[Trigger Warnings: Transgender self-hate, dysphoria, mental health shaming, break-up, two breakdowns, gaslighting. As a reminder, anything in Italics takes place within the inworld.]
It was July of 2017 when I asked AJ out. I’m sure my readers will be confused– “Weren’t you already dating?” The truth was, since they had moved back to Oregon, we’d only maintained a stream of flirtations either online or in letters. Then they had, for a bit, had taken their dypshoria out on their wardrobe and seemed to shun anything fancy that could even misconstrue them as a flavour of queer.
I couldn’t understand it. Since I’d decided that I would be going on testosterone, I, too, felt like ripping my skin off every time an inn guest would comment that “Awww girls like you look so cute in suits!” But playing by the rules of a foundationally flawed game never made sense to me.
See, my physical attraction is mostly aesthetic and stylistic, so I will say I hesitated when their most recent meltdown resulted in an entire overhaul of their look. I honestly couldn’t even recognise their Facebook pictures. Of course, I enjoyed talking to them, but I’d mostly considered our tryst somewhat over. It was also, well, the principle of the thing. Their toxic idea of passing felt like it’d ricochet onto my flamboyant ass, particularly when dysphoria began to eat me from the inside out. When AJ seemed to finally allow themself something less hetero, my attraction to them came bounding back like a lost hound, as if I’d taken it as a sign that they’d resolved their self-hating transphobia.
But then of course, they were in a local monogamous relationship for a time. I’d behaved and waited on that to predictably end before asking AJ out via letter. They’d said yes.
By this time, if you’re keeping track, I was dating AJ, Kaspar, and Asher. “All blonde, non-binary Virgos with some form of hazel eyes.” I’d told AJ over the phone. “Clearly, I have a type.”
There was a rueful silence in response. “You think I look like Asher?”
I frowned, Xbox controller in hand. I was steadily working my way through a horde of murderous bandits in Red Dead Redemption, the phone on speakerphone and balanced near my head. The bandits were looking comparatively less treacherous all the time. “I’m saying all three of my partners share those traits,” I said it slowly. “Because you all do.”
“Because I don’t think Asher looks androgynous.” There was a particular tone they always took in these sorts of bickers. Resentful, sour, emphasizing every gendered word as if bullying someone on the playground. “I think they look like a girl. You think I look like a girl, don’t you?”
“No, AJ.” These conversations always went from 0 to 10 so fucking quick. As did my exasperation for them. I also didn’t feel like arguing against the fact that they’d invalidated the gender of their metamour– that was a whole other can of worms.
“You said I looked like Asher, though,” AJ sulked.
“I literally didn’t. You all have blonde as a hair colour, you’re all Virgos, you’re all non-binary. I am pointing that out.” My words were actually shockingly patient compared to what my brain was doing. The distraction had led to poor John Marston being shot in the head. I impatiently restarted my game. The argument eventually resolved, somehow; quite reluctantly on the side of my new partner.
Well, if dysphoria wouldn’t kill me personally, it was definitely using AJ as a proxy to do so.
And just like the game, this argument could restart every few months for the next two years as if it’d never reached a conclusion. I would actually be living in the Faerie House the last time AJ would gripe, “I’m still mad you thought I looked like Asher.”
“Holy shit, no.” That would be in the summer of 2019, back when I had something that resembled a spine and a lot of stress on my plate. “I made the comment two fucking years ago that you were all non-binary, blonde, and Virgos. Which was true. I never said you looked like them. You were the one who inserted that out of nowhere! You’ve brought it up a dozen times since then. I’m going to really need you to get it through your skull this time.” That was, mercifully, the last time we’d ever discussed it.
But back in 2017, help was at least on the way for me. I’d made an appointment at the Augusta Equality Clinic, the closest place to me that did informed-consent HRT. It would still be a three-hour drive from Savannah, which meant I had to get someone to drive me to the doctor’s office like I was 15 again. Thankfully, Asher volunteered to do so for my appointment on the 13th of October. I’m sure most dysphoric trans people know that as soon as you make the decision to be on hormones, every day between that and actually having them in your body seems to be approximately three weeks long.
This will be important later on.
Sometime after I’d asked AJ out– truthfully, I forget when, exactly, I also began dating Wendy, breaking my streak of blondes, non-binaries, and Virgos. She was a brunette Scorpio woman. She was cute, gave me plenty of attention online, and we actually had a good banter going– which were really all my standards were at the time.
I apparently wasn’t that great of a partner to her because I frequently forget I even dated her. I think I even forgot during the relationship. Whoops. She’s probably the only living ex I don’t hold resentment for. Whatever forgettable affection we’d had for one another ended at some ambiguous date in spring of 2018 with a whisper when it suddenly occurred to me that she hadn’t responded to me in about a month. I’d checked and she’d just quietly unfriended me. Yeah, Wendy, if you ever find this blog, I do Not blame you. But my relationship with her would be a catalyst when the popular dating sim, Dream Daddy, came out that year.
Because all trans people in Savannah knew each other, Wendy and Buchanan were actually friends on Facebook. It somewhat amuses me to think that Buchanan had somehow heard that I’d ended up dating AJ after he’d tried so hard to snatch them up in 2014. Apparently, he did indeed hold a grudge. A screenshot of Damien, from a mutual friend of the two of them, led Wendy to compare the character to me in the comments.
For a brief moment, my connection to the vintage aesthetic had someone mentioning my name before Apollo’s. Can’t have that! “I think Damien looks more like Apollo, actually.” Buchanan typed back pointedly.
“Oh, that too! I just thought of Xanthe first because they’re my partner,” Wendy pointed out.
I’m sure that incensed good ol’ Buchanan. Not only was I dating the object of his 2014 obsession, but also his FB friend. My polyamorous ass was sampling every fruit that’s ever been in his proximity and he was not having it. “Oh, well, I didn’t, because Xanthe abused and gaslit a close friend of mine.” That’s right. A fucking dating sim, literally Dream Daddy, had opened up Buchanan telling my new partner that I was an abuser, in a public comment section, on behalf of fucking Kirra. Yknow, the one who cracked my goddamned rib cage.
I should have thrown you into the Savannah River when I had the chance, I bitterly thought at Buchanan, for not the first time.
All aboard the breakdown train!
I would later write in my journal, “This trigger opened up the gates of Hell for me. I relived it all. You know, I used to laugh at the rumours. I would revel in their hilarity. I would say I was flattered that people were so obsessed with me. I would compare myself to Gatsby. But then again, rumours ended up killing him, too.”
Justifiably fuming, I found Buchanan’s Tumblr and had messaged him something to the effect of, “You didn’t know that full situation, so keep my fucking name out of your mouth.”
He didn’t respond but Apollo sure did! Well, to be fair, I did block him after going off. Because I didn’t really think ‘Leave me the fuck alone’ needed a rebuttal. This next part is going to be pretty blurry due to the nature of the breakdown, so please bear with me. Both protectors involved in this situation were less forthcoming than usual, so I’m relying on only a combination of journal entries and my patchwork memory.
The conversation started out with the fact that I’d contacted Buchanan. Looking back, I’m sure this prompted some ire in Buchanan over the fact that Apollo and I were friends even though Apollo had called me out as an abuser on his Kirra profile a year before. This probably triggered some sort of fight between them, wherein Apollo likely discovered that he can’t easily decry me as an abuser and take advantage of my friendship at the same time. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! I was about as contrite as you’d expect.
“You’ve done something that can never be undone!” Apollo snapped. He also said that he’d never speak to me again, which I’d pretty much accepted at this point. I was mildly curious as to how that would translate to us being coworkers, but decided that was his problem.
I expected the texts to stop– you know, the definition of never speaking to me again, but Apollo persisted, resuscitating the argument and the contact when it tried to die a timely death.
It was about this time where Vex appeared, in my living room as if she had always been there. “Give me your phone, Xanthe.”
It wasn’t a question. I handed my phone over and curled up in my sweetheart chair, fighting a combination of insatiable rage at Buchanan and flashbacks I couldn’t parse into actual rationality. Vex was typing back to him, knitting her brow in confusion. “What’s he saying?” I finally asked.
I can somewhat figure that Apollo was also having some sort of breakdown, because what he said next was bizarre even by his standards. “He’s saying… that you control everyone, and that he can’t get professional help, or he’ll die. And that his partner can’t know he’s having a breakdown or else he’ll die.”
I blinked. “What? What?”
“I know less than you do, Xanthe.” As she spoke to Apollo, she was deleting the messages within the chat. I’d recently complained that she had done this, as I felt I might’ve gleaned a greater context for this very post. “Forgive me, posterity for your blog five years in the future wasn’t precisely my priority.”
I mean. I guess. This is really the only one that was deemed safe enough to remain. Either that, or she’d just missed it.
Given the lack of full context, I can really only speculate. Had I really triggered a psychotic breakdown in Apollo? Was he lamenting the conditions of the inworld that he had created as if he was the one suffering through them on both the inside and out? As if this situation wasn’t entirely under his control?
“What’s he saying now?” I prompted.
“He’s saying that you control all of Savannah by using spies, and that you’ve turned Wendy against him. He says Buchanan is filing a restraining order against you.” She sounded faintly amused, at least. Safe to say such a thing never came close to fruition. Her green-grey eyes flickered to me. “You should have something to drink. Either lavender tea or wine.”
I obliged her with the second option. “I’m flattered that he thinks I have that much control over my own life, much less the goddamned city.” I was joking, but something about this entire thing was making me visibly tremble. I remember it took at least three glasses of wine to start to calm down. “Ask him if he has proof of like… any of this.”
Vex typed on my phone for a moment. When the phone dinged again, she raised her eyebrows. “He said that the lack of proof is, in fact, proof.”
I squinted at her. “I’d… pay to see how that would hold up in a court of law.” At the same time, I was already dealing with a breakdown from Wendy, who somehow thought this was all her fault after she’d tried confonting Apollo about it.
Apollo seemed to pull himself together a little throughout the night. Vex handed the phone back when he seemed only at his usual level of vindictive.
As you might assume, our break from each other was much like the hospital visit in which it never actually happened. The argument went on for the rest of the night. I remembered it must’ve been a Tuesday, because I felt too mentally ill that night to even attend Tongue Open Mic. Vex stayed with me, reminding me to eat, occasionally transforming into her huge hellhound form to curl around me whenever I got the shakes.
Then I had a text that baffled me even more, which is probably the most bizarre footnote in our already fraught friendship.
Despite cutting me off for good, I was apparently someone good to vent to about the fact that his house had been broken into and his Playstation was stolen. I don’t think he was making that up because the entire thing was too absurd, even for Apollo’s standards.
The story was that he had gone out for food, as stated above, and apparently had forgotten to lock the door to his apartment. While he was gone, someone wandered in and stole his game console and left a box of fresh doughnuts and a container of half-eaten chicken wings. The fact that the wings were only half-eaten should have exonerated me right then and there. He seemed to, later on, realise that I was not the Mysterious Doughnut Caper in question and that maybe he’d jumped the gun on a few other things.
We never definitively said we were going to continue talking, we just sort of… continued talking. It was pretty much how all arguments with Apollo were resolved.
We both ended up missing Tongue. During the next show, Apollo joked on stage that everyone probably thought that we were out ‘doing gay shit together’, which is what I think he calls psychologically torturing each other. It was within that week that Apollo had bought me lunch with no explanation, which would probably be the closest I would get to an apology.
The week after that, Buchanan interrupted Apollo and I at Six Pence Pub and sat next to him to chat at the bar. You know, two seats away from the person he claimed he was getting a restraining order against because he was so scared of me for my frightening ‘stop fucking slandering me’ comment. I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.
In other news, Asher was contacting me less and less over this summer. I didn’t exactly mind, but something felt off to me. They were talking a lot about this bloke, JW, that they had met at their job in North Carolina. They’d started dating which, fine, I had bloody four partners. Get it, darling! But our discussions, however brief, gave me some odd vibes.
“JW’s called me his ‘communist girl’ and I’m honestly not sure about being non-binary anymore?”
“Do you ever think about how we’re two extremely different people?”
“Yeah, sorry, I forgot to check my phone.” To which I replied, “For two days?” (To those who might argue, ‘I do that!’, Asher was not at all in this habit. In fact, they’d texted me more than I’d texted them, including my unfiltered stream of consciousness.)
“I always kind of pictured myself being a suburban mom. You get that, right?”
What made me even more suspicious is that Rayzel was contacting me more, as if sensing some impending storm and making certain she was there to soothe any tensions. All of the usual unsettling rubbish about how she thought I was great, and deserved to heal, and how she was going to help me. Just absolutely unprompted, supportive messages.
She was on summer break in Rochester during most of this. She’d gone to Park Ave. fest and spotted someone of a similar aesthetic to me. Someone with labradorite eyes, a kryptonite smirk, a Scorpio of the highest degree.
You might have heard of him.
That same day, Arkady added me on Facebook. We had a short conversation about aesthetic, about things he’d tea-stained, some vests and coats we’d both bought.
Check the date of this blog. Tomorrow is five years to the day wherein I was told about Arkady’s existence.
That was the same month as the 2017 solar eclipse.
September of 2017:
I have, as I always will, defended Narcissistic Personality Disorder on this blog. Cluster B disorders are traumagenic disorders and, psychologically, just other ways to survive. I am a Narcissist and no one deserves abuse or discrimination based on their diagnosis.
But when I tell you I had an ugly NPD breakdown over Asher dumping me, it was the stuff of toxic legend.
So, the thing is, I was justifiably angry and hurt. Most of the summer, they were blowing me off and avoiding me. At one point, they told me they were only avoiding me to avoid the awkward conversation of them having been avoiding me. Chicken-or-the-egg philosophers are surely just as baffled as I was.
We were having only brief conversations about how they were rethinking both their gender and polyamory both. I was pretty hurt when they began to tell me that dating me may have been just another in their long line of phases. Just like they lied about being Jewish in high school for attention.
I really did keep running it through my mind, how they’d actually had me pinned and begged for me to trust them, how their tears actually landed on my face as they pleaded with me to know that they would have my back.
When I’d pointed this out, they told me, and I quote, “Well, I didn’t believe it, and I didn’t think you did either.”
Even worse when they started suggesting to me that maybe my gender and polyamory was just a result of a phase, too.
Reasonably, I’d panicked, because this was the person I was relying on to get me to my HRT appointment. Unreasonably, I thought this to be one of the biggest betrayals of my life and acted accordingly, which is just adorable, in the context of this blog.
Those texts are lost to time, since Asher generally snubbed Facebook in favour of phone texts. I do remember raging just continuously about it for the next couple of weeks, even finding excuses to rant to our mutual friends that I was only tangentially acquainted with. I blew up Asher’s phone, using caps lock so much that my autocorrect would change my texts to their all-capital versions for weeks. If they hadn’t initially considered completely cutting me off, I sure as fuck gave them a reason to!
I have no idea why I’ve repeatedly thought that I could viciously debate myself back into someone’s good graces, but this wasn’t the first time. Probably just the most severe that I’d had since I’d dated Kirra.
“Why the FUCK even bother?” I’d fumed. “When we’d started dating, I literally only wanted to have fun. We could have LEFT it like that. How DARE you ask for my trust only to toss it away. And for some fucking hetero waiter at your gated community restaurant, you’ve known for TWO MONTHS, wants you to be a suburban mom! I’m not a bloody COSTUME for you to just slip off when you’re done pissing off your parents!”
I’d also felt stupid. Of course, I’d been a phase too. They changed their entire aesthetic to compliment mine, they changed their name to Alistair at one point and changed again it right after we’d dated. They’d done this for legitimately every partner they’d had. They’d even changed their pronouns back to their assigned ones after we’d dated. They’d literally sucked out my personality like Kirby and left me a pretty mirror to chatter at like a lonely parakeet.
I’d actually vented to AJ about it and they did end up helping, for a change. I think they were more apt to relate to helpless, indignant rage than anything else I ever felt. (It probably should have been a sign that we only connected in my most toxic eras.) I was initially hesitant to tell them about Asher because the accidental comparison to someone who would end up detransitioning was certain to give AJ a complex, but I’d evidently caught them in a good mood. They coined the term “Captain Backstab”, which made me laugh at the time. Of course, I slapped the name on just about all of my social media ranting.
Rayzel, who I’d had on Snapchat, took offense to this. She was also dumped by Asher, which apparently put her in a position to try to police how I was reacting to it. “It’s not fair for you to put them on blast,” she chastised me.
“She literally used me as a fucking PHASE.” I typed back furiously. Here it was, Rayzel’s all-too-suspicious ’empath’ persona about to slip. Proof that I should never trust anything or anyone nice to me. I hated her and Asher for proving me right. “And also, I gave her a fucking alias. If someone fucks me over, they’re lucky to even get THAT.”
I explained what Asher had done, how they were surely going to revoke the ride to my HRT appointment that I’d waited months for. I offered Rayzel screenshots on what Asher had actually said about offering for me to trust them but not believing it themself. She unequivocally said that this wasn’t true, and that she wasn’t interested in seeing proof.
You ever have someone flat-out refuse screenshots?
Then Rayzel, the healer, the empath, the bitch with a ‘Do No Harm’ tattoo, then went on one of the most damaging tirades of my life, which is actually saying a lot. I wish I had the screenshots, but it was all through Snapchat, and she’d unfriended me right after, but the words were seared onto my consciousness. “You know, I saw when I first met you how bitter and closed-off of a person you were. I could tell by your aura. I knew then that it was hopeless to even try with you, but I did anyway because that’s the kind of person I am. Whatever could have been healed with you is gone. You’re an empty person, Xanthe, and it’s a shame because no one can cure you, but you’ve done this to yourself. And I know you like to say that you’re fiction, so if you’re not real, how is anything you say you go through? I’m not even mad at you, Xanthe. I feel sorry for you.”
My jaw actually dropped at this. I distantly felt my lungs contracting in the beginning of a sob that would, of course, be stopped in its tracks by sheer inability. It wasn’t beyond my habit to prod someone into going off on me, just to prove my abandonment issues right, but I hadn’t even done that. I was caught entirely off-guard. This was clearly a rant she was saving for just the right time, to hit the most nerves, to do the most damage and it did precisely that. I still suffer from it to this day, to be honest.
Which feels like bullshit, because this girl wasn’t even a partner or a friend. She was my goddamned metamour for all of six months.
And I’ve never read anything else that felt as true to me as that did.
“There’s a hurricane coming to Savannah this week,” I told Kaspar. I was laying with my head in Kaspar’s lap as we both read by the fireplace. Earlier, I’d told Kaspar, and I quote, ‘Hey, this probably isn’t too terribly urgent, but I kind of want to die.’
They’d stared at me for a good five seconds before wordlessly retrieving a folded pile of fresh bedding. “Well, someone’s just volunteered to spend the night,” it’d said. We’d been reading since, with Kaspar’s thin fingers playing with my hair. “A hurricane? That should cheer you up.”
They were right. The last hurricane had meant dropping temperatures and being paid to sit around the inn and drink wine. I smiled weakly. “What do you want to bet that Asher’s actually crossing their fingers that the hurricane swipes me off the face of the earth?”
Kaspar kissed the top of my head and leaned down, crossing their forearms over my chest. “That’d be so anti-climactic for you. As would a suicide, if I may add.”
“Yeah, too predictable.” I chuckled.
To distract Kaspar from their frowning, I handed Kaspar my phone to show it the days’ worth of argument and conversation. They were actually more polite than it probably warranted. “I’m certainly glad that you seem to be getting your temper back.”
“Hn? Was that a concern?”
“I was wondering if you were even still capable of anger. I’d feared it having been beaten from you, my darling. Though, remind me to teach you the art of pulling punches.” Okay, yeah, that was Kasparese for ‘That really wasn’t your best work, was it?’
Kaspar tilted its head to the side. “Do you know why I tend to live with people, Xanthe?”
Kaspar’s home was large enough to have an entire hallway to itself while still easily supporting as many as five other roommates, many of whom were kicked out of their prior situations for being polyamorous, trans, or some sort of queer. “I figured it was just to adopt a small army disenfranchised aesthetes.”
“To some extent, yes. But also so I don’t tear myself apart. Think of what became of Phisoxa when he spent far too long locked within his own mind… Do you ever think of living with me?” It was a gentle question. We’d discussed it, how we appreciated how we had separate lives. I remember arguing against it, reminding them that both of our egos wouldn’t fit in the same home for too long. By the end of it, it brought up the fact that I adored Prague. “Live near me. I want someone to be there for you before your brain turns on itself this badly again. I have this sinking feeling that perhaps you aren’t quite enough supported there in the Hostess City.”
I considered it. Hell, I was even for it.
I spent the next several weeks researching the Czech Republic. I can only theorize that my brain could have realised how poor my local support circle was turning out to be and was looking for an escape. I have no doubt that I could have gone years thinking that I were going out for drinks with Kaspar every now and again.
The cost of living was reasonable and the atmosphere was perfect. The main problem was, of course, money to make the move. And the fact that the Czech language, which was a requirement, was an intimidating Cyrillic incantation that held high risk of summoning Franz Kafka’s ghost. But for the first time since I’d moved to the Savannah, I began to realise that maybe, deep down, I needed out.
I wrote the poem below about Rayzel. I unblocked her on Facebook once a year and re-sent it to her, until 2020– you know, the year her diatribe against me seemed echoed by so many people that not even my confrontational ass could argue. I wonder if I’d send it to her again, she’d take it as a sign that nature was healing.
I was gaslit by someone with a ‘Do No Harm’ tattoo.
You would think that law would apply to me too.
You say you’re an empath; your goal is to heal.
Or to look at the knife in my back and deny it’s real.
Try and use kind words as a trap to try and lure me.
And turn around and say it’s a shame no one can cure me.
Please, trace my flaws in my palms and the stars
Tell me more how I caused my own battle scars
Your patronizing words were your charity donation
To someone you’d declare was beyond true salvation.
You would scoff at me, say, ‘You’re such a Scorpio.’
And I’ll sure as Hell prove it by not letting this go.
I’m the crack in your façade, your only exception.
The living disaster on your Good vibes deception.
Your sympathy is barbed and I’ve had enough of it.
Your good will is too slippery to stay where you should shove it.
You said my aura was too bitter for you to even try?
You know, the sad thing is, I bet you still wonder why.
I was gaslit by someone with a ‘Do No Harm’ tattoo.
And the funny thing is, you believed your words true.