Friday, May 13, 2022

My Friend Alex

 I am very proud and happy for my friend Alex Tripp, who is coming out as trans and beginning a regimen of hormone replacement therapy. I have many times referred to Alex, conversationally, as my best friend, with occasional qualifiers of context like "who I met in college." We met when we were both eighteen, and we're both thirty-six now. That's half a lifetime. She's one of the people I met walking around the freshman dorm and looking at people's CD wallets, and immediately I was like "this person is cool." In sophomore year, when Netflix started, she'd rip DVDs and burn DVD-Rs and fill another wallet up with them. We watched a ton of movies together, hung out with a great many of the same people, listened to a lot of music, christened a house we moved into by playing Lightning Bolt's Wonderful Rainbow on the record player. We would run errands together, as neither of us drove, keeping each other company on bus trips out to neighboring towns to pick up packages that FedEx failed to deliver. We would chat on messaging services. I was weirdly moved when I realized Alex was the first person other than my mom that would end a conversation with me with "goodnight." That was in Freshman year, before we lived together. We shared bedroom walls for three years, essentially.

 I don't wish to seem like I am writing a eulogy where I am mourning a person I thought I knew. Rather I want to put across that while I felt like we talked about everything in our heads, just by virtue of sheer proximity, I didn't know about her gender dysphoria. This isn't to say I view this secret as a betrayal: Rather it's a revelation of the most basic "you don't know what another person is experiencing" common sense sort.

It's radicalizing to realize someone you love is a part of a population that you maybe previously held up to an intellectual distance. Like, if you'd asked me a few months ago for my "take" on the "trans controversy" I would've said: I think transgenderism's surge in popularity over the past few years is just the latest subculture, which always has an element of breaking from gender norms. Hippies had long hair, women in British punk bands would talk about how Johnny Rotten was empowering because he had an androgynous quality. Nowadays I think kids are just incredibly literal, so. The point of this take is meant to be "it's fine, more power to them, only losers get upset by a youth subculture" -- and while I don't think this "take" is WRONG necessarily, I now feel more like: Why the fuck do you need to have a take, to stroke your chin and pontificate?

We met at an ostensibly very liberal college, and Alex didn't feel comfortable coming out then, and who knows how much stupid shit I or my friends have said, either in the spirit of jest or pseudo-intellectualism? Our cohort wasn't a particularly macho group, and while the school didn't have fraternities or anything, it was segregated along gender lines just in basic terms of housing. While outward homophobia would certainly be called out, heteronormativity was nonetheless the order of the day. I apologize now for any dumb shit I have said that I don't remember saying.

However, over the course of our friendship, it became clear I had a much better memory than Alex did, and so I want to remember things that she may have forgotten, because they take on new resonance to me now: The first time I took acid, Alex was essentially my babysitter, bearing witness to me going a little bit crazy, doing some babbling. Of course, in my own head, there was a moment where I thought Alex's laughter was from her being a more ascended Godlike being, already an initiate into the wisdom psychedelics bring, but that's not the part I wish to recall. Rather I remember, coming down, after feeling like I'd entered into higher dimensions of greater complexity, feeling like I'd made a wrong turn in the corridors of different consciousness, to be once more in my body, in the realm of our shared living room, making a joke I thought would amuse Alex, "when did I lose genders?" thinking of us as no longer living in a world or gender difference and all its myriad pleasures.

This joke hits different now. So too do a bunch of personality traits of the "maybe that's gender dysphoria, maybe that's just Alex" variety: The disinterest in memory, for one, and its attendant explanations: the love for smoking weed I didn't share, the fondness for DXM's disassociative properties that made it a favorite drug. I want to see selfies documenting the changes in Alex's physical appearance, but she, like me, never liked being photographed. All her images uploaded online had her features distorted or otherwise obscured. In college Alex would tap her breastbone and it would emit this hollow sound, a bodily anomaly that would be touched on with the disclaimer offered that she did not expect to live to thirty. There has always been a streak of apocalyptic thinking and occasional nihilism running through my circle of friends. This comment now feels reframed, to refer to the high rates of suicide among transgender youth.

I'm so glad we're still alive, undertaking new experiences and continuing to grow. That's my sister. I would die for her.

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