Reclaiming my Body

“How am I reclaiming my body?” I am asked by my friend, Haley for a challenge she started. This challenge is the whole reason you are even reading this right now. I ponder the question. A few answers pop up, then push them away thinking they are too personal, so I say I will go to back to thinking about it later. I mindlessly watch Tv, zone out, but the tantalizing question keeps whispering in my ear and finally an hour later I finally confront it.

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Just now- posting that first picture of my mostly naked body…I could stop typing right now is reclaiming my body because I feel like I am going to throw up and my body is hurdling through space and my head is spinning. Am I going to post this? My grotesque body for the world to see? We will see if this post ends up on the internet. But I digress and push all feeling of utter detestation, distaste and revulsion for my body and I’ll post what I originally wrote:

I reclaim my body everyday that I no longer cut it’s beautiful, unique shade of carmel- honey-brown-sugar and in return, the counter on my phone applauds me by tallying another day clean. I reclaim my body with every morsel of food I eat to nourish my body. Is it fun to have to force yourself to eat sometimes? Or realize it’s 10pm and you’ve gotten though another day without food and find satisfaction in that, but also sadness because it’s not fair to yourself? Absolfuckinglutly not. With every sip of water I drink my body silently thanks me. Every cigarette I don’t smoke anymore and pollute my lungs with is a victory after 7 years of wasted money, stinking clothes and rotting breath. I reclaim my body when I remind myself that it is mine and nobody else’s and that *I* am in control from here on out. It’s revolutionary when I have the small “it wasn’t your fault” moments and feel that I no longer have to feel like a victim- they are few and far between but those are moments to be cherished. I reclaim my body when I see myself as more than my physical body and include my beautiful, brilliant, creative, afflicted mind as part as my whole self. I am not the sum of my physical parts.

Even in the moments when I all I can see are is damaged parts; the fat, hideousness, disgust, shame, laziness, loneliness, mental illness and sickness that swallow me whole, I try to salvage the idea that I am not a failure. I am intelligent, well spoken, educated and have an alacrity and appetite to learn more and more about the topics that interest me. I always say, (especially when it comes to dating) “I would rather be respected for my mind than my body.” Body shapes and sizes are ephemeral, intelligence is forever.

I reclaimed my body and soul when I declared my trans identity and express that in a plethora of ways because of the fluidity of my gender expression is infitie. On August 8, 2016 I surgically reclaimed my physical body.

I reclaim my body when I write because all the neurons and synapses in my brain are firing at once. When words surge at the speed of light out of my fingertips and onto a page and simultaneously thoughts erupt out of my brain like lava exploding out of a volcano–I must find a way to express myself because spoken words won’t suffice. My body is reclaimed when I speak about my mental illness because I can use my brain, (a seemingly endless mocking dichotomy of strength and weakness) as a beacon of hope for others because I am articulate, open and honest. I can show my scars, tell my stories, share the trauma and what lead me to who I am today. I use my lips that I once hated because people, men, used to make sexual comments about them to share my message of hope.

I am reclaiming my body when I go to therapy 2 times a week to work on the skewed and sometimes illogical beliefs I hold about myself and my body. I am challenged by a brilliant therapist to really look at myself and thoughts and notions about myself and the world and question if what I am thinking or feeling is coming from an emotional place or a place of logic.

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I am in a perpetual state of evolution.

#ReclaimingMyBody

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My Room Is Illuminated and Bright. A story of personal growth and overcoming self harm.

I woke up this morning to this this Facebook reminder. When I looked at it I smiled and was briefly reminded of how much this day was a catalyst to where my life is now. Now less than an hour later, on the 1 train headed to the Apple store, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel sad. You see, I had to just count on my fingers how many days it had been a year ago (when this post was made) that I first started self harming. At this point a year ago it was a week straight; my troubles started December 8, 2016. This is a day that I remember like an anniversary, like one would remember a birthday or death (perhaps this was a rebirth?) On this 1 train at 1:21 pm I am listening to my playlist “December 2016” which consists of all the sad songs I used to listen to for almost 10 months. Just as a little taste some of the songs on this pit-of-despair-in-music-form playlist I’ve got:

⁃ Hurt, Johnny Cash (a personal fav when the self loathing of cutting came in)

⁃ Under The Knife, Icon For Hire ( I think we can all guess what that’s about)

⁃ Creep, Radiohead

⁃ Hurts Like Hell (which, shockingly enough is NOT about cutting- it’s about people leaving you)

…Anyway. You get the hint. #sad #angst

SO! On December 8, 2016 I began to cut, on December 16 school let out for Christmas break, and Christmas Eve I left acting training.

It wasn’t another 4 months until my violent, life threatening behavior ended and I stopped hurting myself in March 2017. I can greatly attribute my recovery to my constant cognizance that what I was doing was dangerous, in addition to my willingness to go to therapy 4 times a week. Now I’m down to 3 because I don’t need to meet with my psychiatrist weekly anymore- we are now on a 3 month in-between period to touch base.

It’s sad because that moment in the status above mentioned a teacher grabbing my face and saying those words to me “you are worthy of love and belonging” was in response to me simply saying I probably wouldn’t return for the third year of training (a whole semester away from where we were now in training.) What I was really saying was “I know I don’t have you as a teacher next semester in the first place, I know I would have you again next year but I can’t do this anymore. Goodbye.” Same thing happened when my classmates and I went out for drinks after class was finished for Christmas break- I knew in my heart that I wasn’t coming back. I sat there, detached at the schools haunting grounds, mildly dissociated trying to quietly let on I was leaving.

I guess word spread among the staff at Atlantic because I soon revived a message from the student affairs director on December 23 and then eventually we had a phone call on Christmas Eve discussing my “options” even though we both knew it would be in my best interest to leave the rigorous training program that I was no longer mentally capable of meeting the demands required for success in the program. It’s funny, I was going through my old phone a few days ago and found the exchange between this human and I over Christmas break:

Looking at the conversation I see the resistance, anger and embarrassment I was harboring at the fact that she had found out what I had been doing to my body. It’s clear the amount of shame that I had considering this is the woman that took me to the hospital in the middle of a school day and ended up saving my life when I came to her and told her that I had tried committing suicide the night before back in September 2015 .During our phone conversation on Christmas Eve with her I decided to leave school. So there I was, in the north woods of my Wisconsin lake house in 18 degree weather, I felt as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I KNEW it was the right choice. I wrote a blog post that was called “Christmas Eve Drop Out” that I posted on Facebook and my WordPress blog. That night my post was read over 100 times and I received over 30 comments from people, some current classmates, some classmates in the grade below me who I never got a chance to know, family friends, teachers, and some private messages etc. In that moment I felt loved and supported. Part of my post:

“I had deep undercurrents of sadness and a sense of mistrust in myself and my ability to succeed at this school. By the final two weeks of school I had cut myself near 100 times on my wrists and legs as a way to deal with my feelings that I couldn’t express. I made it through to the final day just barely, missing classes became a pattern for me which is a no no at my school. I had begun to fall down the rabbit hole each night that I took a razor to my skin and inflicted such pain on myself.

I am lost and weak. I have lost who I am. Yesterday I wrote saying ” An inferno of sadness as engulfed my soul.” In this moment however, I don’t feel that way. I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room. This is the reset button. I will leave school to undergo intensive psychotherapy and get the help I desperately need but more importantly, want…. It is time that I stand  (shakily) on my two feet and walk into the light of recovery. It’s time to rebuild. “

After I came home from the lake house it was time for an action plan. We looked into hospitalization back in New York because I refused to move back to Wisconsin- cutting or not New York is my home. My therapist was in way over her head and told me she couldn’t help me anymore. Luckily that’s when Callen Lorde came in and saved my life. Callen Lorde is an LGBT community health center in Manhattan– the place I make the 2 hour commute 3 times a week to better myself.

So. That’s all in the past, yes? Well happily the answer IS yes. I haven’t cut myself in 286 days (and for those of you that are mathematically challenged *not judging, so I am* OR too lazy to figure out how long that is- it’s 9 months.) I still have sooooo many clinical diagnoses that are listed in the charts by the many mental health professionals I see, but guess what? I am working on it. Although these conditions will never go away, I am finally in a very stable place where my days aren’t soiled with the acrid taste of regret (usually alchohol) and sorrow that used to wake me in the mornings (and by mornings I mean like, 2 pm because I was a depressed mess.)

I have written about my past of self harm and depression extensively on my blog ‘The Rilen Files’ on WordPress (shameless plug. )Most notably the post called “56 Little Marks” that has a (horrifying) 486 views where I document the 56 scars left on my body that still remain a year after my 3 month fall apart-who-the-fuck-am-I-help! period in my life. Below is the beginning of the post (a good read if I may say so myself)

It’s nice that I’ve gained allies throughout that horrific time in my life. I’ve sustained friendships that have weathered my tornado. Friends I’ve met online across the world on different continents who I talk to daily,and trust inherently. Not your every day Joe Shmoe could’ve been sucked in and devoured by my sea of despair because they simply weren’t strong enough or had the compassion to deal. Cuz seriously, what the hell would YOU do if someone was texting you at 3M, drunk, depressed and (sometimes) angry telling you they a) have a knife next to them and either they want to cut themselves or b) they are already bleeding????I don’t even know how I would react to that.

So, to those friends, and therapists (that will never be able to read this- unless I decide to take the whole session to read this novel) thank you. Thank you for your friendship and unwavering love.

It’s been a year and then some but as 2018 approaches in (counts on fingers again- I told you I wasn’t kidding) 16 days, despite the haze that used to cover my eyes and cloud my thoughts, the darkness that consumed me, the vicious thoughts and voice in my head that whispered and sometimes screamed at me to cut deeper and give up, I am excited to see what wonderful opportunities are headed my way. On December 24,2016 I wrote “ I see a light in the corner, a light that I am actively chasing to eventually illuminate my whole room.”

And now on December 14,2017

My room is illuminated and bright.

You’re Not Good Enough & The Little Lies I’ve Told Myself.

Sunday October 29, 2017, 8:40pm

I believe in this moment at 8:40, my life could be on a precipice of change. I sit here on my leather couch in my Riverdale apartment, with my script beside me, my favorite scent of circus sage candle burning, and a stiff well-deserved drink by my side and realize I have the power right now, to change my thoughts and eventually my life.

2 weeks ago, on October 7 I auditioned for my dream role, Konstantin in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull.’ Words don’t express how much getting this role, and even having the opportunity to audition mean to me. When I first read The Seagull back at Atlantic last year I was smitten. Never in my life have I felt so connected to a character before and felt understood and seen (more on that later!) In school I was fortunate enough to do the famous Act 3 bandage scene where K and his mother have a falling out. The work I did that day surprised me and opened my eyes to what I am capable of as an actor. I didn’t know I could be so vulnerable and open, and cry my face off and feel so much emotion by saying someone else words. I hoped and dreamed that someday I would be able to play the role but put it on a shelf of realities that probably weren’t going to come true. I put it on that shelf because I am trans- I look and sound like a girl and it would take an open minded director to take a chance on me and let me bring this character to life. Well, fast forward a year later, and it happened. I fought for this part, I gave every morsel that I could to prove that I deserved this part and despite my physical appearance, he and I are not so different and that I can bring a truth to this part that simply based on my life experiences, other actors may not be able to connect as deeply as I can.

Now, fast forward again and these 2 weeks a shit-storm of emotions have happened. Self doubt, self HATRED, insecurity, feeling unworthy, incapable, not experienced enough, green, are all things that have littered my mind. The overall feeling that I have been lugging on my back these last 2 weeks is that I am not worthy, that somehow I tricked everyone into thinking I am capable of playing this part and that in reality I was unfit and a pretender. Konstantin is the first lead I have ever played in my 12 years of acting. I have been bitch slapped in the face many times these past few weeks of what specifically that means, and how that plays out in terms of preparation and responsibility. When all is said and done my character is the protagonist- which is simply to say a very large role in which we follow the throughline of this characters story and has a full arc, or as dictionary.com states “The principal leading actor, character or participant in a literary work or real event.” I always hoped that someday I would be able to play a part this big, a part this complicated and then, when I finally achieved it and began to do the work I told myself nope- they made a mistake, I can’t do this because I’m not good enough.

The rehearsal process has been an uphill struggle. We are putting together a large 4 act show in less than a month. My first day of rehearsal I had a huge, complex, layered scene to memorize without whole lot of time. I became obsessive, mean and downright abusive and compulsive in the way I was approaching the way I needed to learn my lines and approach the character. I wanted to be perfect, or at least my version of what perfect looks like, and let me tell you- two weeks in I am still very far from that. I have standards for myself and the bar is set very high because I know what I am capable of emotionally as a human. I am grateful because of the intensity of this role and the journey my character goes on that I have the opportunity to learn and play and grow as a performer. To try to bring the emotional depth that Rilen has to the stage is proving to be difficult. I didn’t realize how complex the role was and the friggin rollercoaster he is on. I suppose some small part of me throught, we have so much in common that he should be easy to tap into. Don’t get me wrong in NO way did I think it was going to be easy, but I was naive in thinking having shared experiences was enough. On that note of shared experiences heres the list I have complied of how we are similar:

  • depression,
  • suicidal actions/ideation,
  • rapid mood swings
  • creative
  • sensitive
  • low self-esteem
  • extreme feelings of inferiority
  • both dropped out of college (for me, twice both because of psychological issues)
  • Longing for affection and attention from mom
  • constantly feeling like your mom hates you, but still reaching and longing for that love, and when its given, you crumble and give in no matter the amount of previous hurt she caused
  • feelings of loneliness and detachment from others—misunderstood
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • both play the piano when we are sad
  • feelings of abandonment-everyone is against me
  • dislikes the person his parent is dating

You would THINK (!) THAT HAVING THIS SHIT IN COMMON WOULD MAKE MY JOB EASY AS A PERFORMER- but nah bitch- wrong. Legit, if you look at half of that list its about self doubt, feelings of worthlessness and sadness. And anyone that actually knows me know’s thats me in a nutshell. Those are less than ideal characteristics to have in the first place, but pair that negative self image with the pressure and responsibility of telling a story, and its kind of a recipe for disaster.

The reason I started this post is because I realized something tonight after an intensive 4 hour rehearsal in which 2 of those hours were just my director and I fleshing out the first scene I am in. This revalation, simply put is: I can’t continue this play (and in the BIGGER picture- my LIFE and career) with this thought processes that has been running rampant in my conscious mind that I am undeserving and not “enough.” I am looking at these past 2 weeks and labeling it as the “perceived failure” chapter- the chapter where I would text my old teacher nightly (sometimes in a rage) of how inadequate I am and question how I got this role in the first place. I am making the choice right now to knock that shit off. The fact of the matter is I have 12 days to pull it together and make shit happen before we have tech. I am not going to get anywhere by telling myself I suck. I have been working very hard on this play outside of rehearsals, spending a bare minimum of 3 (some days 5-7) hours a day with the text- but I realized today, that simply is not enough. And for any non-actors you might be like, “What the fuck? Thats a long ass time to stare at a piece of paper with bright highlighted words and illegible notes!”And yes, in hindsight it is, but for the demands of this part and how far I still have to go to bring a truthful, honest and raw performance (in my eyes at least) that’s the bare minimum. I have the capability to DO something with this role, and until I feel like I have gotten “there,” I have a lot of work to do.

The fact of the matter is, this is my first role since completing my training at the Atlantic and like I said, first lead ever. A quick snapshot of the last year: My life fucking fell apart from December- February- (I highly suggest reading my older entires, because wow- a lot was going on and I did NOT hold back on the details and stark reality of the pain I was in.) I became someone I didn’t know anymore- I was in a perpetual state of emotional and psychological crisis. I was cutting myself daily, drinking and dissociating- my ability to be able to be present in my body and emotions was a daily struggle and a lot of times I failed. Then March happened- I discovered Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. A fire was lit under my ass and I signed up for backstage, an acting website where a lot of people in the biz self submit for roles. I was getting work frequently, and then within 5 months of pursuing my professional career I landed a manager- a long-term goal I had set to achieve in a year. And now here in almost November, my mental health has taken a completely 180, and I am finally stable. But essentially, everything has been so fast paced- it’s like, everything I had ever wanted and dreamed of as an actor was (and still is) falling into place at the speed of sound. So while I have been berating myself and telling myself I don’t deserve this part or whatever else bullshit my brain has been coming up with I need to look at the facts: I AM good enough. I have trained, I am professional, competent and I want this and I got the part because someone believed that I could do this. I am just as worthy as anyone else and have worked my way up to be where I am now, so to tell myself that I am not deserving of this dream role is just fuckin mean and vicious.

So what I’m saying is this: I have no more room for bullshit right now, and on the deeper level- I NEED TO LOVE MYSELF. One of my old therapists always said, “Think of the negative self talk you have- all the mean, hateful things you say and think about yourself. Now imagine saying that to a child. That would be considered child abuse and your kid would be taken away from you. So knowing how impactful those statements and words are, why would you say those things to yourself?” And while I’ve always agreed with that analogy, at this moment in my life I’m like “oh fuck. What have I been doing to myself?” Now doooooon’t get me wrong, this attempt at seriously starting to realign my self worth is not going to be easy, its not going to fix everything and it sure as shit is not going to happen in the next 2 weeks before this show opens and closes. I am in therapy 3 times a fucking week and I have been in therapy for 11 years working on this very concept and this is still *clearly* something I struggle with. But right now, for this moment, for the rest of this process I want to try and diminish those lies I’ve been telling myself. I am capable of being a great artist someday, and this gift, this BLESSING from the god’s above to let me play this part is a huge step for me an opportunity to grow as an actor, but even more than that, A Human.

9:36

How Tumblr helped me discover my gender and sexual identity AKA, Tumblr made me GAY!

Thursday March 26,2015/Monday March 30


Without Tumblr I don’t think I would be as gay and I mean that in a good way. Actually, I mean that in a GREAT way!

After all, what could be more liberating than being your true self?

Without Tumblr and the freedom to express myself freely on the internet, I don’t know that I would have an outlet to express myself in the way I want. I solidified my transgender identity on Tumblr and I continue to explore my gender identity. In addition to that, I can freely express my sexuality and I am proud of my sexuality- cuz I can face it now, I AM GAY AS HELL! (How I fooled myself or thought otherwise is beyond me!)

The clearest example of me being okay with being gay is the rainbow bracelet I have on my wrist with the words pride on it- a year ago there is no way in hell I would have had the balls to wear this!

I can honestly say that in the past 3 months Tumblr has helped me immensely in terms of exploring my gender identity and where I fall on the transgender spectrum.

You are probably sitting there thinking, what the hell is this person talking about? How can some dumb-ass website where people share pictures of cats and Taylor Swift change someones life in a profound way, let alone allow them express and explore their sexuality AND decide they are TRANS??  Well, the simple and perhaps obvious answer is because of the anonymity! Tumblr has given me ( and millions of other people around the world) the courage to post whatever I like. I have 430 followers on Tumblr and not a single soul on that site do I actually know in real life! Which is funny, because in some aspects, I am more honest and myself on Tumblr than I am in real life- which is the whole point of this entry! I refuse to share my username with people in my life life ( not that anyone has asked anyway) because it is my sacred space despite being available to the masses and the fact that I gain new followers on a daily basis!

I have to give some serious credit to Swedish sex-pot model, Erika Linder. If it were not for her, I

A)I would not be where I am in terms of my understanding of my gender identity,thus I would B) not even be writing this article in the first place!

Erika is an androgynous model, meaning she has the unique gift of being able to fluidly transition from male to female while she models. So sometimes she is hired as a male model (which is when she is THE SEXIEST PERSON IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD!!!) and she is also hired as a female model. Because of her beauty and androgyny, little ole me was sitting around a couple of months ago envious of this beautiful creature I peered at though my computer screen. How could someone so beautiful be neither male or female but be the perfect mix of both?

My whole life I never felt like I fit into the box that society says a woman is supposed to fit in. I have always wondered and yearned to know what it would be like to feel comfortable dressing and looking the way a piece of me has ways felt inside, which is like a boy. It’s funny because lately I have looked back at pictures and old facebook status posts from high school and even farther back and noticed little “red flags” of me grappling with my gender. Little things like me wearing mens pants and declaring its “man pants Monday” when in reality, I wanted everyday to be man pants day! Or when I would wear boy short underwear because they were close to boxers, but still feminine enough that it was considered “normal.” So when I saw Erika Linder, this gorgeous woman with her short hair, her pouty face and expressive eyes flawlessly modeling male clothing, I thought to myself- wow, how great would it be to be androgynous! I should try to do something like that! What really inspired me the most however was Erika’s quote on her twitter that states “I have too much imagination to be just one gender” What a concept!

And so it began. A few days later On January 23, 2015 I went to cost cutters and paid $17 to cut 3 inches off of my hair and chopped it off to the point where my hair fell above my jaw line. I was happy- I looked like a boy in my eyes. Perhaps to the outside world I looked like a lesbian. Or maybe I just looked like a girl with short hair. Either way, I was happy, and that is what matters. A simple thing like cutting my hair was the beginning of what will continue to be a life long journey of self discovery!

After I cut my hair I stopped carrying around a purse, I decreed that purses were not for me and that I hated how feminine they were. Why should I have to carry around this cumbersome bag with me just because I have a vagina? So I switched to a “mens” wallet which in turn drastically changed the clothes that I began to wear. Because I no longer carried a purse, the pants I wore began to change because now I had to put my belongings in my pockets. I did not have to buy any new pants luckily but the way I wear my clothes in different now. My closet is a bit unbalanced between mens clothing and women- surprisingly a lot of the clothes that I have unpacked right now ( a lot of my clothes are in boxes because I moved a couple of moths ago) are mens. In my closet I have it divided between women and mens clothing depending on how I feel on a certain day, it is easy for me to pick an outfit. My mens clothes are darker in hues- dark blues, greens, reds, grey and blacks. And then on the other side I have 2 pink sweatshirts and a few other “girly” clothes.

Now you are probably like, what the fuck does ANY of this have to do with Tumblr? Everything my dear friend, everything! Without the help of the internet, youtube, Tumblr, books and articles I would not feel comfortable with who I am, let alone know HOW to define myself! In the age of the internet I feel I am able to freely express who I am. Whether that is a picture of a beautiful woman or a dog, I can post whatever the hell I want. I don’t have to be ashamed if I see a picture of a chicks ass or bangin’ bod and find that more attractive than a guys six pack abs.

I grew up in a predominantly white, upper-middle class, catholic, republican town where being gay is not talked about. I went to a catholic high school, where if you were gay you were closeted. I knew I wasn’t straight, or had an inkling back in middle school and was seriously questioning my sexuality by freshman year and throughout college. I finally came out to myself as bisexual when I was 18.

In the past few months, the internet has taught me that it is okay to be gay, but even more pertinent, it is okay to be transgender.  Remember how I just said being gay was not really discussed, well neither was being transgender. Let’s face it, a lot of people still don’t know what the term even means- which is fine, our time is coming! You see how I said “our?” I say “our” because I consider myself part of the transgender community– a label that not many people close to me know about and a label I am still getting used to. I heard about transgenderism back in high school and always knew that the label fit me, but pushed it away because it was too painful to face.

Youtube and Tumblr, more specifically demonstrated to me that being trans is okay! It taught me that being trans isn’t gross, abnormal, weird, psycho, nasty, immoral, disgusting or wrong. There are millions of Tumblr users and millions of trans people peppered all over the world. The fact that I am able to simply access and see real peoples stories and accounts of beings trans has been an indispensable resource for me. I am able to type in “ftm”, “trans”, “transgender” and thousands of posts will pop up! Whether it is pictures, videos texts posts, rants, hormone replacement updates- anything– it is all readily accessible and at my fingertips.

I never knew that there was a whole community out there for people that felt like me and they were facing the same questions and struggling with the same shit I am. The same everyday problems that cis people don’t have to think about. Questions like, how do I get my friends and family to call me by my chosen name? How do I bind properly and what is the best company to buy from? How do I even know if I am transgender???

I am happy that I feel I have found my place. I have a long way to go. But from the support of friends and family, and some of my Tumblr followers, I feel like I am on the right path- so thank you! So in the end, I guess this is a big thank you to the internet and a testament that good can come from the digital age that we live in.

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