Now You See It, Now You Don't
Presenting oneself in public, whether in writing or simply in person, is an act of creativity.
This week is my one-year anniversary of writing weekly essays, so, fittingly, today’s piece is about creatively co-creating presenting oneself in public, whether in writing or in person.
As always, thanks for being here!
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
I started a new job this week. I need to wear business casual, which means I need to find men’s shirts that I can tuck in around my belly, then throw a blazer over the whole thing to de-emphasize the fact that I currently look like a slender person who has inexplicably swallowed a basketball.
I spent most of my pregnancy saying that plenty of men have potbellies, and that I wasn’t too concerned about my belly, and I stand by this, but I’m out of potbelly territory now. I notice the staring, the double-takes. I try not to care.
I like my job, and I’m excited about it. But I’ve been freelance for over a year now, and it’s been a while since I needed to get up early and go out into the world and present myself in a particular way to a bunch of people I don’t know, all day, all week. It’s like working out a muscle I’d forgotten about. I’m exhausted.
For me, this week is an anniversary of sorts. I started writing weekly essays a year ago, right after I moved from NYC to Valatie, NY. Shortly after I quit my job to freelance and have time for my writing. I felt that I had enough space, and enough time, for the first time in my adult life. This space, this sense of enoughness, was a constant revelation—there were essays about visits to the grocery store and to the cemetery; about memorial plaques on Main Street and about having my period without needing to go out and pretend I wasn’t.
The Valatie series ended in June with their publication in the collection, Even the Cemeteries Have Space Here, which coincided with the end of my Valatie sublet, my move to the Catskills, and, very shortly thereafter, finding out I was pregnant.
In September, I rebranded this space to its current form: The Menstruant, weekly essays on the subject, “What does it mean to be a gay man who loves having a uterus? (Right now: Pregnancy edition.)”
Each week, I found a facet of my experience to explore. Each week, I curated the messiness of my life, did my best to corral a small piece into some kind of story, to pull out one particular thread and follow it somewhere, usually only to more questions.
Writing these weekly essays has made me a better writer. I no longer wait for inspiration or external approval. I write, I post, I write again. I didn’t know how to do this before I started writing weekly and making my work available in public. (Thank you to Laraine Herring for suggesting I start a newsletter well over a year ago—I was reluctant at the time, but it turns out the suggestion was spot-on.) This year has been a profound learning experience.
Presenting oneself in public, whether in writing or simply in person, is an act of creativity. It’s an act of co-creation within constraint. In my current situation, I feel this keenly, as though I’m constantly performing a magic act — now you see it, now you don’t — when it comes to discussing or acknowledging my pregnancy with strangers or colleagues.
In our hybrid-virtual world, I have many longtime collaborators who have only ever seen me on a Zoom screen, some know of my pregnancy and some do not. Sometimes for these meetings, I wear shirts I loved pre-pregnancy, shirts I can’t wear outside my home because they no longer button over my belly. On Zoom, it doesn’t matter. On Zoom, I look the same—my pregnant body existing only in the other person’s imagination, if at all, existing only if I’ve chosen to tell them. I enjoy this taste of my former life.
From my writing teacher Katey Schultz, I’ve learned about revising a piece of writing as a series of micro-decisions that add up to create a certain effect. From writing teacher Diana Goetsch, I learned that we can make decisions even when freewriting, like changing lanes on a highway.
Both as a person in the world, and as a writer, I am becoming more aware of the decisions available to me, the creativity within constraint, in terms of what I present outwardly. For parts of this past year, I worked as a career coach, and some of the most impactful work I did was helping people to curate a different version of the story of their professional life, finding the threads in their existing stories that would help them get to where they wanted to be.
There’s never just one story. We get to cultivate the ability to see the different threads, the different shapes, then to cultivate the ability to discern the one we want to tell ourselves, and the one we want to share—even if others don’t choose to enter into that story with us.
And yet, this form of creativity, like all forms, takes energy. It takes effort. In some situations, it can be very high stakes.
Sometimes we can mistake the publicly curated version for the real version. I work hard to not confuse my public writing for everything I have to say about something. I pay attention to what is rewarded externally—in a job, for example—and how it aligns, or doesn’t, to what I find to be of value.
I’ve written a few times, including just last week, about the invisibility I feel as a pregnant trans man. Some astute commenters, most recently Life Liver on last week’s post, have pointed out the ways that invisibility, particularly when we have a choice in the matter, can be a form of power, even as conventional narratives often tell us that the way to liberation is only through visibility.
The now you see it, now you don’t of my pregnant body can be exhausting at times, and yet I’m grateful for the choice. I’m grateful for knowing that I can make these decisions, even within very real constraints of social pressures and safety.
I’m grateful for the reminder that there’s never just one story.
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