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February 19, 2012

The Story of Loneliness

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 10:52 am

As long as I’m collating things here that I’ve written privately elsewhere, this is a post that touches on issues of identity, isolation and grief. It’s passed its rawness-expiration-date, so I wanted to make it shareable.

There are two distinct ideas here that should probably be two separate essays…but they came to me together.

. . .

For me, queerness has been a story of loneliness. Always the struggle to be seen. The feeling of walking down a New York sidewalk late at night; most people in my life pass by staring straight ahead, eyes unfocused, in a hurry. I’m standing there. And it’s cold.

All my life, I’ve dreamed of queer community. I’ve dreamed of it like a paradise. Something out there on an island, far away from me. Maybe I can get there by boat. Maybe I can’t get there at all. Maybe if I make it there I can catch a glimpse before I’m told to turn around and go home. Soft, sandy beaches. Long, sunny days. An explosion of color and music and feathers and dancing. Tropical.

It dawned on me at some point that almost everyone I know is queer. Most people I consider close or communicate with regularly are either queer themselves or in a queer relationship. And yet, somehow, my life doesn’t feel like one big Pride parade. I’m still haunted by that loneliness.

And I wonder if, when our communities converge with the intent to celebrate our genuinely beautiful and revolutionary queerness, there isn’t also a bit of desperate loneliness in that explosion of glitter and feathers. Because invisibility is existentially invalidating on a fundamental level or whatever, sure. But invisibility also means just never getting to talk to anyone without a mask on. Never getting to dance with anybody who’s looking you in the eye. Never getting to touch someone’s body and have them touch yours and understand what that really means.

And I wonder, when we converge simply to survive, if maybe that doesn’t always feel like community. If maybe it just feels like being lonely with a bunch of other lonely people nearby.

I started this journal to write about grief. Grief has been singing inside me lately. Today I read a story by Sherman Alexie called “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore.” There are many things in the story, including a young Indian basketball star who doesn’t make it to college, lots of laughter, Diet Pepsi, and a line about the way boys smell in the summer that reminded me of a lover and made me smile. But what stuck in my heart most was the feeling that, in the whole world, only a very small handful of people like you exist and most of them aren’t doing so well. There’s a different kind of loneliness in that.

A few weeks ago, someone came out to me in a space that I am partially responsible for and told me that the space didn’t feel emotionally safe for them. And all I could tell this person was that they were right. I very much wanted them to feel welcome, but I couldn’t guarantee that the space would be as safe for them as it is for people with more privileged gender identities. And I hated this fact and that there was only so much I could do about it. They felt so isolated by their experience. And I so very much wanted them to stay despite their discomfort, because I feel isolated in that space sometimes too. Later, I called a friend and cried a lot of tears over that interaction. That isn’t true. I didn’t cry; I sobbed.

Last week, I missed several phonecalls in a row from one of the most important people in my life. He’s spending several months on another continent where I can’t call him back. I miss him. Sometimes it’s a physical ache. When I got the last voicemail, I was having dinner with another partner. I broke down in tears and cried on their shoulder. They held me for a long time. “I miss him, too,” they said, even though they don’t know him very well, “I miss him for you. I feel it. I guess compersion goes both ways.” Ironic that sometimes you can’t make someone feel less lonely by being there for them; all you can do is feel lonely with them.

This morning, I was listening to “This is Water“, a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace in 2005, about three years before he killed himself. The speech is about compassion, and in it he describes a scene in a grocery store:

I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermaket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am. And that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do. Again, please don’t think I’m giving you moral advice, or saying you’re SUPPOSED to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort. And if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights, holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Department who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely. But it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.

It was the bone cancer that did it. I’d been going along doing something tedious on my laptop with this recording rolling in the background, and then suddenly I was crying. Sitting in a coffeeshop, tears rolling down each cheek. It was something about the way he said, “She’s not usually like this.” It was something about the haunting, hovering loneliness in that imaginary woman’s life. Something about her grief.

I’ve noticed something lately that I’m still surprised by. I’ve noticed that when I talk about oppressed peoples as a whole – which, of course, includes most people in some way or another – I’ve started saying “us” instead of “them”. When I talk to my friends about it, I say “we” rather than “they”. I feel a little nervous each time I lay some claim to this universal grief. I worry that someone is going to tell me to get back in my little boat of privilege and go home. But every time I do it, strangely, I also feel a tiny bit less lonely.

Here is one of the lessons about acknowledging grief, I think: It lets us feel the realness of each others’ lives. It lets our experiences of suffering touch each other. This doesn’t always make those lives feel better. It doesn’t result in an explosion of glitter. Sometimes it’s very painful. But it lets us nod to each other as we hurry in opposite directions on the sidewalk in the cold.


  1. So maybe there is something about experiencing grief that make us more empathic and maybe that is somehow tied to feeling less lonely, in part because because empathy inherently involves feeling for/with another human being. It requires interaction, feeling interaction…. I don’t know…. All I know is that this post touched me, I could feel the grief and the loneliness and the empathy…all the way through. It brought tears to my eyes as I sit in this waiting room, looking around at all the people who are ill, listening to the hushed conversations in English and Spanish…wishing there was someone here to make me feel less lonely, to support me and lessen my nervousness about the likelihood that I will be one of the first trans patients this doc has ever seen.

    Comment by Kota — February 20, 2012 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

  2. […] gets personal. Being invisible hurts like hell. Meanwhile, being illegible precludes the possibility of being invisible. I think it’s important […]

    Pingback by Invisibility versus Illegibility: KinkForAll shows how “kink” is everything you didn’t know it can be « Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed — February 23, 2012 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  3. Yes, this.

    Comment by kinkinexile — March 3, 2012 @ 2:07 am | Reply

  4. Reblogged this on polygrrl.

    Comment by polygrrl — March 31, 2012 @ 10:50 am | Reply

  5. […] sort of “professional inferiority complex” plagues most writers similar to the way that feeling “not queer enough” haunts many queer folks. That, in each case, the sheer presence of the doubt is proof of its unfoundedness — and that […]

    Pingback by On Coming Back to the Breath « Bloggity Blog Blog Blog… — April 22, 2012 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  6. If the grief that sang within you could propel you to write a post as deep and beautiful as this then I say we all need a touch of grief once in a while or need to feel invisible at least once in our lives to experience some form of sincerity and beauty which we can display to the world. Lovely post. It’s similar to my blog at Lookng forward to reading more of your work 🙂

    Comment by camgal — April 26, 2012 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  7. […] gets personal. Being invisible hurts like hell. Meanwhile, being illegible precludes the possibility of being invisible. I think it’s […]

    Pingback by Invisibility versus Illegibility: KinkForAll shows how “kink” is everything you didn’t know it can be | Good Vibrations Blog — May 2, 2012 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

  8. Do you know the Russian word ‘toska’? It gets translated as yearning and longing and ‘ache of the soul’ and it’s kind of like sad nostalgia but without necessarily a past to be thinking about. I always think about it as sadness and distance. Anyway, at one point I ran into this idea of toska as what keeps us together, solace with each other, as we strive and hope for a better world. I feel that way sometimes, but I’ve never really found it anywhere else.

    This writing is beautiful, and also really brings up that feeling for me. So for once I feel slightly less lonely in that feeling. Thank you.

    Comment by code16 — March 11, 2014 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

    • 🙂

      Thanks for the new word. That’s a good one. I always like new words. (“Words create reality.”)

      Comment by thirdxlucky — March 13, 2014 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

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