon the notion of the victors’ regret as a palliative for their mental distress, but because the referendum result is irreversible, this narrative must adopt the form of tragedy.

And, writing of her mother

She didn’t care what she said, or rather, she exacted from words the licentious pleasures of misuse; in so doing, she took my weapon and broke it before my eyes. She made fun of me for the words I used, and I couldn’t respond by threatening her with death. I couldn’t say “I could kill you” because it wasn’t true, and in language I had staked everything on telling the truth. I have had that experience debating Creationists: I try to persuade, using truth, they simply assert their Beliefs. “It cannot be so, because of Genesis.” It was bad enough debating a blogger on the other side of the world- how much more terrifying, to face your own mother’s assertions?

Thus saith the LORD.

There is no answer to that. Tim built an impenetrable wall of language to shield him from- the truth? Or just, my understanding of the World? The defeated liberal is abashed, so less confidently assertive.

Anna Blundy, in a completely different essay- a short column not a hefty work like Rachel Cusk’s- also addressed making sense of truth with words. Language distances us from our real thoughts and feelings in an almost defensive way (the fact that it makes us feel better to have named something, perhaps is even indicative of that)… we’re trying to repackage something into a digestible form that will make the symptom of the sufferer more bearable.

Surely it is better to face the unvarnished truth? This essay says that news broadcasts and advertising alike end up telling stories… the mastery of danger, the satisfaction of desires and the ultimate restoration of morality. But here, an effort is made to lead people to believe that the story accurately depicts people and events. As a result, all end up profoundly falsifying what they portray, once again mixing faithful and manipulated images, and fact and fiction in seamless ways so that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The attack is mitigated by the fact that the essay itself has a similarly comforting structure, where the restoration of morality is us all becoming more sceptical about the media.

It is not at all reassuring to say that I can’t bear another phone conversation with the benefits authorities. I could say, well I had hundreds before, many of them successful, or simply that I should eschew predictions of the future, which may just be paranoia, and concentrate on the actual task. I know what the task involves. Fear of what bad things will happen and how I will respond when I fail just get in the way.

This is my two thousandth post, on a blog about me, truth, trans, the world, and everything that interests me. I do it to be read, and achieve less of that than I would like. Joanna wrote a short post recommending one of mine, and I am grateful for the recommendation, because my post got more than three times the views from it, than 75% of my posts get from all sources. This is my least worthwhile goal, to see that I have had more views. Writing of Donald Trump stretches my writing, but gets fewer views, as most of my readers come from a Trans site, so I restrict my choice of subjects to get more views. Posting daily gets more views. I get a tiny dopamine hit when I see my page-view numbers have increased- nearly 198,000 views in five and a half years.

I might be better to write longer essays. I could develop an ability to analyse an idea in greater depth. This is not that: I have quoted undigested screeds from three essays and some of my own thoughts on truth, rather than explained the essays, created a satisfying narrative argument in my own words, and polished it. Writing around 500 words a day is good practice, but I want to edit and structure something more satisfying than these short pieces. I have published just one 2000 word article. I love Rachel Cusk’s essay- how I would love to write something like that!

I blog to tease out my understanding, as well. It is psychoanalysis for me, repackaging reality into that digestible form. So I have written how transition or surgery was the best thing I could have done, and the worst, in separate pieces, and wonder how to unite them.

St Clare

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