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On Being Wrong

I’ve been feeling more depressed than usual since my tooth was extracted on Monday. I’m more socially withdrawn, sad a lot of the time, with low energy and motivation, and more muscle aches that aren’t immediately attributable to the physical effects of the extraction. The constant dull pain is grating on me, making me irritable and impatient. I had to drag myself to class on Wednesday, had trouble concentrating, and role-played the “very loud client who remains disengaged from the group” fairly well. I’ve spent a lot of time improvising on piano in preparation for my midterm; everything I play sounds sad, melancholy, dark, surreal, and/or angry – even scales! It makes coming up with an intervention other than “Let’s sing about the crappy situation you just described” very difficult.

(In my defense, singing about crappy situations can be extremely therapeutic. Not only does it allow expression of repressed or taboo emotions, it helps one look at the situation and oneself differently, assert oneself, and heal. It is safest to do with the assistance of a certified music therapist.)

The primary reason why my symptoms have worsened can be found in this line from my post on Monday:

The extraction “felt wrong on some fundamental level”

I think anyone would feel depressed if they were constantly being reminded of something they considered fundamentally wrong!

Part of me remains convinced that “I had a perfectly healthy tooth pulled for no good reason” – even though that wasn’t the case at all. Multiple examinations revealed the tooth to be dead. The x-rays showed that there was a problem in that area. The dental professionals who examined me noted swelling in my gums and attributed it to that tooth. I saw the infection on its roots with my own eyes!  The tooth needed a root canal; I saw an endodontist who attempted the procedure but only succeeded in causing me more pain. Instead of risking a repeat experience, I chose a treatment that would be faster, easier, and possibly even more effective. At the moment I’m not happy with the results because I’m in even more pain. (I keep reminding myself that Mom regretted her knee replacement surgery when she was first recovering from it, but has since experienced improved quality of life and recommends the procedure to others.) Time will tell whether this has helped at all, or only caused more problems…

The point is, the belief that “I had a healthy tooth pulled for no reason” is irrational and factually incorrect. The tooth was not healthy, and I had justifiable reasons for getting it pulled. Extraction may not have been the recommended treatment or even the best treatment, but it was MY decision to make. Others may disagree with my decision, I may even regret my decision, but none of that makes it wrong.

I know this rationally but can’t shake the feeling that not only have I done something wrong, I am wrong. I was supposed to keep going back for endodontic treatment and thank the endodontist for hurting me, regardless of whether she was able to solve the problem that brought me to her in the first place. (Because that’s what she suggested, what Mom seemed to want, and what I agreed to at the time.) That I even thought to do anything other than conform to the protocol “you are a patient; you comply with whatever treatment your healthcare provider recommends” is proof that there is something wrong with me!

When I talked to Wakana about this on Wednesday, she asked if there was anyone in my life who taught me that I was wrong in some way. Thinking about it now, there are a lot of people whose behavior may have given rise to that belief: family members, peers, teachers and other school officials, mainstream media… but we ended up talking about our favorite topic: my mother.

I mentioned one way in which Mom has communicated to me that I am wrong: by telling me I’m like the “opposite” gender from the one I was assigned at birth, as an insult. She’s been doing it since I became a teenager. Wakana urged me to write about how that might have influenced the development of my queer gender identity. Part of me wants to comply and learn that I’m actually cisgender, which would make my life a million times easier. (I suspect it’s the same part that insists I gave up a “perfectly healthy” tooth.) Part of me thinks my desire to be cisgender purely so I can access the associated privilege is evidence that I am, indeed, transgender. Otherwise I would just identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, decide how I want to deal with some of my behaviors not conforming to my mother’s expectations, and move on with my life. Right?

I explored the topic somewhat and came to the conclusion that my mother’s expectations for the gender I was assigned at birth are limiting; I’m pretty sure her expectations for the “opposite” gender are just as limiting. I could not conform to them even if I were cisgender; if I’d somehow managed to do so she probably would have expressed disapproval anyway (of that or something else).

The problem isn’t my gender identity (which I’d really like people to accept), it’s that my mother doesn’t see me as a complete human being who is separate from her and has the right to make independent decisions. She sees everything I do through the lens of her expectations and me not meeting them. It often seems as though she goes out of her way to express disapproval, over whatever else she might be feeling. This problem originated long before my early teenage years, possibly when I was born!

Actually, I think she’s learning to see me as a separate person and respect my right to make independent decisions; our relationship has improved quite a bit since I’ve been in therapy. She hasn’t given me a hard time for deciding to have my tooth pulled; all the criticism of that decision has come from my own mind. The real problem is that I’ve internalized her (and others’) disapproval and feel on some fundamental level that it’s wrong for me to make my own decisions. I’ve internalized the belief that I must conform and go along with what other people seem to want from me.

Regarding my gender: I’m pretty sure I’ve always perceived the division of people into “men” and “women” as arbitrary. I know what the expectations for the two widely-recognized genders are – and I know that a lot of people are trying to weaken or even eradicate those expectations, so men and women can just be themselves (these people are called feminists). I know that a lot of men and women defy those expectations, to the point where one can’t use behaviors, interests, aptitudes, beliefs, or even biology to define “men” and “women” as two mutually-exclusive categories. As far as I can tell, the only universal difference is that all men identify as “men,” and all women identify as “women.” This isn’t to say that gender is a choice – if that were the case, I think we’d all be men and reap the numerous benefits. Gender is an inherent sense of self that may change over time but can’t be intentionally altered.

So, doing things that Mom associates with the “opposite” of the gender I was assigned at birth is not the basis of my queer gender identity. I could say “I am a [the gender I was assigned];” that would make things at lot easier for me, and everyone around me. No one would question it. I doubt anyone would even ask me to change my behavior to meet their expectations. I could be myself and use that label and let people refer to me using pronouns they already know…

But I’d be lying. I don’t identify as a “man” or a “woman,” I identify as a “person outside of the gender binary.” I am not a man, nor a woman; I am a person outside of the gender binary. I could allow you to categorize me as, well, whatever you’d like! for your comfort and convenience… but I can’t inherently identify with whatever you choose. It’s just not in my nature – any more than it’s in my mom’s nature to identify as a man or in Fox’s nature to identify as a woman. All I’m asking is for people to respect that.

Unfortunately, people are going to perceive and treat me the way they want, no matter what I do. They may express opinions about the decisions I make. This applies to so much more than gender and dental treatments; it’s just a universal fact of life. There comes a point where I just need to decide that I am what I am, that I make whatever imperfect decisions I make, and that other people’s perceptions of me are their business, not mine. Whatever they send my way need not impact how I perceive or treat myself.

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3 thoughts on “On Being Wrong

  1. This post really resonates with my own experiences. I must confess that cisgender is a new one on me. Today, I look and behave like a man, but it was not always that way. We need to be who we feel the most comfortable with, but unfortunately, there will always be those who are so focussed on what we are not, they miss who we are. I always say, ‘whatever people say about me behind my back, is none of my business.’ I enjoyed your post.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Transgender Tuesday | a day with depression

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