Golden

Please, call me Orrery. I’m a peafowl. Not a hen; I have a train. Not a cock; I got rid of it. There’ll be art this time. You’ll see what I mean then.

Changing fursonas after fifteen or so years is an awkward and surreal experience, especially with how wedded my old name was to my species. “th’ buni” was more than a name. It was an identity, a whole sense of self. I so heavily identified with this self-as-character that a great many people never knew Kristy; they knew about the small white rabbit, or the clockwork automaton, or twelve bunnies in a buni-suit. She was me. I was her.

Now that’s changing, and even from inside it’s a little terrifying. There’s a huge history of behaviors and vocabulary that I’m still studying, trying to decide what can come with me and what needs to stay with her as I arrange for her to take a nice long nap in the hutch. She’s not gone, any more than Elbey is gone, but I can’t be her any more, and I’m still trying to make sense in my own head of how much “me” is “me” and how much “me” was “her.” How much is affectation that I can set down with the “character” and how much is core self that will follow into this new phase of self. It’s only been a few weeks, and I’ve already developed a weird nostalgia for her. Building oneself, especially while only half-formed, is a daunting task.

So, of course, the real question is why. What prompted this transformation? I suppose the short and simple answer is that I recently realized that an aspect of self I’d considered immutable turned out to be something I could actually control, and this new expression of self is a reminder to everyone that I can control it. That doesn’t sound particularly exciting or interesting, but that bloodless summation of the last six months, seven years, and majority of my adult life is the best way I can capture everything that’s about to follow.

From here, please understand that I’m about to tell the tale as I understand it, but that understanding is wholly confined to my own head and is not reflective of anyone else’s intentions or states of being. I have only control over myself and my own actions, and how I interpret the actions of others. Nothing in the following paragraphs is to be considered a reflection of anyone else. I believe everyone else involved operated only with the best of intentions and did their genuine best to do right by their values and their ideals. I don’t think that was always obvious, and I know I didn’t always act as though I believed that in the moment. I need to say it, though, because I want to make sure I do my best by the people depicted herein. Please don’t blame them. I don’t blame them. This isn’t even really about anyone else, except as a backlight showing me my own shape and the ways I need to change it. This is about gnosis. This is about personal transformation.

So with all that in mind, let’s unfold.

The Egg (CW: Personal Trauma)
My parents had very different approaches to coping with hardship.

My mother seemed to process her emotions very quickly and very quietly. I never really heard her talk about her feelings outside of a few times I heard her break down in tears from stress. I don’t recall her ever really sharing that part of herself with me, at least. What she needed from the outside world was a chance to Act Normal. Everything would be okay if everyone acted like everything was okay, and she would quickly right her own ship and get on with life.

My father, in contrast, took forever to grind through his emotional pain queue, and he very clearly needed to do so with others’ help. He was forever trying to talk about what bothered him, what upset him. “There is a dial in my head,” he would say, “and it’s stuck, and I need help unsticking it.” He needed feedback to tell him he was okay, and trying to pretend like everything was normal when it very clearly wasn’t made problems worse for him.

My mother never really learned to help him unstick his dials. If something went wrong and he needed help to address his emotional pain, she really didn’t know how, and from what I saw she never really seemed that interested in figuring it out. Too soon to the source of distress, and my mother’s answer was always “Can we please not talk about this right now? We have a thing to do.” Too long after, and it was, “Why are you still mad about that?” If my father ever hit the sweet spot between too soon and too late, I don’t recall it. And so there was never a right time for him to talk about his feelings, to express what was hurting him. So, he didn’t. He just swallowed his pain, one bitter dram at a time, doing his best to digest it all in his own head in isolation.

And then, if my father couldn’t deal with it all fast enough, some trivial thing would happen and all those emotions he’d been trying to swallow would come rushing back in a toxic torrent. His eyes would bulge, his cheeks would go red, and spittle would fly from his twisted lips as he screamed invectives and threatened physical violence. To be sure, my father never laid a finger on me outside of one instance I deliberately evoked — I threw a clod of dirt into an above-ground pool after he explicitly told me to put it down and said he’d spank me if I didn’t listen — but the sounds and silences of emotional abuse were constant presences in my childhood. I never knew what would trigger his rage, because it could be, and was, anything: socks and shoes left in the floor, unwashed dishes in the sink, a messy room. When I first read about cPTSD I had a moment of ugly recognition.

Both of my parents used to try to reassure me that they loved each other by telling me they hardly ever fought when I wasn’t around, and they almost never fought before I showed up. This was hardly reassuring; really, all it did was reinforce the sense that I only existed because my mother emotionally blackmailed my father into giving her a kid; he’d divorced his first wife when she turned up pregnant after he’d said he didn’t want kids, and it took ten years and the threat of divorce for my father to agree to raise a child. Even then, he talked my mother into having a tubal ligation on the gurney on the way to the operating room for my C-section. To be sure, I have happy memories from childhood, but they’re few and far between.

Depending on which one you ask, either my mother pushed my father out of my childhood or my father withdrew because she never listened to him anyway. There was no negotiation with the ogre; there was appeasement and there was survival, resolving to outlive his rage and vowing to avoid incurring it again. I knew I could do nothing to stop it, because how could leaving my bookbag on the kitchen table deserve such screaming? How could anything I did deserve the response I got? Operant conditioning ensured that interacting with my father was an exercise in psychological terror; I literally had no way to know what would set him off, only that it would be disproportionate to whatever one thing I’d just done and bring with it some unfathomable history of pains and grievances for which I had better have answers or the screaming would continue.

My parents never taught me how to negotiate. They didn’t know how to do it themselves, so how could they?I could talk with my mother, even have dialogue. I could explain why I did what I did to her, and she could explain why she needed me to do things differently if she did. She even raised me with one overriding principle: “if my words don’t work, what do I have left?” I never really saw her talk with my father, though; if there was any actual discussion of anything, it was all behind closed doors. She also never really tried to explain my father’s anger to me either; she just blamed him, dumping all the wrong-doing on him and swearing that he wasn’t a bad person, just incapable of controlling his temper. If she understood her own part to play by ignoring his needs until he hurled them at us in a red-faced rage, she never gave any sign. And so she trained me, without meaning to do so, to believe that I couldn’t talk with my father, that negotiation with him was impossible. If talking could’ve worked, it would have, and it didn’t, so it couldn’t. He was the Ogre, and ogres can’t talk.

Disarmed by my home life, I was utterly unprepared for the emotional isolation that would come of being promoted from second to third grade six weeks into the school year. With my mother and one teacher firmly behind the plan as the best thing for my education and my father and the principal dead-set against it as setting me up for social failure, the stage was set for my father to exit the picture almost entirely. And when the inevitable social fallout happened and I lost all my friends and made enemies of my new classmates for daring to outperform them on tests, my father quite understandably, if immorally, refused to participate in my upbringing. I went through a two-year stretch of not really having any friends at all. I didn’t really have any school-age friends of my own again until high school, when we moved and my new classmates only knew me as “the new kid from across town” instead of “the upstart from next year’s class.”

This isn’t to say I didn’t have people in my life at that age, but they… weren’t friends. Did you ever hear a kid say, “if you let me ride your bike, I’ll be your best friend?” Imagine a schoolboy Mafia tendering it as an offer. My parents were well off; I had a lot of stuff. And kids figured out that if they offered to be my friend, I’d let them play with my stuff. And, as you can imagine, this escalated over time, as folks figured out I was so desperate for social contact as a child that I’d let people play with a lot of things if they promised they’d be my friend afterwards. And then eventually some kids figured out that they could threaten to stop being my friend if I didn’t do things, and shit got really dark.

Yes, that’s as problematic as it sounds. Yes, it went there. There’s a reason why the form of my “coming out” at age ten or so involved me trying to one-up a schoolyard braggart with, “well, I bet you don’t even know how to give a blowjob.” No, I’m not getting into detail, save to say that the emotional beating I got from those kids paled in comparison to the sucking heart wound that followed from the adults who found out. In the wake of the revelations that came of that situation, people reviled me for talking about what happened, but not the ones who treated me that way. Kids will be kids, but people they could label as “gay” didn’t need emotional support.

So, what does it all mean? This was my water. This was the world in which I grew up, at an age before I understood that I had a choice in how I looked at it all. I had no reason to think that my experiences were anything other than “how life is.” I had no reason to question the morality of the people around me, or to finely split the hairs between knowledge, wisdom, agency, and empowerment. I didn’t know how to frame my own experiences. I didn’t know that there was a frame. Life was always ever thus, and how could I know differently? I didn’t even really know about my own autism, and how that skewed my perceptions of reality relative to those around me, but I’ve identified as autistic for a long time because it seemed like the best upāya to explain what I felt and how I thought, and a lot of that involved consciously telling myself that my discomfort with social situations I didn’t understand was evidence of my “disorder,” so of course I had to power through them to be normal. And so I grew up not knowing how to negotiate boundaries, how to defend the ones I’d identified, or even how to understand them. If I wanted friends, I had to be prepared to do whatever they asked of me. Telling people no meant losing connections. Standing up for myself meant isolation. My history meant, at least to me back then, that being true to myself and my needs meant being alone.

Back then, a large part of avoiding that dance was in learning to contort myself into whatever form or presentation provided the smallest attack surface to people around me. Another part was in learning what I had to say to make other people happy. I tried to twist my words and my ideas around whatever the people near me happened to say or do. I threw myself into social camouflage to try to overcome my reputation.

Becoming rabbit was my first conscious step away from that. It was my first deliberate attempt to put down that past, to live with the fear. My first real step on the path to transition happened not in the therapist’s office when I admitted I hated being male, but in the quiet moment when I admitted LoveBear — Elbey — was as much a mask over a broken and disordered childhood as all the other masks had been. I had embraced Elbey as an identity because “Rod’s Husband” gave me one person to try to be, instead of the widening gyre of true-in-the-moment beliefs that I espoused to please all my fair-weather friends. Having only one person to appease, I could at least present a consistent face to the world. With him out of my life, I couldn’t hold the weight of my own bulldada, and I was too terrified of losing people to assert myself. Becoming a Child of Rabbit was, in large part, my first attempt to own my own fear, to learn to live with the dread potential of a life lived utterly alone.

The Shit (CW: Emotional Violence)
Being a rabbit — being th’ buni — was a huge improvement over being Elbey for me in terms of happiness and sanity. I transitioned. I started to unlearn the avoidance behaviors. I started to open up about myself to myself. I made incredible progress on my path. But selah: I didn’t say I was getting over my fear. I said I was learning to live with it. I still didn’t know how to set boundaries. I still couldn’t. Those who’ve known me for a long time might have heard me talk about “gauges” or “dials” in my own head — another echo of my own history — that tracked every person around me and would flip, occasionally, from “safe” to “unsafe.” And as long as people were safe, everything was fine and I could make anything work. If someone ever flipped to “unsafe,” that person needed to be out of my life as fast as I could make it. I never understood why those dials existed; I just knew that they did.

Now I understand them. Now I know what was motivating that behavior. I had so internalized the sense that I had to take down my boundaries to transition, and the idea that failing to endure what others asked of me was letting my condition get the better of me, that transition required me to take down my defenses, to accept anything thrown my way as a demonstration of my integrity. That, however, meant putting up with a lot of things that, if I’d been better skilled at self-management and self-analysis, I’d have realized were things I wasn’t okay with doing. I’d have set boundaries and limits. I’d have negotiated alternatives that didn’t bother or hurt me. I’d have communicated my needs as needs, instead of swallowing them as unreasonable desires and then eventually cutting myself off from the people that didn’t respect them. Now I understand that that sense of “unsafety” meant that so many boundaries had been crossed that I no longer felt like I could be around someone any more.

Let me repeat here, because I can’t stress this enough: to every person about whom I have ever said, “they are unsafe,” I don’t blame you. The fault was mine and mine alone for not communicating my needs and my boundaries. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I was the one who didn’t communicate my limits well in advance. I was the one who offered no chance to correct course, no opportunity to fix mistakes. I was the one who said nothing until it was too late. I was the one who reified my father’s behavior in my mother’s metaphor, swallowing pain until I could no longer stand it and then running away rather than confronting the other party. I forgive all those who hurt me, because I never told you you did. I couldn’t, because I didn’t know how.

Even when I did try to speak up about my limits, very often I backpedaled at the first sign of pushback because I was too afraid of losing others to protect myself. Every time anyone ever heard me say “I can’t,” and then follow up with “well, let me see what I can do,” that was me trying to put my Big Black Boot (and the Consequences Thereof) down, and then immediately regretting doing so and walking back my refusal. Now I see that every time I did that, I was communicating subtextually that my limits weren’t actually limits, because I never defended them. In trying and failing to put limits on what I considered acceptable, I was telling people that speaking up about my limits was just petty grumbling, not to be taken seriously. And I did this a lot, to a lot of people. For that, I am truly regretful, both for others’ sake, and for my own.

With all this clearly established, I think it’s time to tackle the specifics that started the current path, and there’s really no place to start other than with Station Alpha. I could name names and list specifics, but I really do not want to dredge up the past and recriminate. Instead, I’ll state that, if I’d had my wits about me and understood my own needs better, I’d have refused to renew the lease after the second year. There was a lot of emotional violence at Alpha. Multiple people living there over the four years I lived in that house didn’t want to be there, and they acted out their discomfort in some pretty spectacular ways. In addition, there were a lot of apologetics for those people’s behavior, asking everyone else to put up with bad behavior because of some complicated emotional bonds. Again, for the record, I’m as guilty of doing this to others as others living there were of doing it to me. I didn’t understand what I was doing, and I know I crossed some lines I shouldn’t have. If anybody wants to talk about the time spent living there, I’m willing to listen and apologize for anything I did wrong there on a guarantee of reciprocity. There’s a lot of healing to be done over what happened in that space, and it has to start somewhere.

I lived for four years in that house feeling disempowered because I couldn’t say I was afraid of some of my roommates. I even tried to say it — I had to take a day off of work at one point because of suicidal ideation and I was so distraught that my hypnotic triggers didn’t work — but I’d spent a very long time training the people around me that my grumblings about boundaries and limits were just noises of buni discomfort, not anything worth taking seriously. So nobody did, and how could I expect them to do otherwise? And so when I said, “I need out of this situation by whatever means necessary,” Keet was genuinely shocked and dismayed because they had no way to have known how bad it was in my head. I did finally manage to make it clear that I was serious — deathly so, pardon the gallows humor — but by then four years of emotional damage had been done. Some of those people in the house were unsafe, and I needed to get away from them.

At least some of the motivation behind buying Beta was to empower myself by buying and sharing a house. At least if I owned the space, I could assert my own comfort. I could say this was my space and I could negotiate it on my terms. Except I couldn’t, because now I had the classist guilt of being a landlady around people who were ultimately renters as much as friends. My emotional outbursts made people afraid for their physical comfort. I found it even harder to tell people that they were stepping all over my boundaries, because my speaking up about my needs made them quite understandably viscerally afraid of being rendered homeless. I now had the fear of materially harming people if I mentioned my discomfort. And so the boundary crossings continued. The emotional harm I was swallowing escalated.

In 2016, I said to Keet, “this cannot continue; I need out of this situation.” Except now the situation was my own house. And Keet, who I had trained for a dozen years to misunderstand me, heard this expression of a hard boundary in the same way they heard all my other tepid expressions of boundaries, and they very understandably responded by telling me that if I needed things to change, it was up to me to change them, but that they wouldn’t put their credibility or friendships on the line to defend me. And why should they have? I made unhappy noises all the time, but I never drew lines in the sand and meant them. I exaggerated constantly. I was under tremendous stress from an ongoing cycle of short-term work engagements followed by frantic job hunting. They had every reason to believe this was just more buni-grumbling, they were in no mood to entertain it, and they told me so.

And so the dial in my head started nudging Keet towards “unsafe.”

Some of you are familiar with the rest of this story, and I don’t want to dwell on the details because they’re not the point, but this came to a head in late 2017 when I finally blew up at one of my roommates. In that moment, I understood my father more crystal clearly that I ever had before. I was angry at myself for not having figured it out sooner, and I was ashamed of my own grotesque overreaction in the moment, but all the pain of the last seven years came forward in a rush and I could not stop it. I was helpless, powerless as buni became dragon and I unleashed my own torrent of weaponized pain. My target didn’t deserve that, any more than I’d deserved any of my father’s emotional abuse, but I could no more control it than I could catch a monsoon in a paper cup. And when that happened, Keet realized that that first external expression of pain in 2016 had actually been my last straw. They took control of the situation, and that roommate was asked to leave.

You deserved better. You deserved to know you were hurting me. I tried to tell you at points, but I felt like you wouldn’t let me. You made it clear to me that telling you you were hurting me hurt you, and I couldn’t resolve that contradiction. I was in the same Catch-22 I was in at Alpha, and I did the best I could. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

The Gold
That event, though, was the beginning of the end of both Transliminal Station and th’ buni. Not understanding my own needs as needs, and not communicating those needs to others, was destroying everything I’d tried to build. The foundations were rotten. The great oak tree, struck by lightning, was revealed to have a hollow core. Something had to be done, and something is being done.

Earlier this year, I joined a queer mystery tradition called the Fellowship of the Phoenix. In the run-up to joining, the fear of joining a temple without Keet drove me to expose the giant knot of pain and fear and betrayal I’d felt since 2016, when they told me I was emotionally on my own. I’m ashamed to admit I lashed out at them, but I’m proud to say that we talked through it, and I’m grateful that they let me. From the fading ember that our love had become in my heart, we’ve rekindled the flames between us. I’m still healing, but I am healing. We’re going to be okay.

The roommates who’re currently staying with Keet, Adept, and I have been given what I believe are more than generous timelines to find other housing situations, and end-dates have been placed on their current living arrangements. If extensions have to be given because of specific circumstances, I’m more than willing to be flexible, but the current housing configuration will change. We’ve invited the rest of our polycule to join us, and they’ve accepted. Before 2018, Station Beta will be decommissioned, and a new home will be born in that space. A home for a family. My family. Our family.

Th’ buni will be given a nice long nap in the hutch. I can’t be her right now. She was a prey species, and I need to not be prey for a while. Hers was to accept the fear in her heart and run from the predators that scared her. I can’t run any more. I have to draw those lines in the sand and say “this is hurting me and I won’t accept it.” I have to use my words, in all walks of life. They are my tools, and if I can’t use them, what have I got left?

So, with that covered, who am I now, anyway?

The peacock has long been a symbol of royalty across the Middle East and India. It’s also a prominent symbol for the alchemical process and has been conflated with and used as a stand-in for the phoenix in many alchemical traditions. The peacock’s tail is the emission of the rainbow indicating the successful creation of the elixir of life. Partial leucism mutes my colors and confuses my communication, as my autism skews my perceptions and interactions, but the rainbows my train casts are no less vivid or beautiful. As an exemplar of sexual dimorphism, my own queer and postgender identity is realized in taking the form of a peacock, an avian, and rendering it female through the addition of mammalian secondary sexual characteristics, identity queered in two dimensions. I may never escape my biology, but I can show off how little it matters to me when so much else clearly indicates my chosen self.

In adopting a new name for myself, I clearly state my own nature: Χρύση Πλανητοσκόπιον, Chrysi Planitoskopion, Golden Orrery. Self-made system, crafter of my own inner worlds. I am the tale I tell myself. I ask forgiveness of all those with whom I’ve failed to express myself, and I offer absolution to all those who may have hurt me. You didn’t know because I didn’t tell you. You’re not to blame. I’ll strive to do better in the future, and I will likely fail, but at least now I understand how to succeed. Most importantly, I understand why.

Ta kya te.