It was somewhere around 1988. Rachel Crosby was on track for surgery. I started to talk about all the pitfalls, the downsides, the challenges.
Rachel just looked at me and said, “Do you know that you are quite a balloon burster?”
I got it. This was a dream that she needed to pursue, and like any dream, it was fragile and unrealistic at the beginning. But the dream had to keep lifting her, like a balloon, until she got to a place where she could replace it with a new dream.
Last week I went to a little support group and heard a transwoman talk about how everything would be better when she came back from Thailand with her new vagina.
I talked about some of the limits of a neo-vagina; depth, width, lubrication, tone, position. I quoted Dr. Sheila Kirk, who said that if your gynecologist can’t tell your vagina isn’t factory installed, well, you should get a new and observant gynecologist.
This gal carried on, though. She talked about the innovation and perfection of genital reconstruction, about how these doctors were the best in the world, about how she would be able to have even a pelvic exam without doctors knowing. She may not have had an orgasm in many years, but after her surgery, the plumbing would be on and the electrical too, as Kate Bornstein once said.
I got it. Her vagina will be absolutely perfect, at least until she gets it and finds out what the limits are. That’s the dream she is chasing, and that’s the balloon she needs to lift her up and over the obstacles & challenges she faces.
At the initial public meeting of a program in creating “female voice” I felt the need to speak up, to talk about the obstacles and challenges I have experienced and elucidated as a transwoman. I have stayed in the liminal space longer than most, and that means I have been able to find patterns & express them, putting words to the difficulties.
Two of the professionals got what I was saying, found it valuable. They wanted me to join the program because they could learn so much from me, but I don’t have the resource to pay professionals to learn from me anymore. I did, though, make sure to tell them that they have to refer to transpeople with the pronouns of their target gender, because if they want to be therapists of any kind, they need to affirm the possibility that lies within people even more than they have to acknowledge the reality where they now are stuck. Therapists need to affirm possibility, not present, in order to facilitate change.
But the other transpeople around the table? Well, they knew there was insight & scars & truth in what I was saying, but it wasn’t really truth they wanted to internalize.
You see, they need their balloons. They need their dreams that facial surgery or time will change everything, let them pass and assimilate in the way they want.
I told the counselor, after the session, that working to pass as being born female had two problems.
First, trying to pass means that every time you are clocked or read out you feel failure. That’s a spiral which is hard to overcome unless you become blind to people’s reactions, staying defended.
Second, trying to avoid that failure means you have to consciously and continuously edit your expression so that you don’t let your voice slip, either in performance or content. You have to change ex-wifes to ex-husbands, rejigger your boyhood to a girlhood and so on.
“I see,” she said. “You have to lie.”
I wouldn’t call it lying, though Kate said that transsexuality is the only medical condition for which part of the cure is to learn to lie. I would call it editing, self-policing that leaves you disempowered, without an earned voice. (And yes, I tend to use voice more as a metaphor, as the program director noted.)
Yes, I too have the same dream of walking in the world as a woman born female. I have had it since I was four or five or six, praying at night. My heart aches for the denial of that wish, but it aches more for actually getting on with life rather than just just living in broken dreams, behind walls of protection.
I said things like this out loud and after the session, well, none of the transpeople wanted to follow up with me, to connect and share their experiences.
The reason was clear, at least to me. They are on individual journeys, and they need to learn for themselves. They don’t need the balloons of dreams which lift them punctured too early. They don’t need balloon bursters.
People tell me about the law of attraction, which says that we attract what we desire to us. Problem is that when you desire truth, well, that’s not something most people really want in their life. They want the kind of hope that comes in pretty, multi-colored balloons.
Heck even TantraGal, the last person who pitched me that “secret” stuff, seems to have found me a bit challenging in my expounded visions of truth and challenge.
I have spent the last two decades working very hard not to burst balloons. I know we need to be lifted, need to respect the dreams that can move and motivate us to change, even if we know that the realities of that change won’t be quite the simple float we imagine.
I deliberately reach out to support and affirm dreams, even the ones that haven’t yet come to reflect reality. I want people to affirm and support me, so I need to give that to others.
But, well, not so easy. I respond to old friends and they put the letter in the too hard pile. Authors who know they need to be interested in stories understand that I have mine under control. Fledglings listen to me and they decide that they need to learn to fly for themselves, so they don’t want to engage me. Even old friends call me “one hell of a tough critic.”
I get it. It’s not that I’m not loving & supportive, it’s just that part of the way I show love & support is through illumination & challenge. And that, well, who wants to get their delicate balloons of dreams, the only things they have to give them enough lift so they can breathe free, if only a bit, so close to that bloody flame?
What makes you exceptional must inevitably make you lonely, as I have often quoted Lorraine Hansbury.
And if you are a porcupine, well, sometimes you are going to burst balloons, no matter how much you love and value those who inflate their own dreams in such a precious and vulnerable way.
Yes, I am fascinating & powerful.
But soft, unthreatening felt?