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?