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Against the binary: finding joy in myself and the freezing cold sea

This year has been hard – especially for trans communities – but I’m taking time to recognise and choose joy, too.

23 Dec 2022

Hayfaa Chalabi

Welcome back to gal-dem’s monthly gender column Against the binary, bringing you Yas Necati’s latest reflections on finding gentleness, home and joy as a trans person.

I never thought I would be comfy taking my clothes off in public, but there I was on a beach of a small Welsh city with no swimsuit and a very strong desire to get in the sea. Stripped down to my boxers, I ran into the ocean and was immediately engulfed by waves. I lay in the shallows and felt the sea roll over me – and steal my glasses. I came out blurry eyed and tingling, absolutely freezing in the November air, but exploding with giggles. 

This year has been hard. I feel like it’s been hard on all of us, and then I look to my trans siblings and we are facing so much grief and loss and fear on top of everything else. I’ve been mourning two trans people I’ve lost, carrying them on top of my heart. I’ve had a bunch of other stuff going on personally that feels too hard to name here. I set out to find joy at the beginning of this year, joy amongst it all. I’ve been seeking it, leaning into it, practising embracing it. 

“Joy doesn’t come naturally or easily for me as a trans person. I’ve felt like I’ve had to train myself to be at ease with it; to welcome it”

Joy doesn’t come naturally or easily for me as a trans person. I’ve felt like I’ve had to train myself to be at ease with it; to welcome it. I’ve been living joy through community, through drag, through spending lots of time outside. I tried to gift myself some things this year – I learnt how to ride a motorbike and stepped into a new drag persona – but recently, I’ve been wondering what about myself brings me joy. So far, I’ve been finding joy outside of myself and bringing it in. But I want to discover what I have inside of myself that brings me joy, and how I can let that out. 

As I reflect on this, I realise, like everything, it’s not so binary. For example, when I remember how the sea brought me joy by embracing me, there were also things about myself that brought me joy in that moment. Like the  playfulness and spontaneity that burst through me; that made me want to feel something and go with the moment. And the  journey, the journey that has brought me to a place where I’m going to get in the sea if I want to, despite all the shame cis people have made me feel about my body and my autonomy all of my life. 

“I’m loving this relationship between what I can give myself and what the outside world can give to me”

It feels powerful to choose joy for myself (also understanding it’s not always that straightforward, and there have been many times in my life where my mental health has been so bad there’s no way I could have felt like this). I’m loving this relationship between what I can give myself and what the outside world can give to me. And I’ve been trying to seek it every day. 

Over the last few months, I’ve started living by myself for the first time in my life. It’s been a powerful experience of trying to work out how I can take care of myself and uplift myself day to day. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food, and most of my life I’ve only made the effort to cook nice food for other people. But here I am, for the first time, finding joy in cooking up elaborate meals, trying new recipes for myself and baking for myself. I’m trying some of my grandma’s recipes at home and it feels so good to gift myself Cypriot food (even if it pales in comparison to hers!), in a small town so distant from my homeland.

I’ve started jogging regularly and that’s a joy because I get to connect with the gorgeous Welsh mountains surrounding me. And twice a week, for the past few months, those jogs have led to jumping in the river. A few days ago, I did my first frosty river swim. And when I say it was absolutely freezing… I spent the whole jog there talking myself up to being easy on myself. Telling myself that if today was the day I only put my toes in, then that was okay. But when I got there, I surrendered my body and my fears to the water. I dunked my head and enjoyed the pull of the river for a bit, before getting out and soothing my poor freezing toes.

“Now I’m not just healing; I’m learning to love myself and my strength, to try new things and thrive in the ways that feel good for me”

I’ve always hated the cold, and I never in a million years thought I would be someone who talked themselves into getting into a river in December. But I am that person, and that feels so powerful after years of believing I couldn’t do things that were challenging. I think underneath it was a belief that I couldn’t heal. But now I’m not just healing; I’m learning to love myself and my strength, to try new things and thrive in the ways that feel good for me. And it looks so different for everyone – after years of trying things that didn’t work for me (routines, meditation, massages, to name a few), I’m so happy to be finally connecting to some things that are giving me joy. 

It’s not easy recognising that I deserve joy, and also that I have joy to give to the world, but I’m coming to it slowly, as an act of love and as an act of resistance. And, going into a new year of new possibilities, I want it for all my trans siblings too.