Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Internet Famous

Jordan is extraordinarily lucky that my current rotation does not take me to LAX until July at the earliest, because I would be sorely tempted to murder her and then escape to Maine, allowing whoever winds up as Alicia next to deal with the fallout.  For all that being this absurd parody of womanhood has been a constant series of humiliations, this past week has been the most ridiculous.

As you may recall, I stepped in to assist Jordan last year when she required assistance in finishing her student film after her star quit, though I did not truly replace her, but rather played all of the duplicate robots that she would have played.  They were more or less mindless automata, so my work was mainly a matter of standing around in tight clothing and heels well taller than necessary to make up the height deficit with the average man or to appear tastefully fashionable, enough times that Jordan could combine the images.

It was technically impressive work, I suppose, although as somebody who knows all too well that her inspiration for a film in which a man's brain is placed inside a robot shaped like an anatomically-correct woman was not, as many would presume, about an ex-boyfriend who needed to learn a lesson, I cannot much disagree with her professors who apparently found it slight and somewhat juvenile.  It has not been picked up by any but the smallest film festivals, and not getting the best position in those.  This was something of a relief for me as I decided to remain Alicia for another year, and I soon paid it no mind.

Then, yesterday, as I arrived back at the "crash pad" after a flight from Dallas that had been delayed for hours (a delay for which the attendants are not paid!), I heard howling coming from the living room, and with the intent of telling the flatmates to keep it down, I poked my head in, only to see in horror that they were watching "I, Fembot".

I try to back away to write a furious email to Jordan, but I'm seen.  "Guys, she's here!"  Someone hits pause and then all four cluster around me.  "Why didn't you tell us you had a side hustle?  This what you were doing during your leave of absence? "

I took a careful half-step back.  "No, I was just..."  How to explain talking with other people who had lost their identities thanks to a cursed hotel?  "I was using the director's spare room - one of those services - and she had a panic attack about the other girl storming off the set, saying she'd step in herself but she would need far too much padding.  Well, stepping in to help was the only decent thing, although if I'd seen the costumes..."

"But that's the best part!  You look so hot in the outfits and it's so you to just go making guys horny without giving a shit!  Because even if they're programmed to respond, you know the sex-bot doesn't actually care."

"I hardly think that's an accurate--"

"Oh, c'mon, look at you on Insta!  Racking up the followers with all the selfies but never following back, barely responding unless someone comments on the museum or whatever you're in."

I groaned.  "I've told you, I don't take those pictures for 'followers'."

They arched their eyebrows and gave me variations on "sure you don't", but it happens d to be e true.  The only follower, or fan, that actually matters the slightest bit is Daryl, who finds it useful for me to have a social media presence when somebody asks "Magda" about her daughter.  Other than that, it's simply a convenient way for me to have some record of my time as Alicia after I finish it.  I cannot see myself becoming sentimental about this anatomy, but I cannot deny that the opportunity to travel has offset the job which requires it somewhat.  With this application already on Alicia's phone, and sharing the default, it should be a simple matter to extract that which I wished to keep.

Obviously, there was no point of explain that to the gaggle, so I just repeated that my photography was for myself and what others thought of it was irrelevant.  Then I said the shower was mine, ignoring the shouted question of whether a brain in one of those robots would have PMS or cramps simulated the way arousal was, because they wouldn't stick their boyfriends in one otherwise.

The shower was useful; though the Inn has made my body more resilient than it had been for some time, I had been on my feet for some time and just an hour in Texas can make you sweat in a way that sticks even under the perfume and deodorant.  Washing my flatmates' crude comments away was a pleasant enough side benefit.

Afterward, as I say wrapped in a towel, brushing my hair, Alicia's phone buzzed with some notification, and it reminded me that I had set Instagram notifications off, as I did not intend to interact on the platform (and, indeed, most of the messages it notified me of were just men saying how life-changing intercourse would be for the pair of us).  Out of idle curiosity, I brought the program up and looked at my statistics.

I had 20,000 followers.

They came in waves, it appears - some when Jordan "at-ed" me as he put his short online, but I apparently got put on lists as well, from the obvious ("flight attendants of Instagram") to the bizarrely, specifically hostile ("bitches who think they're too good to follow back but ain't all that").  It's more people than I've had students, quite possibly on a par with the number of people who have read my books or attended my presentations at conferences.  For doing little more than taking photographs of myself.

I looked in the mirror and wondered what a picture undressed would do to all that.  It almost seemed to be worth the experiment, just to see, especially since any reputation that came as a result would fall upon someone else in a few months.  If a younger person becomes the new Alicia, she might even find an account with thousands of followers a positive.

As an economist, I find the idea intriguing, creating something of admittedly illusory value from nothing.  The other side, though, is that it could wind up like Jordan's film - harmless enough at the time, but something I shall have to live with until I no longer have Alicia's face.

-Harmon Keller

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Valerie: Why am I crying??

Safe to say I've cried more in the last 5 years than the whole rest of my life before that. Maybe I cried twice after the age of 12 prior to visiting Maine and becoming Lauren. Then it was a while before it happened, and I don't even remember what was the last straw, just an accumulation of things. Hormones played a part, for sure, but overall just not seeing any point in fighting it and bowing to reality - that for whatever reason I wanted to cry, and it felt good to do so. Then once it happened it happened with some regularity as my body took that as an acceptable response to a tough situation. Bad day at school? Guys being pricks? Seeing Meghan/Tasha with Wade? Just flat out feeling small and weak? Waterworks. I learned to embrace it. Occasionally I even cried for joy but not often.

I cried as Alan, too. When Meg and I fought, when we broke up. It feels different as a man. A form of shame that I had moved past as a woman, as if that body was rejecting what my mind was trying to tell me an understandable response to a hard situation. It felt physically worse to cry as Alan than as Lauren. It was pain.

I didn't cry when my father died, but I did feel bad, in my gut, mostly for Carrie, who loved him more than I ever could have, and knew a different version of him.

I cried some as Judith, out of frustration with Kit or raising Dylan/Olivia, or feeling like I was doing a bad job, but things were more stable and that helped. For all Kitty's faults in how we did not work together, she-he understood my situation and was there for me.

It's become something I understand about myself, how I'm different than the man I used to be. I didn't cry, wouldn't have liked crying and, for all my hardships I never felt I had much to cry about.

Since being Valerie I have been through the wringer, but even notwithstanding that it's been a lot of tears. I cried when Josh treated me good, because I didn't deserve it. I cried when he treated me bad. I cried after oursupposed wedding, and for weeks afterward when I wanted to just stop being Valerie already. I've cried when I was lonely. I've cried when I was tired. I've cried after sex - Rafe caught me only once and to say he did not know what to say would be an understatement.

When I determined I would be Valerie forever, I cried, and again when the original Valerie officially became Cynthia. It was like finishing a decathlon. My body felt too exhausted to do anything but sob.

Since then who knows what might trigger me. I get daily reminders that I am living a life permanently and it's not always good. I am stuck like this. Most people don't even know there's an option to go change into someone else. I do and I have vowed, essentially, to never do it again. So the world throws it in my face that I am a 5'0 single young woman with 32G breasts who works in a coffee shop. That it may not be possible to find and fall in love with someone who sees me for who I am. That my back is so sore from just existing I can hardly sleep, and when I do I can barely let myself move. MY shoulders hurt too, my neck, legs, feet, ankles.

That I was on a nearly year long cold streak of dating and sex, not always by choice. That I have an opportunity to do anything with life and I'm not. That I can hardly do anything with my hair. (Okay, that's a joke.)

I don't even have to be having a bad day. I had a really good conversation with a guy earlier and when it was over I was surprised find myself blinking out some teardrops. It was like my body knew something I didn't. Sometimes if I cry for no reason, a few days later my period will arrive and it will all make sense.  I invent reasons to have cried after that - not knowing my body perfectly even after two years. Anything. Whatever. I'm crying writing all this!

I cry because I can cry.

It's not like I'm constantly crying all the time, some kinda broken woman. I'm just surprised sometimes at how much I do, and what makes me do it, and that it usually feels right.

When I say I've changed, I don't just mean because I know what it's like to have a period or actively pursue dating men. I have seen things that Tyler Blake, as I knew him once, could not have processed. I react to situations differently. I'm stronger and better and more caring. I know more about the world and people and a myself I have a better experience of life, even if I'm just a coffee girl for now. What I had to give up to learn all that, and to meet myself as I currently am, all seems minuscule even if it's not. Going back to the Inn, somehow becoming male again... I'd like to think that wouldn't have erased all of that, but I could never have taken that chance. I have to be this.

It makes me stressed, especially at this part of the year, when the opportunity is present. I weep over all the other lives I will never live. Ain't that crazy?

And I cry because for better or worse, deep down, I'm still me. Now those are happy tears. I cry because despite all my stresses and frustrations I like my life, my body, my friends. I'm a lucky, and happy, woman! Go figure.

-Valerie, aka Tyler