Hence doubts out bud for fear thy fire in me
‘S a mocking ignis fatuus.
— 17th-century American poet Edward Taylor
I’m climbing this ladder
My head in the clouds
I hope that it matters
I’m having my doubts
— Neil Young
Ignis fatuus–literally, foolish fire: it’s a 16th-century Latin locution for a deception, a delusion. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with those lines from American Puritan preacher and poet Edward Taylor running through my head as I lie there thinking, “What the hell are you doing, Hale?”
Doubts are only natural, I guess. When the late Pope Benedict was a humble cardinal (nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” for, among other orthodoxies, his brutal belligerence toward the Queer community), he displayed a flash of humanity at the beginning of his book “An Introduction to Christianity,” where he observes that people of faith and atheists all have times when they doubt their core beliefs.
Maybe there’s no God. Maybe there is. Even God’s Rottweiler recognized that reasonable people cannot escape having moments of doubt.
Doubts, second thoughts, apprehensions, fears of fooling yourself or of looking foolish–all of it seems deeply inherent in thinking critically and honestly, in trying to see yourself clearly, in examining your assumptions and conventions to get to know yourself and others a little better.
Especially when you find yourself wandering off-road and away from established paths. Doubts grow thick in the dark woods, and I have left the beaten track more times than I should have, perhaps. More often than not, this has turned out to be a blessing, but I’m not the first or the only one to ask: “What the hell are you doing, Hale?”
You would think I’d be used to it by now. But I’m not. I keep running into the same old self-doubt, the same old diffidence, the same old blues. But the dark woods seem to have an allure I can’t resist.
As some readers have noticed, philosopher Simone de Beauvoir lurks behind many of these columns, my constant muse. Her thinking seems to resonate with my own sense of our experience, the human experience, as a constant dilemma, an irresolvable commingling of doubt and persistence, futility and enterprise, frustration and exhilaration.
We push the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down, where we start all over again–eagerly. Beauvoir notes that despite the frustration, futility and bewilderment, we keep making new plans, initiating new enterprises, making new discoveries, and discovering new excitement. There’s a lively hopefulness, she says, that keeps busting through the doubts and despair.
I can feel it. Whatever my own unending doubts, this transition feels to me like a breakthrough, a breakthrough into myself, a busting out into a freedom I can’t help but love.
I keep coming back to a phrase of Beauvoir’s: “the élan of spontaneity.” She’s talking about the sheer vitality and joy in shaking loose from our preconceptions — about gender and sexuality, about race and ethnicity, about class, about any of the accretions our culture oppresses us with–shaking loose from all that crap and responding freely to the moment. No second thoughts, not even any first ones. Sometimes the moment asks you to save the thinking for later.
That’s something I’ve learned from my partner. In addition to encouraging me to think (and act) more analytically, Michelle has taught me how to dance. However much my body may have wanted to break loose from my mind’s diffidence, before I met Michelle I was too self-conscious to ever let myself follow the music.
It’s a heady experience following her out onto the dance floor. Michelle can’t keep from busting a move when the music’s right
At January’s Mudrooms, the music was right. Michelle couldn’t be there, but her élan has been infectious. The sanctuary at Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church was packed, and during the intermission Juneau’s Njuzu Marimba Band made a wild and holy noise that seemed to change the air pressure in the small chapel.
As the music intensified, I could feel the night getting inside me. I meandered through the intermission crowd greeting all the friends I’ve missed seeing over the long pandemic and who were curious about my change from Jim to Jane.
With the marimbas ringing and thumping, the rhythm began jumping in my bones, and I found myself spontaneously cutting loose as I got to the front of the chapel where a handful of others were dancing their asses off.
• Jane Hale lives in Juneau with her partner and their two dogs. “Coming Out” appears biweekly on the Empire’s neighbors page.