I know how to enter the world of other people. I do it through brainwork.
I was speaking to a young lesbian woman who called herself Rex, a smart soft butch, this week. We were talking, at least initially, about a local transwoman, just about a year past her divorce with her wife.
Rex was remembering her own girlhood, especially the tension she felt between the social processes of being trained as a woman and her own understanding that she would never simply be one of the straight girls. She was a participant in the pressure for assimilation and normalization, but also an outside observer of the process which could never fit her all that well. She was woman and not woman at the same time, living in the world of women and also being out of it.
She wondered how our friend would ever learn woman without the kind of intensive immersion she received, with a mother and family and friends and school all playing a part.
It’s worse than that, of course. Not only do you miss the training, you also miss the permission for exploration. There aren’t a sea of other kids to practice with and on. Rex said she often saw transwomen whose appearance was overblown, uncomfortable, and I noted that when a 16 year old goes overboard in trying a new look, it’s always cute, but later that doesn’t work.
The struggle of transpeople to do everything out of time — not being able to assimilate well in gender because we are pushed into a role that doesn’t fit, then having to try again without the social supports — is representative of so much of my experience. I understand why transwomen often seem like they bull their way through the world, because they feel that they have no other choice if they want to claim their own freedom.
I had to learn how to enter the world of others. And I did that using my head, not my body, my heart or my spirit. My technique was always the question, always the doubt, always the mapping.
I know how to enter someone else’s world and map it quickly. I can turn narrative into understanding by illuminating belief.
The world, though, isn’t centred around understanding belief.
To me, this means two things.
First it means that my exposition can be seen as intrusive, offensive or challenging. Most people like to keep the drapes closed on what they hold dear, and anyone with too penetrating a gaze is not comfortable. Touch a sensitive spot, a place where the fabric has to have been folded, and people can get touchy.
Second, it means that my own world, my own life, my own experience can be seen as oblique, opaque and too queer.
And now, I surrender.
This has turned into just another intellectual exercise to explain how lonely and hurting I am, how much of a struggle it has always been to have to transcend my own feelings to do my duty.
And that has never worked.
Neither did all my poetry work, where I struggled to convey emotion in a way that would let others enter my own experience, my own world.
Any idea that somehow, explicating my life will help people know me seems wrongheaded and futile.
Carol Queen said it. When queers write, straights assume we are writing about them. Whatever I do, whatever I say, whatever I write, the best I others can do is know how my expression affects them. I am just a spark in their movie.
That’s not, not, not, not my experience of the world. I trained myself early to actually enter other worlds and bridge them. I was both performer and observer, never just star of my own movie. Maybe that’s the cost of being an empath, of being the child of needy parents, or maybe it’s just that I am broken in an odd way. Maybe just doing everything out of time left me broken. Who knows?
Kathy, I’m lost, I said
though I knew she was sleeping.
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.
It was like that movie Agnes Of God
but I know what happened.
Kiki DuRane (Justin Vivian Bond)
I know how to perform transcendent. That’s not the same as not being human, though.
Too much keloid buildup. Too much loneliness. Too lost for too long.
I can explain it. Oh, yes, I can explain it. I know what happened. But running through all the words in the world doesn’t seem to make it feel better.
I did the hard work, did the hard work, did the hard work, and the hard work did me in.
No matter how smart I was about knowing myself, no matter how hard I worked, the work still did me in.
You know the problem with being the one who crosses boundaries, who does all the work, right? People always assume that you should have more to give, be able to come even farther towards them. They rarely value the work that you have already done, instead seeing where they think you should do more, where they think you should bend more, where they think you should give more. After all, they are already doing the best that they can, at least in their minds, so shouldn’t you be the one who does more? After all, you are the queer one, the crossser, the target patient. It’s your obligation, right?
There are limits. The cost of taking care of my parents is something I cannot convey. That’s no surprise, of course. I am unable to convey anything to people who need to stay in their own world, who are in their own movie, who think everything is about them (or their wife.)
I have been unable to “just get past it.” My bootstraps are way too frayed to be useful. My words just echo in the hollow caverns of my loneliness. I am depleted and deprecated. Replenishment, though I have searched for it, is too little, too distant. I understand the only way is to keep trying, but the rewards have been slim and the costs high.
My glory and my burden is the way that I carry and connect stories. I don’t slough easily, have low levels of “latent inhibition” and tolerate very high levels of “cognitive dissonance.”
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Only two? Well, maybe function does get impaired if the numbers get too high.
I know that I have an amazing gift from my mother in the sky, and she wants me to do my part in speaking for thought, insight and connection.
I also know that I have almost no gifts for creating and maintaining human relationships. Too much a porcupine, I. Nowhere to fit.
Everything I consumed, and I thank everyone who offered a bit of themselves to me, is here in my spoor. Try and leave something useful, eh?
Life is not an intellectual exercise.
Or at least it shouldn’t have been.