What’s the key to being an awesome Big Kahuna surfer riding the banzai pipeline?
The answer is situational awareness.
To succeed, you have to be aware of what’s going on around you and inside of you at all times. That knowledge of what is happening right at this moment and that knowledge of how outcomes changed in the past when you changed your choices is the key to being successful in a moment full of instantly changing variables that you can’t control.
And surfing is far from the only discipline where excellent situational awareness is the key to mastery.
When I talk about my experience of the world with Performance Guy, he is astounded at how much I read and consider situations. His concern is that I am making judgments about other people, judgments that stop me from connecting with them.
To transpeople, though, the world can easily feel as dangerous as a huge, crashing ocean wave, ready to engulf and drown you at any time. If you don’t understand the risks people experience by being visibly trans in the world, you don’t understand anything about transpeople.
What we all share is being pounded by social pressure to follow expectations rather than the knowledge of our own heart. What we know is that when we step out of convention, we take the risk, the risk of people feeling entitled to attack us because they see us as wrong, sick and degenerate, and the risk of being misunderstood and hurt by people who want to help us but don’t really understand our hearts.
I have said in the past that the best way to categorize transpeople is by the armour they choose to keep themselves defended in the world.
ShamanGal has been looking at the defences of transpeople around her. The gal she met on Sunday walks in the world with a “Fuck You!” swagger, refusing to try and please anybody, which makes her stand out, while the gal she was trying to me Saturday gets her eyebrows waxed in Beverly Hills by the same esthetician who does Meagan Fox as she works hard to please the social expectations for trendy feminine beauty.
There is a whole range of choices we make, from hiding under a normative veneer, saying that our trans expression is only a hobby, to hiding in the closet at the end of the rainbow, staying small by locking our crossing story away.
Learning to be trans in the world is first and foremost about how we choose to protect our heart from the bumps and slashes of a world that wants us to stay hidden and unchallenging. At the end of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, drag show tradition may be followed by Hedwig walking out the door naked, but they aren’t really going to get very far in the world that way, are they?
The less normative you are in the world — the more you are off the white, christian, upscale man archetype — the more you understand situational awareness as a required talent. Women, for example, know that other people can be big and dangerous, so they have to keep defences available, whatever they choose those defences to be.
The ultimate trans surgery is when we pull the stick out of our own ass. That is the moment we stop being controlled by our armour and start making choices with our own heart. If we can’t move, we can’t be wholehearted and vulnerable in the world, can’t be open and compassionate in the moment.
For me, the solution to being both defended and open — point 9 on my 2002 manifesto — is a very high level of situational awareness.
I know that I stand for the possibility of transformation in the world, stand for the truth that we can move beyond convention and the expectations placed on us to grow, become more centred and come from a higher place. I stand for the truth that change is not only possible, that change is required as we learn to open to the world, and I need to always be open to that change.
That means I have to always hold open, in every moment, the possibility that you will change. I have to be like the tailor.
The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
That holding open my heart is the essence of what Brené Brown calls vulnerability.
For example, I may know that my sister has hurt me very badly in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can never open to her again. I have to hold open the space where she can mature, grow and change her choices, rather than casting her out as a bad person, an abuser, never again to be trusted.
I may know that there is a good chance that she will hurt me again, but also know that she loves me and has the best intentions in her heart, even as she gets bound up in her own stuff.
The truth of this world is simple: people get bound up in their own stuff. People see things in their own context, not in a broader vision.
To transpeople, we often see this when people are forced to pay attention to us and their assumptions of normativity are shattered and they reassign our gender in a heartbeat. They can easily feel tricked or manipulated at that moment, choosing to defend their own comfort over our truth.
I know that people around me only pay attention to and work to understand what they choose to pay attention to and work to understand. They grow and heal in their own way and in their own time. Sometimes, that resistance to change means they act out, trying to erase challenge, and sometimes, the object of that acting out is me.
How can I stay defended and open at the same time?
My solution has been to develop acute situational awareness, sensing my environment and modulating my choices to fit the moment.
Performance Guy is surprised by my level of assessment of social situations. It was only when I explained how risky trans expression feels in the world that he began to understand that my reading wasn’t about judgment, but was about finding a style of defence that allowed me to feel safe enough to open my heart in to people who usually don’t get the joke, people who don’t yet own their own darkness in a way that lets them engage mine.
I have taken apart the defences I built unconsciously as a kid, that attempt to cloak myself with words that manipulate, and create a conscious approach to the world that lets me stay in the moment while not putting what limited resources I have at risk.
Yes, this leaves my choices constrained a bit too much, but as Brené Brown says, vulnerability is not something you can learn by yourself. It always takes people you can build trust with to help you expand and open your heart.
By their armour you shall know them. That is true of all humans, and transpeople, who have to move against the conventions and expectations of the world to claim the knowledge of their heart are no exception.
And my armour?
Acute situational awareness.