March 9, 2012

In which I habitually overload

This is my last semester at Duke, finally. I matriculated in 2007 but then took a year of medical leave, so it feels like I've been here forever. And yet I feel like I've hardly done anything.

I definitely feel like I've been busy my whole time at work, never enough hours in the day to get my work done. I've had a full course load every semester, and I've been working on an honors thesis for nearly a year. I'm a member of a Greek organization; even if I'm not the most active brother in the world, I hold an officer position. And I've been working ten hours a week at my job for two years. But I feel like at Duke, this is just average -- I feel like I should be able to squeeze in at least one more thing on that list.

There are a lot of things that I love to do, that I wish I'd been involved in throughout my Duke career -- I could have continued doing graphic design at the Chronicle, or I could have stopped by my scholarship office twice a week for the visiting lecturers and the brownies, or I could have edited a student publication, or gotten my own writing published, or actually attended more than three total BDU meetings in my life. These are all things that I would have enjoyed, that would have helped make my life more like the kind of life I want to live.

Instead, my biggest extracurricular is "stressing over LGBT issues." Not advocating for LGBT issues, or raising awareness, or anything externally productive -- just the internal emotional stress of navigating the world as both trans and queer.

It's a little like the 'second shift' a lot of women have to cope with -- when they go through their normal workday and come home exhausted, only to have an entire second workload of childcare, housekeeping, cooking, scheduling, etc. dumped on them without pay or acknowledgement. Except, I only wish this stuff happened in a separate shift. Instead, it's happening right at the same time as everything else I'm doing, like when somebody says something in class that totally freaks me out.

Managing my freak-out so as not to disrupt the class is work. I mentioned to a friend today that being LGBT sometimes felt like an extra class I was taking, making every semester an overload without even the advantage of getting an A at the end of the semester, and she asked me what took so much time. My first response was to complain about all the time I spend at the Duke Hospital dealing with my endocrinologist, but this is part of the answer too -- navigating the world while LGBT requires extra emotional work, which has an opportunity cost. Any time I spend dealing with a freak-out is time I can't spend listening to my professor, or taking notes, or thinking about what I want to have for lunch. Either I do those things later, taking time away from sleep and relaxation, or I don't do those things at all.

Similarly, every hour I spend arguing with my parents -- that's an hour that a non-trans alternate universe version of myself was able to spend reading a book for fun. Also: talking to friends about arguing with my parents. Doing research. Crafting extra versions of my resume to give me options in outing myself. Long coming-out conversations. Some mornings, I even resent the time it takes to take my T and bind; all I can think is that the time I spend applying gel and waiting for it to dry every day, is time I could have spent doing anything else.

Now, I have my life running fairly smoothly now. I doubt I've spent more than a few hours total this whole semester dealing with this stuff. But I have surgery in my future, which is time and money a cis guy could spend going on vacations. Not to mention the fact that my entire gap year is 100% happening so I'll have time for that surgery, and otherwise I'd be going to grad school. And the medical leave I took freshman year-- that was crisis of identity that consumed my life for an entire year an a half. A non-LGBT version of myself would have been allowed to go to Oxford that summer.

I don't necessarily regret all of these opportunity costs. I don't think I'd be the person I am if I hadn't had those experiences, especially the year off. I made it to Oxford eventually, and I find time for all of the most important things in my life. But I feel like this kind of emotional work can lead to a more subtle kind of discrimination against LGBT individuals: if we have to spend a lot of time and energy just dealing with the basics, we're at a disadvantage when compared to people who didn't have the same distractions. My resume, quite frankly, doesn't look as good as the resumes of my straight, cis peers.

I still kick ass, so I'm not too worried. But it makes me think about what a better world would really look like, and makes me wish I had time for just one more thing so I could make that world happen.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with this. I have (lol) entire memos dealing with the notion of stress, its effect on the body and what I should do about it. It helps orient my mind when I start to feel unsettled.