The therapeutic process is basically non-directive. There are two reasons for that. One is that therapists find longer relationships with clients to be financially beneficial; the more sessions, the more billing.
The other reason is that people heal in their own way and in their own time. “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think,” said Dorothy Parker when asked to use the word horticulture in a sentence. People just need to have ownership of their own growth, and it’s generally not useful to just hit them over the head with revelations they are not yet ready for.
When people finally find me, though, and reach out to me — the contact form here really does work — it usually means they are ready for some growth. I have long been the grad course in transgender; you have to have mastered 101 to even understand what the hell I am saying.
That’s the lovely part about ShamanGal. She is locked in a fight between her enlightened nature and that tough ego that drove her guy shell for so many years, an apocalyptic battle of emergence. She is wicked strong on both fronts; strong will, strong insight, so when they clash, it’s a real doozy.
What this means is that she can really take a licking and still get up afterwards. I have the luxury of being very, very directive with her and she can take it, seeing the conflict and rejoicing in it. She wants the fight, she needs the fight, she has to engage the fight, and therefore I am useful in turning the lights on full blast.
Most people, well, too much light blinds them, scares them, makes them scurry for the darkness. That’s why I know that even though ShamanGal doesn’t yet have the skills, she has the chops for shaman; death and rebirth in a minute, facing down the fire and walking through hell.
ShamanGal was distressed at a party with people she knew before transition. The host went around and said thanks to every guest, in a loving way recounting his relationship with them. The problem was that when he got to ShamanGal, he used her boy name, and referred to her past life. This was embarrassing and she got huffy. How can she stop people seeing that part of her?
“Do you feel safe around these people?” I asked.
“No,” she told me. “They are so good looking and accomplished that I always feel insecure around them. I feel like I don’t belong; they are so far beyond me.”
“So you keep yourself defended around them, eh?”
“How is that different than being around Amy, who you call your big sister?”
“I always feel safe around her.”
“Does she see your gal heart or your guy defences?”
“Oh,” ShamanGal said. “I get it. Of course, when I feel threatened I get my hackles up and defend myself, and my defence habits are the ones I learned as my boy shell.”
“How can you be receptive?” I asked
“Receptive is such a nebulous concept!” she answered, and I knew I was talking to the shell again.
ShamanGal wants to buy a shiny new car, perfect for track days. Some part of her really thinks she deserves this.
The problem is that every sign she gets is that this isn’t the right purchase for right now. Amy says it’s an ego thing. Her trans mentor, the one she ran from when she first met them but who returned to her life 14 years later, says that ShamanGal doesn’t have to run down every defence over again, try every fight again, that she can use her knowledge. Her guru suggests that she has been though that cycle before. Her boss tells the story of his heart condition and what he has learned to value in his fragile life. Her parents talk about what they have seen in the past. Even the insurance guy doesn’t return her calls.
When she tells me all this, I laugh. Sure, I hear the petulant child whose ego just wants what should satisfy, but I also hear the shaman underneath who knows the messages are piling up, even if ego doesn’t want to be receptive.
“Why are you laughing?” she asks me.
“We all have to have our own relationship with our mother in the sky,” I tell her. “Some people see her as mellow and nature like, others as a wise nana with milk and cookies. My mother in the sky, though, is a wickedly funny woman with a great sense of humour who always makes me laugh while she sticks the scalpel in to cut away the false and pretentious from the genuine and loving. I laugh to take the pain.”
ShamanGal gets it. Dropping that guy armour, pulling that broomstick from out of her ass, well, that’s hard work. She fights and resists it, because feeling naked, exposed, defenceless and exposed just is wicked hard.
“I feel so alone and sad!” she calls back to tell me.
“So, do you want to be a guy in a dress or do you want to be a woman?” I ask her.
“You know the answer to that. I want to be a woman,” she answers.
“Are women more or less emotional creatures than men?” I ask.
“More,” she answers with a sigh that tells me she knows she is beaten.
“Then if you want to be a woman, do you think you are going to have to learn to deal with your own feelings?”
“But it’s so hard!” she wails.
“It’s one of the most important parts of womanhood,” I tell her. “Not every woman wears heels, but every woman has to manage her own feelings.
“Women have lots of strategies to handle feelings. Why don’t you learn some of them?”
ShamanGal gets the point. But that carapace that she carried for so long has made her feel safe, even if every time people see it, they see her guy self.
I get the point too. My sister sees my armour, because she isn’t a safe space to expose emotion. With a family full of Aspergers, I never had that safe space.
But my decades of learning to live with this can help me lift ShamanGal’s journey. That’s good, I guess.
Even if it is far from the standard therapeutic process.