This week, JPL’s Rovers celebrated a decade on Mars with Opportunity still alive and kicking, maybe even kicking up a “jelly doughnut”. This is a feat of both planning and adaptation. Scientists not only had to create a structure that would do the job, they also had to find strategies to deal with the vagaries of life on Mars, from arthritic actuators to surprising dust.
“The amazing thing is that these vehicles go through an amazing temperature cycle every day, the temperature change from night to day is greater than the change from summer to winter,” Jon Callas, Opportunity’s project manager, said. “They are constantly fatigued by this – it’s kind of like going from the Sahara Desert to Antarctic every single day without a change of clothing.”
Andy Warhol said that he thought men who live as women had the hardest time of all because they have to deal with both the challenges of being male and the challenges of being a woman.
“I’ve seen females being women, males being men, females being men and males being women. And I think the hardest of all is males being women, because they have to do all the boy things, like shaving and all the girl things like heels.”
— Andy Warhol
I’m not sure anyone else would link these two quotes, but to me, they both resonate with my experience of life.
Yesterday, I went from a very warm lunchtime at the improv theatre, where I got to sit with another “Miranda” and find connections in our experience of the world over to a very cool afternoon around my sister and her balloon clown boyfriend who expected me to be the brother who fixes tech problems. It was a couple of hours of struggle to get her phone reset, all the time feeling like I was in a deep freeze.
I was gracious and appropriate, but when I got back to the basement here, I shattered like a drinking glass that went from a hot dishwasher to a cold drink without a break. I tore off all my pretty clothes, washed my face and retreated to my cozy gender neutral outfit, all fleece and shapeless.
Some transpeople don’t mind being seen as a guy while they express their trans nature. It is important to them to both be the dad and show themselves, for example.
That wasn’t my choice. I chose to wear my androgynous jeans and polo shirts if I had to play that role, a role that I feel erases my heart, putting the cold stress of son and brother onto me. That concierge mode was doable if I kept my heart on ice, staying in the zone, but the idea that somehow, I could easily switch between torrid and frigid was just too much for me.
Warhol and Callas are right, though. It is the huge swings in temperature that are constantly fatiguing, and the swing when someone regenders you in a moment is a stress that I don’t take well. In fact, after all these years of going from the warm feminine to the cool masculine, the stress fractures are more pronounced, as visible as the cracks in the glass on my sister’s cell phone.
When the empathy leaves and the expectations descend, I feel the freeze come in, feel the crystals in my heart start to form and the tensions rise. I just want to run and hide, getting away from the pressures. That line between men and women runs like a latent fracture through my heart, and under stress it is all I can do to keep it together.
I know that in any moment, someone can decide that my biology is more real than my choices and choose to impose their views and expectations of manhood on me, freezing me in an instant. Just like those little rovers, I have to be ready to go from the desert to the arctic in a moment, without a change of clothes.
And that’s why, just like opportunity, I am constantly fatigued and need to be ready to shatter (and then put myself back together) at any time. Is there any wonder why I often choose to play it safe?