¡hola papi!

‘I Feel Guilty About How Happy I Am’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

I’m a trans woman. I started transitioning during lockdown, and each little step along the road is joyous. I’m happier and more at ease than ever before. I’m even sleeping better! It doesn’t exactly redeem the suffering of my past, but I’ve found it brings it into a new light where I can accept it and move forward.

But I’m finding this happiness hard to square with an increasing hopelessness about everything else in the world. Climate change, America’s descent into fascism, the pandemic, the recession … I feel a little guilty! Everyone’s future seems so imperiled, but at the same time I can finally see a happy future for myself.

In the myth of Pandora, Hope is the final thing in the box and there are two interpretations. One is that Zeus includes Hope to keep people going in the face of all the evil that gets unleashed. The other is that Zeus includes it as a cruel joke. I’m wondering which one is true for me.

What do you think, Papi?

Signed,
Pandora

Hey there, Pandora!

Oh, a metaphor right there in the letter. Usually I have to put those in myself. Do you think you can do my job better than me? Do you want to be ¡Hola Mami!? Do you want to hear from my lawyer?

Just kidding, of course. I don’t have a lawyer and don’t really know what they do. “One who laws,” I’m guessing. In any case, yes, what a year, huh? It seems like every time I start to make peace with the “deadly pandemic” thing, something else gets added on top of it. The sky is full of ash. The birds are dying. The Arctic is melting. No one is thriving but the fascists and the plutocrats. I’m starting to think Lorde’s third album isn’t coming after all.

Yes, it’s disasters all around. We stand on what feels like the very edge of the world (no flat-earther). It does seem a little odd to dance on such a perilous precipice, doesn’t it? Wrong, even. Inappropriate, at the very least.

However.

The binary you draw is interesting, Pandora. On one side, you have your transition, which has brought you happiness. It’s an articulation of your belief in tomorrow — that things can change, that better things are possible, that there is some joy to be gleaned from our rotten fruit of a world. On the other side is the world itself, its million flavors of horror and violence, saying, with a deafening roar, “This is the end.”

The conflict is one of movement versus stasis. “Things can change” up against “No, they can’t.” But I don’t think this duality exists. Take a look at your own life, Pandora. You took stock of things, realized what needed to change, and then you made it happen. That’s not a separate process from changing our world. It’s not a selfish act that merely maximizes your comfort. It’s an action item that’s part and parcel to how we can make things better.

I’m not one of those people who think it’s inherently radical to be any one identity. Many in our community are political dumpster fires with a rainbow sticker slapped on the side. But I do think that when we accept who we are, when we step into ourselves, we contribute to the conversation of how we think life should be — that people ought to be free to be who they are and not punished for it or forced to hide. We are the resulting boon of that dialogue, and we get to keep it going.

I think that goes for all manner of things. Health care, climate justice, racial justice, and it goes on and on. The world isn’t static, Pandora. The world itself turns and orbits, things rot and die and give rise to new things. Even if humanity wiped itself from the map, there would be life. Even if the Earth spun out of its axis, there would be reality.

Until everything goes still, so long as there is movement of any kind, there will be change. And you and I just so happen to be in a place, dire as it may seem at times, to give shape to that change. Just like you did with your life. Your transition isn’t something that fell into your lap. You had to make it happen. Your happiness isn’t something to feel guilty about. It’s something to be shared. It’s something more people deserve. It’s not about everyone feeling equally miserable. It’s about everyone being equally able to make their own happiness in a world with room for it.

And you know, I don’t think joy is merely the absence of suffering. I think our hardships give dimension to our joy. Our pain colors and textures our happiness. They exist in dialogue with each other, and indeed there is no one without the other. Happiness can and does happen in a world of hurt. It has to. What other world would it happen in?

I’m no sucker, Pandora. We’re individual humans. Our control over the massive, terrifying threats we face is limited. So much of it lies far beyond what we as individuals can accomplish. It’s perfectly normal to experience bouts of hopelessness, to mourn for everything that’s been lost, and to wonder, Will it ever get better?

But I hope that whenever you lose your way, as we all do now and then, you’ll be able to look at the life you’re living and know that, at least to some extent, the world is what we make it.

Con mucho amor,
Papi

Originally published on September 21, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Preorder JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, out June 8, here.

‘Things Could Be Worse for Me, and I Feel Guilty’