This excerpt comes from one of my dearest and most favourite of friends. We’ve been going at this ritual of giving each other the most outrageous send-ups on our respective birthdays for the past 10 years (!!!).
I turned 27 on April 1 of this past weekend. Before that happened, I was 26-years-old and on the cusp of a nervous meltdown in my therapist’s office on March 31, which was also also transgender visibility day.
When I was 14, I developed a hard and heavy fixation on the music of the counter-culture in the 1960s and 70s (which I discussed as well in this retrospective on The Wall), and my first-step encounter was via a psychedelic-ish garage blues rock band called The Doors, whose frontman, Jim Morrison, might be the most (in)famous chairperson of the so-called ‘27 Club‘.
The 27 Club refers to the disturbingly high prevalence of artists (particularly music artists) who die within their 27th year due to circumstances that are sudden, tragic, unforeseen, etc. Most attribute this high-risk period to the vices of fame, such as drug abuse, or increased depression precluding suicide, but there are, of course, occult theories as well: Jim Morrison is rumored to have spurned a witch before leaving the country, while Robert Johnson may or may not have traded his soul to a devil for the exceptional gift of numerous musical styles.
The 27 Club mythology is a very easy thing to retro-pathologize and point out the ‘signs’ for, especially in the case of a ‘mystic’ band like The Doors, whose very bread-and-butter was suffering, dying, fucking, crying and wanting. Concerts were open gambles where the band on stage and the paying audience hoped and prayed for a ‘ritual possession’ where suddenly and frighteningly, Jim would become ‘transformed’ by the mournful and bitter spirits of indigenous Americans that apparently sought shelter in his corporeal form. (Presumably these spirits were freed when his mortal shell expired at the right old age of 27.)
I don’t know how much my perspective has changed since I was a teen in terms of what impression I have from Jim Morrison and the rest of the 27 Club, but my impression of the 27 Club is one of total empathy. Circumstances of spirit and liquid spirits aside, Jim Morrison and all of the other members of the 27 Club were folks who did not make positive, life-affirming choices and did not have the whole-hearted support of persons who wanted to see them live a long and fulfilling life, probably because the latter is associated with being mundane and boring.
I’ve had tremendous anxiety about coming up to this age. I’ve feared that I would either be complacent or that I would be on a path to self-destruction. I don’t know if I’m out of the woods for either.
I’ve been congratulated and encouraged for my dying-and-death-centered goals in equal measure; I’ve been told that my potential for work is important and relevant—which part of me fears that I’ll never, ever be able to actually successfully live up to that standard for a niche that doesn’t even quite exist yet. There’s also a part of me that fears that I’m actually just digging my own grave and shifting the focus off of myself. There’s also a part that fears that none of that is going to happen at all and that I’m going to live a very mundane and uneventful existence and then crumple up and blow away.
Sitting in my therapist’s office on March 31st, I knew, realistically, that there was a whole adult life on the other side. I knew, realistically, that I wasn’t about to live under the shadow of a curse. I knew, realistically, that I wouldn’t have to prove myself within the span of 365 days of borrowed time to earn some more by performing great feats of artistry. But I was still scared. My therapist actually seemed to have a harder time than usual choosing his words and structuring his approach to me on that day. He understood the anxiety I had about the actual change-over, because he, too, had the anxiety of the ’27 Club’ initiate him into ‘the other side of adulthood.’
But, to paraphrase what he told me: “What you’re doing right now is way more important than anything that Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain ever did. Being here–being trans–doing this–you’re who the rest of us have to fight for.”
The notion of being more important than Little Girl Blue because I’m Very Trans and Very Alive is startling for someone like me, and I’m very reticent to approach it as an ego boost.
But the following weekend, my birthday weekend, was extraordinary. My wonderful editor friend brought me as +1 to the Artborne release party (which I felt obliged to attend since I had my first piece so wonderfully received there), and every place we went and every space we inhabited, I was approached by persons who had nothing but kindness and affirmation to offer me. I also met and saw the same attention toward a trans artist featured in the same issue, Kieran Castaño.
I felt a confirmed audience for my next upcoming piece; I was surrounded by friends, what Jim Morrison might call ‘a feast of friends’, not even 36 hours after I confessed to my therapist that I had very few friends scattered across the winds who I felt could support me on this day, all of whom had already surpassed the 27 marker.
It’s easy to not feel personal value and integrity as-is, and even moreso when you add in circumstantial factors such as economic class, race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and religious philosophy. Affirmations of ‘you matter’ can be quickly amended into ‘you are matter,’ the antithetical calling card for the scientifically ‘rational’-minded and the western ‘enlightened’ who quickly squash these individual traits by reminding each of us that we’re collectively just part of the same genetic makeup of the whole universe, which just as quickly can be retrofitted to mean that we, individually, are of the same substance as the great pyramids or as of far-away stars.
The fluidity is almost more uncomfortable than the certainty. I want to be certain that I matter. I want to know that there is life beyond 27. I want to be assured that the life beyond 27 is worth living. The inconvenient truth of the matter is that this isn’t an answer I can pull from any other person outside of myself: not Georgette’s yearly tidings, not my therapist, not my colleagues, not even my partner or my dearest friends. Just me. Happy birthday to me.