Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah blah.
“If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you. I say follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else”
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers
Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah blah.
(Good. Are they gone yet? Have I put out enough thoughts and words to deflect them, to make them think I am just cerebral? Have I shown that I know how to stay defended, know how to be smart and dry? Have I driven them away? Am I safe to get naked?)
I learned early that the only way to keep my poor femme heart safe was to keep it defended. My defence, as TBB makes clear, is in my head.
Now, I come by the porcupine bristles of sharp thought, clear vision and a web of fast neural connections quite legitimately. I don’t just bluster and posture to put up a smoke screen, rather that big brain is a very important part of me. It doesn’t sleep, doesn’t get off patrol, stays vigilant and active.
Along side that smarts though, is my big tender femme heart. And understanding my choices and failures is much clearer when you actually see it, see how it loves and feel how battered and bruised that it is.
I am, I fear, a hopeless fucking romantic. While I know that this truth is vivid in every fibre of my body, know that every thoughtful and analytical text I have ever written holds this truth in every line, words to reveal what connects human hearts not words to venerate the separations and taxonomies of the mind, my too big brain often overshadows my too big heart.
Truth is that I like it that way. I’d much rather be challenged or rejected for what I think than for who I am. I can change and shape my thoughts, use them to defend and enlighten, but my heart, well, I have known since I was a child that it is what it is. What it is, of course, is tender, broken.
It’s my heart, my nature, my love, my Eros, my bliss that people have attacked ever since I first showed it. It’s my heart that was just wrong and sick and not fit for human connection.
Part of this, of course, was a family that didn’t get emotion. Aspergers will do that, even as I knew my father was incredibly loving while my mother was incredibly demanding that people make her happy. I not only had no training in how to manage a human heart, but my mother made sure it was unsafe to express emotion around her.
The other part was the fact that I knew from a very early age that my heart was drawn to the feminine, and it was made very clear to me that was reason enough for others to stigmatize and abuse me. I learned to play alone, not with the boys, not with the girls.
I was expected to control and manage my heart, not to explore and learn to trust it. Boxes within boxes, performances within performances, I learned that I had to constrain myself, to hide and deny.
When I walk in the world as a visible transperson, I know that expression comes from my heart. It’s not a smart or thoughtful thing to do, rather it comes from my own vulnerable place. I don’t show my nature for political or in-your-face reasons, rather I reveal it because it reveals my heart.
My vulnerability is often difficult for others to believe when they see me making what to them looks like a deliberate, confident and even flagrant display that they could never imagine making. Instead of responding to the tenderness of my revelations, they often see arrogance and insult in my choices, giving them permission to stigmatize, taunt and abuse me. We teach children early that humiliating others for “inappropriate” gender expression isn’t just tolerated, it is valued, and that habit can last a lifetime.
It’s tough to know how to love someone who is as big, as exposed, as queer and as needy as a transperson. We have learned to not trust what others proffer, so we brush off their advances as politeness, or worse, we can’t even see their advances through the armour we have placed around our own heart. How can we be loved and lovable when we have such a long and deep experience of being told our hearts are flawed and sick?
My biggest shame comes from not being able to deny my heart, not to be able to conceal my weak and silly romantic nature in appropriate ways. I have been taught that I have to do this, that there is no space or safety in being open, giggly, wearing my heart on my sleeve, giving too much information, being too exposed and too vulnerable.
People assume that if I am smart enough to think well, I should know how to control my heart, to not live viscerally in the world. They seem to think that hearts and minds aren’t complimentary, and that having a sharp mind can’t also include having a big soft heart that loves beauty and frills. And they also treat me with a kind of wary attitude so they won’t feel “tricked” by me, leaving me feeling isolated and around people who will dismiss me if challenged, not standing up for me.
It is, from the earliest days I can remember, my romantic, feminine heart that has always taken the blows, has always ended up battered, bruised and broken. It’s always my romantic, feminine heart that goes undernourished and lonely, even as it drives me to care for and connect with others, limiting my own expression for their comfort.
I know how to be ironic and cynical, cutting through cheap treacle with a quick quip. That rejection of manufactured pap, though, is just a rejection of hiding problems over with sweet pink paint, and is always done with grace and love. I do admit that might be hard to believe for people who like sweet, manufactured pink pap covering all twists and conflict, though.
That quick curmudgeon façade, though, comes from the tricks I learned watching Bogart movies in Cambridge while I was in high school. I needed to learn some kind of man tricks somewhere, even if I was never cocky enough to really make them work. I learned very early that no matter how fierce it was, that part of me was just too fragile for the world. The need for love will just break your heart and show your weakness, especially if you reveal a feminine heart in a world that thinks your reproductive biology defines everything.
It never felt safe to explore my desire, but somehow, love and passion are universal in the way that people respond to them. People respond not to virtue but to vitality, as Sebastian Faulks reminds us. Joyous is joyous.
It’s not the frivolity of women that makes them so intolerable.
It’s their gastly enthusiasm.
Horace Rumpole (John Mortimer)
I learned early that coming from my heart was opening myself to an unsafe world, a world that just wasn’t going to get it, that was going to mock and shame me for my choices.
Instead, I chose, for a number of good reasons to defend my heart with my head. First, I needed my head to survive in the world, I had a good head, and my head was something I could own, a place where I could shape and control my choices. My heart, well, the heart wants what the heart wants, as Emily Dickinson wrote.
Better to be attacked for being smart than to be attacked for being too frivolous and enthusiastic, because the head can process criticism, while the heart, it just bleeds.
My bliss, though, doesn’t reside in my head. That’s not where my mother in the sky put the song she taught me to sing in this world.
If I want to be present in the world, it’s my heart that needs to pump that vitality through me. For someone, though, whose head has learned to control her heart, who has learned not to trust others with her heart, who has a heart broken and battered from years of stigma, whose heart is often seen as too big, too intense and too queer in the world, well, that’s someone who has learned to protect and isolate her heart.
I expose my heart all the time, in the best way that I know how, with the finest words my head can muster. I just never assume that people will love it, or even understand it. I know they very well may focus on something outside of my heart, like the ideas I offer, the language I use, or the shape of my body. I don’t act on what I love, putting it out there, because I learned long ago that to keep it safe, I had to keep my heart to myself. It wasn’t something I could trust anyone else with.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried to trust. I am committed to working the process, yes I am. I look in every human mirror I see to understand how they see me, but I also know that their view of me is clouded not only by their expectations, conventions and desires, but also by the fact that I leave my heart shrouded by my head for safety.
“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t expect them, where they wouldn’t open for anyone else.” Words of wisdom from someone who compared empowerment stories from across human culture.
Trusting that my heart can be loved and lovable in the world is hard after all the training I have gotten, and all the defences — good, smart, fair, well-crafted, balanced, elegant defences — that I have created around it.
But not trusting that my heart, no matter how femme it is, no matter how frivolous and enthusiastic, can be effective in the world is saying that my life force just can’t break through the noise, that my life force is too broken and too tender to continue in the world. It is saying that hurt will overcome beauty, that pain will overcome life.
I know what I need to do for 2014.
I’m just not sure I still have the heart for it.