Learning The Numb

The experience of a living transgender life in this world, the experience of being impaled on a broomstick to constrain our emotions, behaviour and choices, leads us to shut some parts of us down.  Being impaled causes damage.

LGBT people share the experience of being shamed into hiding their nature, under the pain of being called sick, worthless, perverted and less than human.     Stigma is designed to teach us to deny and hide the challenging parts of ourselves, to teach us to police our own desire so others don’t have an excuse to attack or isolate us.

We learn to take a hit, we queers.   We build defences, f8ight or flight, denial or damage.   Drugs often seem like a good painkiller, even if they do kill off a whole lot of us.  Learning to bully others can not only let us vent our own pain, it can give us credibility with our oppressors.   There are lots of choices.

All this learning to take a licking and keep on ticking, though, it has a cost.  Call it callous, call it scar tissue, call it armour, but we learn to not have to feel our feelings, learn to keep them sub-Rosa, under the table.  We learn to protect our heart with our defences, learn to isolate ourselves from our deep emotion.

We often become a human doing rather than a human being, placing our worth not in who we are but in what we do for others.  That was the topic of the first post on this blog, Thanksgiving 2005, where my mother was thankful for who my sister was, and thankful for what I did.  Who I am, well, that was just too challenging.

To become defenceless, especially for people who learned how to be defended because of deliberate, systematic, and socially approved stigma blasted onto them, is an almost impossible challenge.

We learned the numb because we had no other choice. Learning to feel again, learning to come from our hearts, learning to wiggle, well, tearing away the scar tissue we built up to help us survive, that is excruciating and often well neigh impossible.

Lesbians and Gays have this problem, but it is never as lonely, isolated and individual a task for them.  By definition, they hook up with other people like them, creating space for those lovers to gather, taking care of each other.

Transpeople, though, our journey isn’t to a relationship with others, it is to a relationship with ourselves.  We know who we have to be, what we have to express, even if we also know that there will be a high cost.  There will be a high cost to lie and stay hidden or a high cost to tell the truth and be seen as too queer and a legitimate target for stigma, abuse and discrimination.

We may get to choose how and when we want to express our nature, but we know whatever choice we make, we will be attacked, either from our own internalized pain or from the world’s externalized heterosexism.      We know that people will blame us for our queerness, that we will be the scapegoat for their own unresolved issues, and that society will affirm their fear of the unconventional and challenging.

It is fucking ass lonely being a transperson.  That loneliness alone causes enough pain to require us to become numb.

It’s almost impossible to share the experience of growing up trans with anyone who has not experienced it, but even when we do that, our own armour, numbness and twists tend to bump up against each other.  We often reveal bits of the trans experience that are just painful to see mirrored in another. Even when we don’t do that, we are often unable to be present and emotionally there for others because we are bound up in our own unresolved needs, our own stunted immaturity, our own armour, our own numbness.

We learn the numb.

“I am learning how to trust myself,” I told a partner.  “Now I need to learn how to trust others.”

“Can’t you learn how to do that on your own?” she replied.

I know that to be out and bold, I can’t expect people to have to process my stuff, can’t expect them to always be able to be present for me.   They just have no idea of the price of growing up trans, and they are having enough challenge dealing with their own healing not to have the chops to deal with mine.

I need to drop my own scar tissue so I can learn to be, again.    And I cannot tell you how terrifying that is.  Feeling my own feelings so often lead to people trying to hurt me to change me or silence me.  And when they did that, they would tell me it was for my own good.  Yeowww!

We learn the numb, we transpeople, stuffing that broomstick up our butts deliberately to damage and constrain the tender bits of us inside that we needed to break so others wouldn’t try to break us.

But to come back to life, we need to heal, need to feel again.

But who can be there, to understand, trust and support us?   Not our families; they taught us to be numb.   And our peers suffered their own damage, got stuck in their own broken bits.

How do we trust the feelings that lead others to cause us such pain?




Owning The Journey

Owning the journey means owning the power.

There is no way to achieve mastery over anything without achieving mastery over it.

It is one thing to be able to use a tool to get you through a moment.   It is another thing to have your own bag of tools, to be able to select an effective tool for the situation, and then to be use that tool with grace and finesse.

This is, I suspect, at the heart of the quest of a lifetime.  It’s not just being who you are in a moment, it is about being good at being who you are.   It’s not just about knowing who you are, it is about knowing how you can address a challenge with your particular mix of strengths & weaknesses and achieve a masterful and elegant strategy.

If there is one thing I need to offer to the world, one thing that people can quickly recognize about what I offer, it is mastery over my particular tool kit.

When we see a young person, we look for promise, energy, attractiveness.  We look for possibility.

When we see a mature person, we look for wisdom, grace, knowledge.  We look for mastery.

I need to believe that the past decade, that the past decades, have brought me some kind of mastery of being me.  I need to believe that I can make things better, help others, offer benefits by offering my mastery.  I need to believe that people can see that mastery in me, see it, acknowledge it, respect it and reward it.

Because I own my own journey, because I have worked my own experience, because I have tried and failed and tried again, because I have a wide range of experience that lets me read things fast, having seen them before, because I have a wide range of techniques that are now tried and sometimes true, I have to believe I have some mastery.

It’s one thing to venerate beginners mind, but you don’t want your surgeon or even your plumber to have beginners mind.  You want them to have mastery over what they are about to do.  You want them to be able to see the nuance and to be able to address the exceptional.

In the end, owning our own journey isn’t about arrogance, rather it is about humility, the humility of knowing that the best we can do is serve the process in an effective way.   You cannot achieve mastery just by control, you achieve it by being sensitive to the smallest details, letting those details guide you. Hard won knowledge opens us to the range of possibilities rather than just letting us believe that one approach fits all.

There used to be a teaching direction that made a separation between trainable and educable.  You can train people to follow the instructions, to execute the keystrokes, to copy the procedure, which is the approach so many business take today.   To actually look at the details, create a strategy, correct as you go along, and do the right thing, well that takes education, not just training.  You need to own the concepts and be able to apply them as needed, in unique combinations, to unlock the never before seen, to approach the exceptional, to create the masterpiece.

The challenge I was handed in this world wasn’t standard.   I had to learn how to be me, how to take my own very individual journey.    I needed to learn what nobody could teach me.

Years ago, I installed Novell networks before they were close to being standard.  I had to do things like figure out that the order in which you bind the network controllers when generating the system could affect performance.  It was hard.

“I have someone new to install the networks,” I told a friend.  “But they will have it easier than I did.”

“Why?” the friend asked.  “Can they call Novell?”

“No!” I answered, upset that she missed the point.  “They can ask me!”   I had achieved some level of mastery, and that meant that the new guy didn’t have to figure it all out from scratch.  I owned the learning and could pass it on.   In fact, that was a primary job for me in many places, taking the new, understanding and owning it, and then passing on that understanding to others.

Still, those new people, the ones I helped, with networks or transgender issues, make be able to make the system function, but they will never have the mastery that I have, because they never had to start to build an understanding from as far back as I did.

I have to believe that my mastery, which comes from owning my journey and the lessons I learned through it, makes me powerful in a way that others can see, respect and value.

Owning the journey means owning the power.

And that means my scars have to count for something.