Our Story

Miz Ruby wants me to understand that I am not alone, that I need to trust my connection to others, and their connection to me.  I have trouble finding people who engage my story, rather than seeing it as some reflection of their own story.

You seem to want people — everybody, or just one person if everybody doesn’t work — to understand you and give you what you need. That’s a romantic notion most of the rest of us gave up long ago.   

You have trouble seeing [your story] as our story.
People only relate to things they can relate to. At least give them credit for looking for common threads. What you see as egocentric behavior in others I see as an attempt to understand, to find a touchstone, a Shibboleth. 

Yeah.  Exactly the challenge, exactly the difference between what I see as queer, the approach to others meaning as a mirror, and normative, the approach to others meaning as a projection.   People who look at the stories of others to see something they already understand, something they already know, something that matches their own current beliefs, a shibboleth of group identity that overides indvidual uniqueness.

I guess if your primary experience of yourself in the world is to be the same as the group, with certain unique touches, this makes sense.  If your experience of the world is being an indvidual, with a core of common humanity that connects you with others, well, that’s a different kind of approach.

Would it surprise you if I told you that my graduating class as class indvidualist, or at least the male class individualist?    My experience of being separate doesn’t start with trans, it starts much, much earlier, back through facing down a class voting against me in fifth grade, in reporting a bus driver’s breaking the rules when I was three, back to a very early time.

Maybe if an off-the-rack identity fits with just a bit of tailoring, your experience of the world is different than if you have to create an identity out of whole cloth, which is the queer experience.  Maybe that’s true; not having that off-the-rack experience, I wouldn’t know.

I do understand that I have no choice but to give my story to the world, and let them do whatever they want with it.   No matter how hard I work to be more clear and more explicit, the limits of the analogies & experience of others are the limits of their understanding.   Giving my story to others means I feel erased and reduced, which is a touchstone experience of my life, me knowing I wasn’t a boy, and them telling me I was, me telling my child truths and having them erased.  

There are many who feel confident and empowered in their own story & the art that comes from that story, and who gladly share it, willing people to do what they wish with it.  They have some kind of confident center where their story is shared, understood and valued, and that center lets them share.  They believe that they are just sharing pieces of themselves, and the deeper bits aren’t being erased, rather they are just being held in the center.

That isn’t my experience of the world, though it would be lovely if it was.  That safe & warm center escapes me, and that means everything is on my skin, raw and immensely tender.  Without a thick hide exuded from confidence I end up hiding, and that hiding requires rejection of what I feel I am too tender to handle.   Is heaven other people, or is hell other people?  I know that I can only get what I need from other people, but I also know that other people are the cause of my pain, and that paradox leaves me unable to just process enough chaff to find the grain that will nourish me.

TBB is still always surprised when I remember stories from when we were together a decade or more ago that she has completely forgotten.  Those are gone now for her, sloughed off through life, and that gives her the ability to meet people fresh. 

“The nice thing about having to be the host and assuage fears of others,” she tells me, “is that you only have to do it once.  They remember your warm and open manner, and that counts.”  Lovely for her, and I know it is true, but for me, the one who seems to have the x-ray vision, well, my experience is that people aren’t always so comfortable.

The obligation to be product, something that people can pick up and understand, with a touchstone or shibboleth that allows me to be easily positioned in their existing worldview, well, yes, that is the challenge for me, on two levels.    The first clallenge is one of simplifying, because marketing is essentially the act of oversimplification — Lezlie doubts that I will ever seem simple & easy to others, even if I am appealing — and the second is challenge is that of getting over my own damn self, so I can just get out there and do it.

A few have noted that until I can get somewhere where I don’t have to spend so much energy hiding & concealing I won’t find peace.   It’s like having a nice manicure; if you just get to work on that over time, it becomes easy and integrated, but if you have to have a nice manicure tonight, no manicure tomorrow, and a nice manicure the next night, well, the manicure just isn’t going to happen.   A slapdash coat of nail varnish just stops being enough, so you let it go.

In the long run, it is our story, and I know that.  Whatever I don’t do in real life, I keep writing, and for the last year or so, write in a place where people can read it for their own reasons, searching for insight or looking for touchstones.

But it is also my story, and it may well be the last thing I have my personal pride in, the last thing I invest with value.  From the moment we are born, our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow, and when we are gone from this world, our story is the only thing we will leave.

My story, our story, story.  Such a romantic notion that someday, if you see & hear & understand yourself enough, someone else will see & hear & understand you. 

But is there any other romantic notion worth fighting so hard for?

3 thoughts on “Our Story”

  1. you have what i have to believe is a cultivated habit of framing your story as myth, specifically to have it resonate. what forms connections is what people recognize of themselves in each other. you have a gift for triggering introspection… i can see how it might also tend to raise a barrier between others and their perception of you, beyond (or within) your carefully constructed role of mythmaker (shaman, storyteller).

    guru trap.

  2. It’s my sense that a habit of seeing the world in terms of patterns, patterns that humans explain through stories which reveal that which cannot be easily quantified — myth — means that you have no choice but to see your life in the same context.

    In a world where most people don’t have that mythic context to understand life, where they have fallen into the fundamentalist choice of seeing everything as (their) literal truth, or the roll-your-own choice of creating their own theology, which almost always skips over the hard parts, my tales may appear to not be personal as well as symbolic, even though they are powerfully both.

    Telling the old stories in modern language is the challenge, said Campbell, but for me it’s impossible to forget that those old stories were breathed into life by humans who ate and shat, who felt pain and joy, who were young and who were old. There is only one human nature, and we all share it.

    All this means that my role isn’t carefully constructed, but my persona has been shaped by the facets of human nature that I have had to polish to understand my own challenges, my own context, and my own possible survival. My path has formed me, and my stories don’t really exist outside that path, even if they do reveal landscapes we all share.

    But yeah, in the end, it all comes down to the guru trap.

    What was that Woody Allen joke? “I only lasted a semester at NYU. I was thrown out for cheating on a metaphysics exam. I looked into the soul of the guy next to me.”

    Thanks for your sharp comment, Gwyneth.

  3. Pingback: Gone Guru | Callan

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