Thursday, April 4, 2013

Real Talk

let's just get this all right out in the open.

my name is liz. i'm a transwoman and a lesbian, age 25. i was born with the name "jack". i grew up in a picturesque little college town with a gothic harry potter-like campus, hidden in the woods in rural ohio. i was raised male, and did things that males are expected to do, like sports (swimming, soccer, basketball, karate, etc). my family had some money struggles, but we weren't really poor either. i was a pretty good student and went to a good college (oberlin college, not that far from where i grew up). i have one older brother. my life was supposedly normal, but it was anything but normal.

my dad raped me when i was a child on many different occasions from ages 3/4 to around age 10. i can't remember the exact details, but a lot of different images flicker in and out. there was some kind of financial or other trouble going on in our family and both my parents worked full time, so i was dropped off in day care at a woman's house nearby - that's also around when abuse started. the woman who ran the place was religious, and she hated me. she thought i was a troublemaker. my mom didn't really want to deal with me either. she was miserable, and didn't want to have kids in the first place. i never had any support. everything happened in secret. i learned that no one would listen to be or protect me because i was a "bad kid" and my dad was a "good man". my dad hated women (he told me when i was much older "aside from your mom, i don't like women"), and i was trained by fear to not act like a little fucking pussy or pay the price, from my dad, from bullying from other kids, and from adults that i knew.

my dad had free reign to isolate me and do anything he wanted to me, and i was too young to understand what was happening or speak out to anyone. any place around where i grew up that he could take me to and and abuse me away from other people, he did. even if i knew how to speak out, it's not like anyone would've believed me or cared. even if i did, i was afraid he'd kill me. not that death would be much worse.

one day, about four years ago i woke up from a particularly upsetting nightmare and whispered out loud to myself "i was raped". i was 21, and two months away from graduating from college. i had no idea what to do after college. i told one friend about it and she responded by looking really worried and afraid. i told my roommate (who is no longer with us) about it and he said i "shouldn't think about it". i don't blame him for it now, but it was the worst thing he could've possibly said.

throughout my life up to that point, i had repressed everything very deeply. i believed very strongly in the myth that i had a normal middle-class upbringing with stable, loving parents. i believed if anything happened i must have all made it up in my little drama queen faggot stupid fucking bitch whore head. i internalized all kinds of hateful, misogynistic things i saw in the world around me. the only thing that changed that was beginning to transition, and going on hormones, and other major life changes happening. i fell deeply in love for the first time, with someone who couldn't really love me back or provide much support. in two months, my friends i'd made would all go back to their lives and leave me to be stuck at home in an unsafe family environment. and that's exactly what happened. no one really cared, in the end. i was alone, in the end. Tiny Furniture indeed.

i don't need anyone's pity. i believe i am a functioning human being who deserves respect. i'm not sharing this for you. i'm sharing this for me, and it's because i feel like i can't move on with my life if i don't put this out in the open.

this isn't a feel-good narrative with a happy ending. my dad is still out there, and he's still a "good man" in a lot of people's eyes. i told my mom about the abuse and she didn't think i was lying, but didn't seem to care that much. i'm still very afraid to tell my brother about it, and afraid of how he'll respond if he sees this. i still have no money and am in an ever-growing pile of debt from student loans. i live on the other side of the country now and i still live in fear that someone - my dad, a family member or friend of his, or student loan people will come after me.

i don't believe in any sort of myth of happy, heterosexual life. why would i? nearly all my friends i grew up with had parents that divorced around the same time. leaving aside that i basically consider myself a lesbian, i have seen all the ways people destroy themselves just so they can better fit into one social mold or another. i believe our world enacts way, way more suffering and destruction on all forms of life than it does help.

one footnote: don't tell me i should seek legal action against my dad. it's my life, not yours. i don't trust a legal system that consistently holds anti-trans and victim-blaming principles. my dad is a lawyer, anyway, and whenever i would scream at him he'd threaten me by telling me he was going to call the sheriff (because he knew the sheriff. besides, i have no way of proving what he did to me that many years ago. and i don't have any money or resources to wage a legal battle. i do worry about him having access to other kids (as part of his job) and abusing them, but i have too much of my own stuff to deal with right now.


more than anything else, there are two things that are responsible for me still being alive. one is music. i've had a walkman since i was very young. on the playground i sat on the swings and listened to my walkman instead of playing with other kids. later on i'd listen to them on the bus coming home from school or during swim meets. music was my lifeline.

videogames are the other one. they were an escape. i found games pretty overwhelming and didn't have that many, but the ones i played i formed an incredibly strong emotional attachment with.

the internet also connected me with the outside world in ways i could have never hoped for before. i made maps for my favorite games. i made music that some people actually kind of liked. i went pretty quickly from believing i had absolutely no talent to having an ego at age 16.

i have a lot of hope now. i believe very strongly in myself, and believe 100% i can have a meaningful impact on the world. i've found friends i can connect with. despite everything, i'm still stupid enough to believe in this dream i've had my whole life of being a pop star (something i don't share with many people).

every day is still an enormous struggle. i suffer a lot in silence, every day, and never really feel like there is anyone i can completely trust. i've never had a stable romantic relationship. i have immense issues with authority, and hence i've never been able to hold down a job for very long, and hence constantly have no money and am depending on others who are nice enough to take me in (something i've been very lucky to have at all). i've told a lot of people about what my dad did, but that doesn't mean that i believe they'll really understand what i've been through or treat me as anything but damaged goods - something to be pitied, not respected. i've had mixed-to-terrible experiences with therapists, and now i don't have any insurance or money to pay for appointments. i'm constantly afraid of other people and how they might hurt me.

i've been in incredible physical and emotional pain (though distinguishing one from another i find pretty impossible). i've wanted to die or at least have something to take away all the pain for my whole life. i've wanted to cut off my genitalia so i don't have to constantly be reminded of what happened to me. the only reasons i probably never became addicted to drugs were fear and shame. i guess my addiction is the internet instead.

the thing that kills me more than anything is knowing how many people have had it even worse.


if you made it this far and find yourself at some kind of loss for words, i have a proposition for you: instead of buying into some monolithic cultural narrative that tells you who you are and why you're here, how about accepting that there might an infinite ocean of experiences outside your own little cardboard world? instead of worshiping a bunch of narrow-minded, culturally-implanted ideas of life and happiness, why not just let yourself be taken? by the ocean of lives lived far outside yours. by the ocean of subjectivity. by the ocean of life and death, and other things that exist outside human comprehension. it's going to happen eventually anyway, so you might as well enjoy it. it doesn't hurt as much as you might think.

things like what happened to me are happening every day around the world. many people spend their entire lives suffering. it's impossible to escape this reality, no matter how much media or those around you want tell you it can't really exist. there is no "first world" or "second world" or "third world". there's no escape from an existence where issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality don't factor in every day, and there never was. privilege may allow one to ignore the existence of these for longer, but only just for longer. we are not separate, and never were in the first place. the dispassionate walls of technology we construct which supposedly separate us is an illusion. we are always connected to others, and affecting what they do and say and believe, in ways impossible to anticipate.

i believe very strongly in myself, but i also don't believe i'm that special. i believe everyone has the power to do and say meaningful things every day. i believe it's only our world that instills in us the illusion that only some of us have this power. art isn't voodoo magic, it's part of our essential existence. it's a survival mechanism. let's not hide ourselves away and keep secrets never to be told. let's not sit in silence, hoping to find maybe one person who can share all our pain and weakness and decide not to leave us. fuck that bullshit. embrace your pain and sorrow. life is either meant to be lived or it's meant for nothing at all. no one has the permission to make you feel like you're not a valid human being, or that every experience you've lived through and every emotion you've felt isn't real or meaningful. we're all just people in the end.

i write things in the hope that they'll have some kind of meaningful impact on people's lives. this post is no different, though it's maybe a lot less veiled in its intentions. as a transwoman, as a survivor of sexual abuse, as a lesbian, as a feminist, as a poor person, i'm never trying to make other people feel bad about who they are, but to make people awake and aware of the things that happen around them. i've suffered a lot in my life, and i have no intention of suffering anymore, if i can manage it. and i don't think anyone else should have to either.


  1. tough things to write, liz. tough things to process. i know that just talking about friendship doesn't solve loneliness when you're isolated in that place for so much of the time - you're not alone, but you can still be lonely - but truly, i love you and have your back always.

    i was really proud of you at gdc this year.

  2. Your message is profoundly wise (says anonymous commenter) and I'm delighted to anticipate that it could influence someone out there. Thank you not just for sharing, but for taking the long, difficult path and seeking truth from within your suffering. I hope you'll continue to spread your hard-won empathy when you can!

  3. i've been trying to write something here for about 15 minutes. i guess all i want to say is that reading this makes me feel a lot less alone in life. thank you so much. i hope today was okay.

  4. yza: yeah, blogger is weird. if anyone else means to comment but can't, just try again a little later.

  5. oh, it was more that i just was totally lost for words. i deleted three whole posts before finally going with that one.

  6. ah, ok. thanks for commenting =)

  7. For what little it's worth, anyone with a story like this and who's willing to tell certainly it has my respect. I'm not even up for signing a comment at the moment.

    If what you truly want is to be a pop star, I really hope you make it happen somehow. The world would be a better place if more pop stars had some of the wisdom and perspective on display here, and if they were strong enough to lead the way for the wider culture.

    We can never end all the suffering in the world. I know, because I'm fairly privileged and still have experienced quite enough. We all suffer on our darker days because our emotional scales are calibrated based on life experience. Nonetheless, we can do a lot better for a lot of people, and I'm grateful to those who've shown me how many breaks I've gotten. I think a lot of people never try to even the scales because they manage to convince themselves that things are already okay. Stories like this one are an important part of escaping that delusion.

    In any case, whether or not fame and fortune awaits you, I wish you all the joy of the life ahead of you. You've earned it.

  8. I met you at GDC, we talked a little about schooling. I wish you all the best...thanks for telling your story.

  9. Hi Liz, I'm Adri, I am a transwoman too but who was born and lives in Brazil and I've been reading your blog these past few days.

    I imagine how difficult it must have been for you pass through all this and also write about it here. When I read your post was already 04:00 am here and it had such an impact on me that it became dificult even just say "thank you" to you for writing this, so I decided to write this comment after I get some sleep. Also, say just "thank you" seems so little considering how honest and powerful was your post and how much I was touched by what you wrote, specially the second part, which has something to do with the way that I have been thinking my life right now.

    I don't wanna make this comment too long, just want you to know that I exist and admire you for your music and for what you write. I hope that you achieve all the things you want/need to, including be a pop star =)

  10. …my experience was tiny compared to this (only happened once. was stopped by external forces before it went too far. went far enough) but the thing that feels most familiar here is just sort of the description of the… silence, that settles afterward. the thing about having the experience of one day over ten years later just sitting down and actually *realizing what happened* for the first time. and it being a thing that definitely happened and a thing that wildly altered you as a person but just wasn't. thought about. for a very, very long time.

    in my case there was actually a moment. it must have been ten years after. when my partner just… i think we were driving. and she sort of awkwardly asked… look, i've been wondering. were you raped? and i just laughed. it was such a strange question, why would she even ask that? and then I kind of stopped and blinked and said… well… actually, this one time, this thing happened… and then the story spilled out, and it wasn't just the first time i'd ever told the story, it was the first time i'd *thought about it*. ever. but i still wasn't really thinking about it? i couldn't name it, i couldn't tell myself what it was. after that i didn't think about it again for maybe another five years. and *then* came the first time i ever thought about it clearly. until then i tried to just sort of laugh it off. yeah, this thing happened, but it wasn't really important was it?

    it was important.

    i try to pick apart how that silence settled, and the way liz describes this, i'm noticing something that must have been significant which was that at the time i actually *went* to people for help, and they didn't care. every authority figure made it absolutely clear to me-- when i went to them in the days leading up, more or less told them what was about to happen, and they just said, look, you're just going to have to deal with it-- that if something happened, i would be on my own. and then something did.

    i think i need to stop talking about this now.

    Liz, I'm sorry.

  11. It's so hard to share these stories, to even understand them enough to have the ability to put them *to* words to share them. Thank you for sharing this, for being open and blunt about it. Even having shared my own story so many times in so many forums, I feel stronger having heard others who have been through abuse share their own stories. We spend most of our lives either not knowing how the hell to tell our stories, and/or punished for telling them. I think we need constant reminders, not just one or ten or even a hundred, that it's ok to talk about these things. There is so much negative reinforcement to counter, and every single act of speaking out is revolutionary. Thank you.

  12. This means a lot to me and I think it will mean even more to a friend who is in a really bad situation right now. Thanks for writing it.

  13. It's taken me three days to finish reading through this. I'm not a slow reader, but I kept remembering details of my rapes that normally, I do really well at pushing down into this little box in that back dark room in my head. More, though, I really want to send this link to my partner, who has many of the same issues, but I'm afraid it will trigger her, as well. (She's far more fragile with rape triggers than I am. Entire movies we can't see, level fragility.)

    I may do it anyway, with a hefty warning. Because this is that important.

    But either way, yeah--this spoke to me. I'm humbled at your willingness to expose your life, at your bravery, at your courage, and in a weird way, also humbled by your trust issues, your gender issues, your fear, your doubt and insecurity, and the pain you deal with daily, hourly...because, in spite of all these things, you still wrote all this down and sent it into the world.

    Thank you.

  14. Good on you, Liz.

    (P.S. The first CAPTCHA I got was "supphic", which I guess is sort of sapphic, but not quite.)

  15. Hey Liz,

    I know you wrote this for yourself and not for us, but I wanted to say thank you anyhow. Thank you for sharing something so personal so earnestly & eloquently. Thank you for broadening my experience. And thank you for your writing. You are one of my fave artists and a huge influence on my approach to critiquing games/level design. I hope that you get everything you aim for and more. And I hope that the enormitude & accute harmfulness of whatever obstacles are in your way are dulled and diminished with increasing frequency.


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