2021

A year in four parts.

CW: discussion of gender dysphoria, depression.  Also, very long.


I

My first year being Out out.  As mentioned in last year’s entry of this annual self-indulgent mental health vomit, I first realised that I was non-binary in mid-2019, although it took me until late-2019 for it to sink in that this was very much a real thing and not just my messed-up brain conjuring fantasies about myself to make me seem less boring, and midway through 2020 to fully internalise and accept.  Given my propensity for overthinking the obvious conclusion and denying the severity of my mental health troubles purely because they never seemed as bad as those of friends-at-the-time, this was both to be expected and significantly faster than how things usually go for me.  And I managed to do it all with only one oversharing dump on a PR stranger!

I came out to friends around my birthday last year, professionally a year ago today and, as extensively documented over several WIBW prologues, to my father back in March.  Although I am still yet to hear a peep from the Porterbrook Gender Identity Clinic about my case – in February, it’ll have been two years since I was officially referred; this is depressingly normal here in the UK – I feel better about my situation now than I did a year ago.  I can’t really say it’s like a weight has been lifted or anything like that because that’s not really true.  A lot of the same dysphoric feelings and angry despair over this country’s unrepentant transphobia (particularly from its big institutions) remained in 2021.  But I will say that it’s been immeasurably helpful to understand that maelstrom swirl and therefore direct/process it properly rather than let it rage directionless-ly.

This is legit maybe my peak physical achievement, sad as that may sound.

Since I’m still unable to do anything major in terms of transitioning or at least looking more femme on the regular, I’ve been savouring the little things this year.  Being able to freely order packages and records, book leisure stuff, and back projects with my chosen name rather than the deadname – even if I have to keep using the deadname for billing info, since Porterbrook is where I can learn about the process of transitioning with all my official ID documents and shit – remains just… the best feeling.  Specifically, it’s the best mundane feeling where the open catharsis has worn off but the fuzzy feeling of knowing something is for Me and not the person I spent 26 years pretending to be remains.  Being able to introduce myself to folks I don’t know as Callie, in a way which means they only ever know me as Callie and I don’t have to explain things any further than an offhand “I’m non-binary,” is fucking awesome.  I now have a pronoun pin!  I’ve wanted one of those for so long, thanks Desert Bus for Hope for your inadvertent signposting towards my realisation, and it’s attached to my jacket and is never ever coming off!

Those little things are what I have to cling to since, although I’m Out out, a lot of the same problems remain.  There’s the aforementioned need to keep using my deadname on official documents, especially those relating to my medical requirements and entrance into the world of Universal Credit, meaning I need to keep referring to myself by my deadname on average twice a week in order to get anything done.  It doesn’t bother me to the internally-despairing degree that it used to, I guess because I can still be myself in most other facets of life, but it’s still a little micro-pain I can’t fully disassociate myself from.  On a similar note, despite having my pronoun pin on as prominent display as I can manage, most strangers, shop folks, and medical staff etc. still default to cis male pronouns when talking to me.  Again, I try to disassociate since I’m rather conflict-averse – being an anxious ball of perpetually terrified queer energy will do that – and it’s easier to just roll with it rather than explain over and over again to people who are just trying to do a rudimentary transaction.  But it’s nonetheless a frustrating reminder of how easily I can pass for cis male, a privilege I have never been comfortable with and do not want.

What’s more frustrating are the people who I do see somewhat regularly yet nonetheless don’t learn despite being corrected; here referring to Dad’s various carers.  Partly due to the knotty circumstance of my not coming out to my mother until early September – although, it turned out, she had actually remembered the time I outed myself to her whilst she was blitz-drunk, days before Dad’s accident, in an argument over my desire to go back on antidepressants so this apprehension ended up being for nothing – most of Dad’s nurses/carers were introduced to me under my deadname and gender as a precautionary measure.  Some of this was also because Dad has struggled with internalising my name and pronoun change – not maliciously, more that he’s a 51-year-old straight cis man who takes a long while to catch onto stuff – so would mistakenly default to said deadname and pronouns.  I’ve gently talked with him a few times about this, and he has apologised; I’ve mentioned this a few times to the more regular nurses, though none of them have ever remembered the change on next visit.

Duchess, standing to attention.

It’s demoralising.  More so because I can tell it’s not intentional.  Carers have a shitload of people to deal with every single day, always being underfunded and overstretched, and a lot of information about said people to remember, so will on instinct default to the first details they were told.  Trust me, I hold absolutely no ill will towards them – except for how all of them announce their presences at 8:30 am with bellowing cheer; I’m not a morning person.  But it still frustrates and hurts because it’s a daily reminder that I cannot yet present to the world the way that I see myself, and that a large percentage of general society will default to the path of least resistance rather than internalise something new.  In turn meaning that I default to my inherited privilege because I don’t have the energy to keep re-stating my true gender.  It’s hard not to read as an omen.  Is this going to remain when I do finally make it to Porterbrook and we’ve mapped out a proper course of treatment?  Will I, at best, forever be casually and non-maliciously referred to as my dead-gender and deadname no matter what I try?  Is this something I’m just going to have to live with?

Because of my Dad being wheelchair-bound for life following his accident, our new bungalow has a wet room rather than a traditional bathroom.  The bathroom mirror is directly opposite where the shower is and, since I find it easier to wash with my back to the shower wall, I have to look at myself in the mirror every morning whilst I wash.  Fortunately, the steam of the shower very quickly obscures the mirror’s reflection… except for this little spot that almost exclusively covers my penis area.  So, every single day, I have to stare at this appendage I fucking hate whilst it reminds me that I’m stuck with it and the mental trauma it provides me for the foreseeable future.  I know, it sounds like the hackiest symbolism possible, but I swear to you this is an actual thing that happens to me daily!  It’s gone from casually dispiriting, to darkly humorous in the absurd poeticism of it all, and back round to casually dispiriting again.

Despite all that… I do genuinely feel better in myself regarding my non-binary trans-ness at the end of 2021 than I did in 2020.  Partly, that’s due to the next segment.  Partly, it’s because being able to be open means I can relax somewhat around family – only Nan doesn’t know at this point, and we’re working on trying to sort that – and especially around friends.  No longer having to hold anything back or feel like I need to be cautious about my queerness and how this miserable insecure pissant country openly wants me and others like me to drop fucking dead.  Especially my friends, the absolute best support system a Human Disaster such as myself could possibly ask for, not merely rolling with it but being outwardly encouraging and willing to learn in order to make me feel seen.

Cheshire, taking advantage of my being sympathetic to her being scared of a new house to snooze in my bed.

Here’s a perfect reason why I always hold off writing these pieces until the very last day of the year.  One Xmas, my Mum got me a little box with a custom-designed glass covering to store all of my gig tickets in; the glass having my name stencilled/embossed (I don’t know how glass design works) into it.  I kept that box on my bedroom windowsill at hers ever since.  But, obviously, once I came to the realisation of my trans-ness, it’s also a box which I’ve had conflicted feelings about in recent years.  When I moved into Dad’s, I left some stuff behind whilst I figured out the space here and the endless procession of builders finally finished; that gig box being one of those things I left.  On Xmas Day this year, I opened up one of Mum’s mystery presents to find a new gig box with my chosen name stencilled/embossed on the glass.  This was not something I had asked for or even knew that I wanted, but it made me so happy to receive.  It now sits on my bedroom windowsill at Dad’s.  Hopefully the cats don’t knock it over.


II

London was weird.  Very much a tale of three divided experiences with unique emotions in each.  There were the movies, which were mostly just ok and by far the least memorable/interesting part of the entire festival.  There were the work/opportunities, which were simultaneously great and absolutely dreadful due to how badly I squandered them both in the moment and in the follow-ups; this part currently clouds how I feel in retrospect about the whole thing.  And then there was the socialising, which was pretty much 12 straight days of much-needed catharsis for the prior two years.

Let’s start with the negative side, because I want the takeaway tone of this mess to be hopeful and positive (despite that always ending up as a giant self-jinx whenever I’ve tried it).  As you may have gathered by the fact that my first LFF dispatch was dated 9th October (four days into the Festival), the last LFF dispatch was dated 27th November (fifty-one days after the Festival concluded), and that the usual concluding dispatch I had promised never turned up… work was kind of a shambles this year.  And that’s just for my usual diary-esque dispatches.  Even with the caveat of there being the Critics Mentorship programme and its attendant assignments for elsewhere, plus Soundsphere’s editing software strangely refusing to let me post for most of the Festival, I was awful at getting the shit I promised done in anything resembling a timely manner.  It was like my energy to work was already gone by the Festival’s halfway mark, whilst the post-fest crash compounded on top of that to make any and all attempts at writing an exhausting war I often couldn’t push through.

The obligatory “here’s what I saw” image.

Some of that may have been due to the accompanying pressure I inflicted upon myself from being a part of that Critics Mentorship.  The fact that I wasn’t cranking out article after article, pitch after pitch, lining up interview after interview every day made me feel like I was blowing the opportunity handed to me.  To have spent a decade ploughing my own lane to no avail, finally being given the key to the big stage with everyone watching only to shove it up my nose.  Statistically, you probably did not see King Richard (though you should’ve cos it’s excellent), but I keep thinking of that bit when Rick Maci’s guiding Richard around his compound of potential prodigious tennis talents, aside from one relative no-hoper to which he admits that sometimes a fisherman’s gonna catch a mackerel in order to get a giant seabass – or something along those lines, I can’t remember the exact quote.  Is that me?  Am I the useless mackerel?  (Are mackerel useless?  I dunno and there’s no time for a second draft to check.)

Post-Festival hasn’t helped dissuade that notion in me.  Besides my drive to write having mostly gone kaput, my attempts at pitching, initially emboldened by the connections I got to make thanks to the programme, immediately slammed face-first into a wall either from outright rejection or just radio silence.  I don’t get many non-review article ideas, much less ones which can fit into some kind of SEO-friendly zeitgeist, and that dryness of inspiration has only grown in recent months, augmenting my reticence to try pitching.  I’m even kicking myself over pitches I couldn’t make due to my failure to get my butt into gear – if I’d started my Wachowski Sisters rewatch in November instead of a week out from Matrix Resurrections, I could probably have tried pitching something about Bound or The Animatrix, particularly The Second Renaissance, but I didn’t cos I’m a useless dumbass not cut out for this line of work.  Even in the face of rejection, though, I should still be writing, pitching, hustling and I… just can’t.  Hell, I wasn’t even paid for the pieces I did get commissioned during the Festival despite them being at major outlets, so it feels like I’ve just jogged in place, honestly.

But it’s hard to tell how much of this is valid self-critique, and how much is a toxic combination of unrealistic expectations for how the course was going to go and my (capitalism-instilled) insecurity over what constitutes actually being productive/what can realistically happen.  It just swirls and swirls and eats at me as I sit here bereft of ideas or plans whilst others from the course are getting published in Sight & Sound.  I say that not in anger or jealousy, by the way; they were all lovely people and I wanna make it clear I’m genuinely happy for them.  I just can’t help but feel like I have failed at this chance and that my Aspie Human Disaster self doesn’t fit the way that modern career writing functions.  I need a firm structure, some kind of stability, an end goal and direction to help get me there, otherwise I just flounder like, well, a flounder on dry land.  Freelance writing, the only kind of media writing career available to people outside of the London bubble nowadays, is fundamentally incompatible with the life I need to lead in order to not collapse into a million pieces.

One of the MANY LFF meet-ups.

That’s why I can’t help but have a negative view on how my time at LFF 2021 turned out, at least right now since work and my failure to do it recently has been at the forefront of my brain.  It was also in the upper reaches of my brain as I approached the end of the Festival, until the last couple of days overrode such feelings (and we’re almost at that bit).  If nothing else, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.  I received several contacts which at least make it easier for me to get over the overthinking apprehension hump when it comes to pitching.  I got to hear from multiple professional writers who were honest about the realities of the job for people like me, but with passionate learned wisdom rather than the slightly-condescending way that benefits people treat such things.  I received actual editorial feedback!  After years and years of wanting it but not being able to cos all my editors were friends doing it for free and just happy for content, I got real detailed editorial feedback… and took it positively!  Seriously, you have no idea how terrified I was that I’d be the person who constantly demands critical feedback to their work but then turns violently defensive when actually presented with some.  Thank fuck!

Best of all, though, I got to meet some lovely people.  With each passing LFF, I find that I more enjoy being able to socialise for two weeks than I do the movies themselves.  Because I’m so isolated from all of my friends, both geographically and in a more existential life sense since they have jobs and stuff, I don’t get to sit and geek out about things that often.  To just unleash and be Me, debating and critiquing and referencing and joking without having to worry about the other person being confused or lost or eying the door and maybe a call to some level of authority.  I can tell that Dad tries to fill that hole a bit for me when we watch films, but it’s really not the same given how different we are.  (I am just now realising that this makes a perfect metaphor for my queerness; it really is a wonder that it took me so goddamn long to realise I was a queer with klaxon-blaring red lights like these.)  Neither is the Internet since we are apparently content to let Jeremy fucking Jahns dictate film discourse.

So, these two weeks of the year where I can exist in the same physical space as many of my friends and similarly likeminded people who also want to unleash and be Themselves are honestly what I live for.  That sense of belonging and community, of having found my people.  (Yes, I do relate more to Katie Mitchell than maybe any character other than Diane Nguyen, how’d you guess?)  Even better, I get to interact with them almost exclusively as Callie.  You cannot imagine just happy it made me to exist in this beautiful safe little bubble for two weeks and not once have to hear my deadname or correct anybody/explain more than once about my pronouns.  More so than any other year, this bubble felt like where I am meant to be.  Hence why at the end of the fortnight I didn’t feel like I’d wasted the time, because at least I got to have that socialisation I’d missed not just for two years but so much of my life.  Every queue chat, every post-screening scrum, every impromptu takeover of a bar, every night out drink, every raucous riff-off which would give way to something real… worth every second of the years it took to get there.

The 2021 BFI Critics Mentorship Programme.

I promised the Critics Mentorship crew I’d give them shoutouts in my LFF series and, err, didn’t due to effectively abandoning that wrap-up piece.  Since I’m bad at plans and commitments, and also cos they’re cool people I loved getting to meet, let’s rectify that here.  Where possible (read: those who sent me said info), there’s also a link for where to find them online.  From left-to-right:

Hope to see some, if not all, of you again next year!  Y’know, so long as the Tories haven’t gotten us all killed.


III

Funnily enough, my ability to take group selfies did not improve with two years in quarantine.

Writing’s been iffy, this year, as you could likely tell.  There was a period of time from August to the start of LFF where things got a bit more stable and consistent, but either side of it has been difficult.  I thought that getting back onto antidepressants would help level out the worst of my mood swings – the kind which leave me incapable of functioning productively for days at a time without much prior warning – and whilst that has somewhat happened, they’ve really only taken the absolute worst edges off.  (Maybe.  I’ve been having a lot of horrible subconscious dreams I can’t shake but am not comfortable sharing publicly right now, and it’s hard to tell what’s causing them without professional psychiatric help I cannot get.)  In terms of drive and stability, it can still be a bit of a crapshoot, and not just because I’m sleeping horrifically in a self-perpetuating cycle of tiredness.  And even setting aside the gender dysphoria part, my depression can still find itself taking the wheel more than is healthy.

I guess it’s not been all baseless.  The continued physical isolation from my friends, especially Lucy who lost most of this year to NDA-related reasons, naturally leaves someone who styles their life around being The Best Friend in a Rom-Com unmoored and at a bit of a loss.  There is a rampaging deadly plague going about the place unchecked which is gonna leave any sane person in a semi-permanent state of at least mild terror – especially when almost everyone you know gets it at once in the run-up to Xmas.  As extensively detailed in WIBWs over the Summer period, Dad attempted to take his own life back in early March so now I find myself second-guessing how OK he really is as we live together – plus dealing with everyone else asking how he’s doing, as if my Aspie inability to read people which led to this mess in the first place is supposed to somehow stop being a thing.  The mixed experience work-wise at LFF put a dent in my viable career options as a mentally-ill queer mess.  Going on the benefits treadmill and all the fun that entails…

Yet, I’m still here.  Glad to still be here, and not just because the concept of the nothingness that awaits upon death remains petrifying beyond belief and therefore a hypothetical I haven’t entertained.  My Dad is still alive, a lot more jubilant now that he’s in a house of his own with relative autonomy than stuck in a musty care home reliant exclusively on nurses, and his recovery is going well.  The cats, Duchess and Cheshire, remain impossibly cute gobshites who offer up love and affection in their way, comfort when I need it, and laughs through their silliness most days.  I got gigs back, at least for a while, and would probably have indeed cried at the 11th August Gorillaz O2 show were the place not absolute pandemonium from start-to-finish.  I got the cinema back and, even though I didn’t see all that many great films within there, I will shrink myself down Powerpuff Girls-style to beat up COVID if it ever tries to take the cinema experience away from me again.  I finally got some pictures of myself that I really like, thanks to the wizardry of Katie S.  I found myself falling back into gaming more than I had since my first year of university – admittedly by turning it into #content that’s now got its own backlog, but the method worked at least.

Don’t worry! Mac’s still around! Still loves his balls!

Speaking of, I did write some things this year I’m extremely happy with.  Which is especially noteworthy because the act of writing kinda hit an all-time low on the enjoyment scale for me in 2021.  I got to interview one of my favourite YouTubers, Mic the Snare, for Soundsphere where we discussed the creative growth in YouTubing and difficulty of balancing that content churn with one’s mental health.  I managed a couple of my trademark long-form deep-dive music anniversaries for The Strokes, Jimmy Eat World, and Carly Rae Jepsen that I think turned out excellent.  It took absolutely fucking forever and was one of the more “oh, God, this is shiiiiit” pieces whilst I was writing it, but The Backlog entry on Psychonauts is maybe the best gaming piece I’ve done so far.  I think the review that I managed for The Suicide Squad is second only to my Birds of Prey one for my all-time best.  Of my LFF commissions, the Belle piece that ended up on the BFI site I think is great work I didn’t need to compromise massively on to satisfy word counts.  And the year wound down on an interview with Matthew Heineman and Dr. Nathalie Dougé of The First Wave which I couldn’t sell anywhere but at least let me include way more of their words than a proper professionally-sold piece would’ve.

It feels weird and unnatural to try and big myself up like that.  Again, maybe it’s the repressed shameful queer part of my conditioning that I need to get over.  I’m not afraid to admit that there are still many days where I don’t feel like I’m worthy of good things or recognition.  That I’m a drain, a burden, weak, coddled, useless, entitled, lazy, and on and on.  But I think I’m getting better at not believing my brain’s hateful whispers.  I’m a bit surer of myself.  And that’s thanks to my friends who do their best to help me as I do my best to help them – Lucy, Kelechi, Katie S, Moosey, Vicky, Kofi, Wendy, Ben, Lydia, Sofia, Katie M, many others I’m forgetting please don’t take it personally nor should anyone read anything into that order.  That’s thanks to the family who have tried their best to support me this year.  That’s thanks to the London crew way too vast and numerous to list here in a piece which has already overran all reasonable length.

And, yes, it’s also thanks to these cats who have a habit of jumping up whenever I’m mid-flow in anything to wow for an attention fuss.  I’m definitely not a burden to them.  At least until cats evolve opposable thumbs.


IV

Don’t believe her modesty. This woman is a fucking badass.

So, 2022.  I don’t know what it’s gonna hold.  For me, for my work and this site, or for the world at large.  I mean, I know the general vibe for that last one is gonna be “REALLY FUCKING BAD” but I’m trying to keep things a bit more upbeat in this year’s concluding topper.  I got better this year at not promising things ahead of time that I wasn’t certain on following through on – notice how I made no public commitments to a Listmas of any kind for 2021 as the year wound down; that was intentional and we’ll see how January shakes out for me.  Unfortunately, this didn’t stop my brain over-planning and over-promising work that didn’t materialise, enabling my depression to give my sense of self a kicking, but taking out the public declaration part (mostly) did minimise the amount of flagellating guilt it could perform for most of the year.

Therefore, I’m instead just going to make a list of things I’d like to do or have happen to me in 2022.  These aren’t promises so therefore I can’t feel guilty if I don’t accomplish them!  But, also, it’s a good idea to maybe have some semblance of a plan for the New Year, even if I’m keeping my expectations regarding these low:

  • To chase up and hear from Porterbrook about my prospective gender dysphoria treatment so that I can hopefully see a future out of this miserable body
  • To try and average at least two non-cinema films a week in an effort to recentre film in my life after two years of it becoming less and less important
  • To do at least one proper film review per month, doesn’t matter where for
  • To re-start We’re #2! because I do love that series and don’t want to leave it abandoned like so many others I’ve tried over the years

Again, these are not promises nor, as my useless second therapist would insist, are they goals.  Just wishes.  Hopefully ones I have a modicum of control over but, crucially, not things to get hung up on if they don’t work out.  An actual goal for 2022 is to try and go easier on myself.  Stop beating myself up about… everything, really.  We can all consider this goal successfully met if I’m able to bring in next year’s self-indulgent vent-ramble under 3,000 words for once.  An actual achievable goal for 2022 I’m setting is to continue refusing to normalise cryptocurrency and NFTs.  I think that’s one we should all take to heart.

Thanks for sticking around another year.  Love you all.

Credit: LaToya Ferguson (@Franglais27 on Twitter & Insta)
Callie Petch

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