I just want to wear a dress and be happy.
I have said that to myself many, many times over the decades.
Wearing a dress is something I own now, at least as well as it is possible to do so at my age, weight and state of health.
But being happy, well, that’s something that still tends to escape me.
I know how to feel safe down in my bunker, avoiding the mildew and squalor. Alone with my thoughts and feelings, I can become selfless and create communication, write as if I were free, as long as I hold no expectation that people will understand and engage what I share.
Safe isn’t the same as happy, though. Satisfying isn’t the same as happy, either. And while holding no expectations may be the spiritual approach, letting go of dreams isn’t likely to make you happy.
None of those are particularly useful when you feel like you have been slapped and need to regain your centre, your confidence, your faith, your composure. At that point, you need a happy place, somewhere to go where you can feel affirmed and refreshed, restored to a balance that lets you be present and gracious in the moment.
Everybody needs some affirming place where they feel safe, seen, valued and happy. And those who face marginalization and stigma in the larger world have even more of a need for someplace outside of it where their happiness lies. In communities of colour, for example, the family table and the religious gathering always provided a happy place where the pounding and diminishment of the world can be countered with affirmation and delight.
For transpeople, though, we are on a solo journey, and those community rituals are harder to find. For us gatherings can almost always be challenging, even gatherings with people who share our label and our challenges, because they are engaged in their own struggles, often against ideas and beliefs that we need to own. Our belief structures don’t come out of shared experience and growth, they come out of a personal journey. We often understand our beliefs as negative, knowing who we are not, knowing what we need to reject and run from, rather than knowing who we are and what we need to embrace.
To be trans in the world is to have to make a deal with the devil about what we deny about ourselves to get what we need from the world. Stigma works to force hard choices, so we have to learn to cling to our own rationalizations to keep us functional in society, have to reject what challenges those rationalizations to stay in place.
This simply means that we don’t have the same development of shared community values that groups who come together, in families, as neighbourhoods or as lovers, end up having. Going to other transpeople to share a happy space is usually not a productive choice, as our identity props crash against the props of others. When all we share is abjection and not transcendence, when all we share is pain & loss and not success & celebration, then happiness is not the core value.
My own happy place was never in my home. My family didn’t have expansive and inclusive happiness. My mother was always bitter because no one made her happy, while my father’s happiness was simple basic and non-inclusive. He was happy because he lived in his own world, away from many realities, including the values, understandings and challenges of his own children.
The happiest places I have ever found have been in shared endeavours with others. It is when we form a team, working towards a common goal that I feel safe, understood and valued. My happy place is not a deserted beach or a sylvan glade, it is a great meeting where everyone contributes to success and everyone shares satisfaction.
Maybe that’s because when people are working together, smarts are valued in a way that they are not in many other human gatherings. It’s easy for people to be anti-intellectual unless they can directly see a benefit to having someone sharp on their team.
When people actively work together, there are no right answers, only the process of creation. The most important thing to build is a shared understanding, shaped by sharp questions that pare away assumptions and creative thought that creates a common vision. It’s that shared understanding that help people work together in harmony, getting on the same page and pulling in the same direction.
When people resist change, though, pushing their own dogma and preconceptions, even as they say they want innovation and transformation, meaning only that others need to change to meet their own expectations, then the old answers always get in the way of the new questions and new shared understandings are never built. I live in the questions, not the answers, and old tropes rarely have room for me in them beyond shackles and stereotypes.
Those moments when we are beyond history and expectation, beyond hierarchy and convention, those moments where what we share is so much more important than what separates us, well, those are the moments when I am in my happy place.
My safe place us where I am alone, creating my own words that attempt to share my experience, my understanding and my vision of the world.
My happy place is where that sharing is honoured and valued as part of a process where people come together to make new products in the world, to take new power, to create new enlightenment.
TBB is clear where her happy place is. She is happy when she is on a journey, moving forward. And when she shares that journey, her happiness is multiplied. This is something we share, though her journeys are more often physical and mine more often mental and spiritual.
I know where my safe space is, travelling by myself. And I know where my happy place is, when that journey is shared.
That’s just not as easy to invoke as imagining I am on a beach somewhere. To me, though, it’s a whole lot happier.