Exhaling Deeply

Anyone who has ever worn a corset, or even a pair of tight bodyshapers, knows the feeling when you pull them off.   Your skin tingles from the air, and all of a sudden you can breathe deeply again.

When we are all tight laced, our breathing is constrained, shallow.  Not only can’t we fill our lungs deeply, we can’t clear our lungs fully, can’t exhale deeply all we have taken in.

We corset ourselves for many reasons, but they usually revolve around a role we have to play.  Maybe it’s glam chick for the night, maybe it’s just the custom of the day, maybe it’s to straighten our spine and give us support, but whatever the reason, we decide the discomfort is worth the result.

TBB celebrated her last child’s college graduation this spring with a big family gathering in the New York City area that included a trip to the revival of Pippin, her favourite show and a Naval commissioning ceremony.

If you have ever seen the film Trinidad, you have seen TBB and her kids.  And you saw some of the flak she took for allowing her kids to continue seeing her as their father, even after transition.

TBB knew, though, that whatever she needed to be in the world, she was the father of two kids who needed a father.  And through plenty of drama, family members turning against her and trying separate her from her family unless she followed their expectations, TBB fought to reconnect with her kids, to be there for them.

“I loved that time we spent together in Colorado,” she tells me.  “We were really there for each other.”

Now, though, the kids have gone onto their own lives, and like lots of women her age, she is feeling the effects of the empty nest.  She put her life into those kids, and now they need to separate from her, with no guarantee that they will ever return.

That corset of fatherhood is loosened now, and TBB is feeling quite naked without it.

Now, she is breathing deeply once again, and more than that exhaling deeply.  All the emotions that she kept inside are coming up in her breath, as the reason for staying constrained is now removed.

That’s a tough time for her.  Will she ever have that kind of focus, force and connection again?   Or is she just a dried up tranny, who used all the energy she had to make sure her kids got the best start she could offer, and now has nothing left?  With her babies gone from the next, who will ever be there to make her not feel lonely again?

TBB is a loose woman now, the structure she maintained no longer being useful.  Things are coming up for her now, all the knocks she took, all the fights she lost, all the indignities that were foisted on her that just had to be tucked down into her Spanx so she could keep on with her role as father.

Of course, TBB isn’t the first woman to feel this emptiness.  The arc of a woman’s life is usually a series of chapters; her mother’s daughter, her friend’s pal, her teacher’s student, her husband’s wife, her childrens mother.   At some point, when that service to others is over, she has to let go and figure out who she is to herself, what her possibilities are.

So TBB is feeling that restraint she has worn for so long being ripped from her body, feeling flabby, old and alone, all her breath lost, with a pool of residual pain.

Will she ever breathe deeply again?  Will she ever be back in shape, back feeling the kind of love she gave to her children?

I firmly believe that she will.

But this weekend, TBB isn’t so sure.


The Queer Strategies

The local “Pride Center” is having a retreat for youth this month.  They are still scraping for programming.

We are looking for workshops that contribute to the lives of LGBTQA youth. This may include (but is not limited to): Advocacy/Education, Understanding Intersecting Oppressions, and Wellness/Self-Care.

Those are the top three things these kids need to learn to contribute to their lives?  “Understanding Intersecting Oppressions?”

That Women’s Studies model seems to have really serious limits to me.  Unless we can understand what kind of constraints — oppressions — that the system of gender puts even on normative white christian men, the people who are often seen as being at the top of this pyramid of oppression — we can never understand how everyone is bullied by social convention.

What I think they need to learn are the strategies for being queer in the world.

How do you construct a persona that is both wild and tame, both bold enough to be uniquely you so you can be authentic and mild enough to fit into others needs so you can get what you need?

How do you actually enter your own hell to question, challenge and deconstruct all the habits and assumptions you ended up with while also being a well assimilated member of the group who makes others feel safe & comfortable?

We need our jobs and our friends and our sex partners and our grades and our family, and all of those require that we meet the expectations of others. And we need our own voice and own style and own breathing room, and all of those require we not be bound up in the expectations of others.

This is the challenge of creating a persona, being both authentic and assimilated in our own way.   How queer is too queer, too bold and wild, how queer is not queer enough, too too meek and tame?

And more than that, how do we learn to embrace others who make that balance in a different way than we do?  The others who identify like we do, but just seem to be too much of a flamer or too much of a normie?   How do we find a way to support their queer choices even if they are choices we would never make for ourselves?

For example, as a trans-femme I know that people often see me as too mild, because they never take the time to understand my wild heart and mind.

I suggest that queer theory, which venerates the power of individual choice, rather than venerating the power of group identity and oppression, is a key to acknowledging and affirming others as unique individuals, to affirming yourself as a unique individual with your own mix of wild and tame choices.

The Six Responses to challenge in the world — Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm — are important strategies to consider in facing everyday life.   Each one of them can be useful, especially when alloyed together.

That’s what I would want to tell queer kids if I had an hour and a half with them.   Just my old training in elementary education coming back, I guess.But I doubt they would want to hear from queer old me.  That’s something else coming out, I fear.