An Aphantasiac Writer’s Dream Journal – 1

So through out most of my life I was blissfully unaware that people genuinely not only had dreams with images and colour but a conscious ability to imagine with images as well. I always struggled to understand how people can just imagine stuff so easily, like it was second nature to them, and was something that I always attempted to do but with no clear result. I was completely ignorant to the fact that this was even the norm. But when I was 29, I found an article online that describes this same exact phenomenon that I had; the complete lack of the ability to imagine with any visual imagery. After becoming obsessed over the past couple of years, trying to alter my situation, I have been attempting to ‘train’ my mind to finally see something in my dreams and for the first time, on the 30th of May 2017, I finally did. Now again, this morning, as of the 1st of August 2017, I had a second series of dreams more vivid than the previous installment but more varied. I’m going to keep this journal in the hope that it can help others one day understand what ‘Aphantasia’ is, or at least help myself focus on developing my dreams and imagination.

Just to clarify, I have never really considered this a hindrance before but as someone who loves writing fiction and sci-fi, I now feel somewhat at a disadvantage, and possibly the reason why I struggled with writing in the first place. In retrospect, the only form of imagination I have ever had consistent access to is a tactile one. I can imagine the feel of bristles on a brush, as if holding it in my hand; I can hold an imaginary ball of clay, or some other malleable substance, and style it into another object. I can’t see what it is inside my head but I know what it was and has become. I can feel myself around imaginary rooms, feel the furniture, what they are made of; all except for the visual shape, texture and colour. This is effectively how I have manage to write stories in the past, that and from the knowledge and memory of what real world objects look and feel like. Creating a story required mentally moulding everything from characters to settings, for each and every sentence at a time. The only thing I can liken this too is imagining how a blind person is capable of moving about their environment or knowing what they are holding. I also lack any audible imagination too, which exception to that inner voice—not the crazy kind mind you, the thinking to oneself kind (I at least hope they aren’t the same thing).

For the most part my dreams consist of nothing visually but black static but I have still have dreams nonetheless. I have had dreams about aliens, zombies, video games, sex and being in relationships, (all with the emotions that are generated with them) but mainly the majority of which are me as some form of super hero or, if I was upset or angry when going to bed, a villain wreaking havoc against those who wronged me. I can’t ‘see’ what’s going on but I still ‘know’ what’s happening. If there are any shapes or colours they are vague and blotchy at best, much like a fuzzy psychologist inkblot test but in inverted black and white. I have had vague images before, rarely, but these last less than a mere second, as if the act of me focusing or thinking on them causes them to dissipate. Saying this has become frustrating, certainly as a writer, is an understatement.

The first dream I had that was in vividly in colour was this year, May 30th 2017; so noticeable an occurrence this was that I remember the exact date. It started off with me on a beach, with the shoreline far, far out in the distance, and a setting sun. The sand was a beautiful rainbow of colours, that every grain of sand a different spec of the colour spectrum. Then I saw a large white wooden clad building on the beach, only to discover it was some huge shower room (which would make sense, as you’d probably want to shower and change after being on the beach) but what didn’t make sense was this huge art deco design of black vertical and horizontal lines on one of the walls, criss crossing each other, and the squares created in between were filled in with either blue or yellow. But this is where it turned weird. Leaving the building through a white wooden panel door (which wasn’t there in the first place as I entered), I continued through a series of similar doors, one after another, starting to panic because I couldn’t escape. Then I did but not back out onto the beach but into a bedroom. It consisted mainly of white decorations, toys, and white furniture; including a white vanity desk. And again, on the white bedsheet, the exact same pattern as before; black vertical and horizontal lines, with the squares in between blue or yellow. The next part consisted of me proceeding towards the window from which I could see out into a field of snow, surrounded by a white picket border fence, and in the distance dark grey mountains. Then, out in the distant field, a pure red light erupted from the ground and a golem of rock and lava climbed out of rubble and proceeded towards me and the room I was in. When it finally reached me outside the window the dream ended.

The second series of rapidly changing dreams, today as of 1st August 2017, were hard to make out but mainly consisted of varying landscapes, one even in the style of Minecraft blocks. Another where I was being instructed by someone to perform ballet or a dance move, but couldn’t due to my physique, and next to me lying in my bed. At this point I was fully aware that I was in this twilight of being awake and dreaming at the same time. Wanting to awaken myself and move but couldn’t, and reached out calling for help in a weak voice, and panicking. I only awoke properly due to my alarm going off and the minor pump of adrenaline giving me that nudge.

After all these years of never having dreams to having a few in such a short time span has been a weird but thrilling experience. These couple of times I have had dreams with vivid imagery, I can consciously feel myself mentally being pulled into one and they have only ever occurred when I have slept for some hours, awoken to use the bathroom and since gone back to sleep. As if my dreams only arrive in reverse to my sleeping pattern. I truly hope they continue, as I keep focusing on having them and develop techniques for myself to do so. Only staring at the black static behind my eyelids before inevitably losing consciousness has always been so tediously dull and now having dreams has become addictive pursuit. I still can’t imagine shapes or colours while conscious yet, and I doubt I ever will. It hasn’t stopped me living my life so far. I hope now that striving for mental imagery isn’t going to become some kind of white whale in my life, at least with sleeping anyway.

Laura Steel © 2017

That ‘Boy Meets Girl’ Show

On the 3rd of September 2015, the BBC marked a turning point in British television with it’s new romantic comedy ‘Boy Meets Girl’, which finally aired after it’s successful pilot earlier in the year. While many may be aware that there have been other shows with transgender characters, none of them have really been centralised around, to the point of being the main protagonist in their own story. Additionally, if there were transgender characters they usually never seen more than a one-off episode. (With notable exceptions like: Orange is the New Black with Laverne Cox and Transparent with Jeffrey Tambor, for example) One that leaves the main character, in a awkward social situation to deal with and one they are left to decide how to confront. Transgender characters were left to become the butt of the joke; and a rather often misguided and out of ignorance, joke at that. One that many may deem comical for a few chuckles but without having any real sense of humour and certainly without realising what the fall out would be, especially with regards to transpeople who may watch it.

When I first heard of the Boy Meets Girl show, I had no real interest in watching it, romcoms just are not my thing; preferring stand-up and sketch shows instead. Indeed had it not been from a request by someone else for a radio show (which I’ll mention later) I really don’t think that I would have watched the show at all. I don’t have much desire to watch anything trans related but not because they don’t have anything to offer but I just don’t get anything from them and are therefore not particularly capable of holding an interest for me even as a transwoman; I know that might seem a tad ironic, even though some may be informational or factual. Its just that I know enough to be sure and more importantly happy with who I am. If they are documentaries about celebrities who have transitioned even less so; there’s something of a freak show peculiarity to them, like they are attempting to film and document a rare species of life which have finally been discovered, or rediscovered if you will. Trying to understand from a naive objectivity and not always putting the proper context of the person’s circumstances and life into perspective.

So naturally watching Boy Meets Girl, I couldn’t help do so with a trace of scepticism. Thankfully I did, as I can honestly say that it left me quite positively buzzing and heart warmed. Even if the show had it’s awkward moments and a somewhat contrived ending line: “I think she is the One!” But then its not that hard to expect from a romantic comedy and one that is actually making many attempts at promoting a positive blossoming relationship. However, while there is humour in Boy Meets Girl, at least from what I have seen in this first episode, it wasn’t laugh out loud funny for me. The funny moments that were there had been built up from elements of truth, of which I’m sure many, transgender or otherwise, could identify with. It also meant that for the first time, in a show including a transgender character I could feel myself wearing a wide smile and not rolling my eyes back into their sockets, literally in some instances, as is usually the case with any show that features transgender or transsexual characters.

While positive and humorous as it was, it unfortunately, does not fully portray the variety of lives that transpeople experience, whether they be good or bad. Indeed there were moments were Judy’s mother and sister go on about her ‘crazy psychiatrist’ and a sleuth of ex-boyfriends that have mistreated her in the past, in reality many transpeople are cast out, beaten and sometimes killed, simply because they are attempting to embrace who they are. My hope is that the story line does progress and help portray this, with as much accuracy as possible without subtracting from the story and humour and it doesn’t simply gloss over the many problems that many more transpeople suffer on a day to day basis. Then again this is meant to be a light hearted romcom, so perhaps expecting more from the a short six episode series could be left as an exception, one in place of just having a for once a simple story line about a transperson who isn’t the punchline to a bad quip about not having been born with the right equipment; even though this was in fact used quite bluntly in the first few minutes, it was used to get it out the way rather than using it as a cheap plot twist. Furthermore, while I was smiling and cringing slightly, I also could feel that minor pang of that inescapable uncomfortable sensation, when Judy was describing what it feels like to be “in a prison without a release date”. Something I’m sure many transpeople would identify as feeling and of whom suffer with the occasional bout of Gender Dysphoria. In this example of emotional revelation from the character, it further highlights how beneficial it can be to having a transgender actor(ess) perform as the character, due to the level of empathy they themselves do possess and bring to the role.

While I hope not to judge an entire show based on the merits of one episode even though it has already been marked as an important step in terms of television. I do wonder if this show will last and not be simple written off as a fad. Unfortunate as it is, transpeople alone won’t be able to carry the show into more series, assuming that they like it too and will undoubtedly require as many non-transpeople enjoying the show as well due to them making up the majority of the vast viewing public. This is why it will be all the more important that the image and the social acceptance of transpeople is developed as much as possible. I hope that this will also provide some momentum for general acceptance for not just transpeople but everyone, to show that transpeople are still fundamentally very human. That we are just trying to live our lives as normally as possible, just as anybody else would.

So the next day after it had aired, I had the rare opportunity to talk about the show on BBC Wiltshire, with my friend and TransSwindon’s front man Jeremy. It was for me personally one of the most nervous thing’s I have had to do, excluding of course the whole ‘coming out’ business in my own story. But despite that, it did feel great to be able to share my views on something that will, underneath it all, affect my life. The public perception of transpeople will need to continuously improve should we all collectively, both transgender and non-transgender, want a better society. The opportunity to talk on the radio as a member of TransSwindon shows that the opportunity for transpeople to give their opinions are being far more respected than they once were and that the combined efforts of TransSwindon admin team, including it’s growing members, is clearly working to give transpeople that much needed voice. Hopefully it is evident that we are now, as a community, slowly but surely being given the chance to make the most of our lives from opportunities that we have been seeking for so many years.

Laura Steel 2015 ©