I have tinnitus. You know, that ‘ringing’ sound some people have in their ears. I have had it as long as I can remember, although I am sure that there was some time in my life where I didn’t. For the most part, it’s not a problem as the normal ambient sounds of every day life tend to mask it to where I don’t even notice it. I go about my day to day activities without even thinking about it. As ‘conditions’ go, it’s seems to be quite manageable.
The problem is when it gets really quiet – then I notice it: this hissy, whine. It’s annoying – it’s distracting – it’s enough to make me a bit nuts. This is part of the reason I always have some kind of sound going: TV, radio, CD – anything to mask the noise so I don’t have to hear it. But even then, there is the odd occasion when it pushes through: in the quiet of an elevator, the pause between songs. It’s always there and I know it will never go away. All I can do is try and cover it up – to cope with it – to learn to live with it.
I have another ‘noise’ in my head as well. Like the tinnitus, it has been there as long as I can remember, but I am sure there was a time where it either was absent or just so soft that I didn’t yet notice it. Like my tinnitus, I have learned to live with it – to manage it in a fashion. I have been able (sometimes better than others) to mitigate it’s effects and have managed to live a more or less ‘normal’ life. And while this ‘other’ noise in my head has never reached a state where it had rendered me ‘disabled’, it has (does) come close. It has made me do things I might not otherwise have done, made me consider things I might not otherwise have considered. It’s a noise no amount of background ‘music’ can ever sufficiently mask.
The ‘noise’ as I call it is best described as gender dissonance. Julia Serano describes gender dissonance as:
A form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term “gender dysphoria,” which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding one’s sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.
Put simply, the noise is where how I gender myself rubs up against how I am gendered by others.
There’s a lot of friction there.
I have managed this noise via denial, sublimation, compartmentalization, indulgence, shear force of will… All have worked, none of them well. My strategy for the past thirteen years or so has been to embrace who I am and try and live what I feel is an authentic life as a transperson. I present as more feminine / androgynous and I identify as genderqueer. As solutions go, this has worked reasonably well for me – a few bumps here and there but that’s to be expected. It’s not been an easy path but it has been one that has allowed me a reasonably even life. From a noise perspective, it’s reduced it to a level I can tolerate.
When I find my tinnitus pushing through, I can always increase the masking sounds: turn up the volume to drown it out. Unlike my tinnitus, when my gender dissonance increases, I find that I am limited in my options to address it: it simply gets louder and I just have to deal with it. Also unlike my tinnitus, day to day interactions can send it into overdrive.
Lately, I look at a woman passing by or see a group of girls and I can ‘hear’ it get louder. I used to joke that I would see a woman and be unable to decide it I wanted to ‘do her’ or ‘be her’. The past few years, wanting to ‘be her’ wins out – to the point where I cannot remember the last time I saw a woman and thought about her sexually. For the past few years or so, the noise has been getting louder, bordering on the point of distraction. What I have been doing for the last thirteen years is just not cutting it.
As I sit in the quiet of the morning typing this, my tinnitus is quite pronounced. I have no choice but to deal with it because there is nothing to be done about it. But that other noise – I know I can do something about that. I need to do something about it.
But for the moment, I think the volume can go just a bit louder…