The problem with emotions is that they are so, well, emotional.
When we try to communicate emotion, we end up communicating is our own distress or happiness or some other emotional response that is true and important, but not rational.
We understand thought through thinking, but the only way to engage emotion is through empathy. Empathy allows our feelings to resonate in harmony with someone else’s emotions, to feel a bit of what they feel. If we choose to, we can then help the understand their feelings, help them find words and thought that allow thoughtful ownership of emotion.
If the only way to understand emotion is through empathy, and the only way to have empathy is to have access to our own feelings, when emotions are raised that ask us to access feelings we have deliberately suppressed or compartmentalized, we are faced with the choice of having our own stuff come up or not being empathetic.
This separation from empathy leaves us to try and assign rational motivations to the emotions of other people, leads us to try and rationalize them within our own context, not theirs.
For transpeople, whose essential choices are not based on rational thinking but on the emotions coming from our trans hearts, this is a continuing challenge. We believe that we are being true to our hearts, while other people see our motivations as selfish, perverted, depraved, sick, disordered, indulgent and a host of other rationalizations operating in their own minds.
The transgender calling cannot be understood without empathy, no matter how many rational explanations we try to apply, the most common today being an “birth defect” explanations that supports a sickness model.
For me, the struggle to express my emotions in text is always difficult. I try to create the image of a circle of understanding, of the 360 degree view from where I stand, acknowledging both the sensible and the emotional. Often, though, the outcome of this attempt is people sorting my expression into opposites and choosing to see my views as illogical, claiming that “It does not compute! It does not compute!”
I know, for example, that many see my emotional expression as whining, just an example of me being resentful of others. When they apply these rationalizations to me, rather than being compassionate, they feel the need to demand I take responsibility for my choices, feel entitled to treat me with “tough love.”
They find my emotional expressions wearing and challenging to their own limited empathy, so they want me to do what they have done, packing away the “weakness” of emotion in favour of rationalization. Think better, they tell me, slower or more clearly, or whatever, and you can take like by the balls and not get tripped up by all those silly emotions.
Compartmentalization is the most basic of these rationalizations. While compartmentalization is at the core of the classic crossdresser identity, it is present in many areas. The new age movement, for example, usually chooses to purge the messy and challenging, only allowing the sweet and pretty in the room, “pouring pink paint over everything,” as Marianne Williamson said.
I have always stood for connection and integration over separation and opposites, so compartmentalization has always been distasteful to me. My mother even told me that my problem was that I didn’t compartmentalize well enough. She was correct in telling me how society expected me to operate, but was wrong in telling me my way to approach the world. In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.
Give me empathy or give me death, because without empathy, I cannot get the emotional connection and nourishment that I desperately need. Asking for empathy, though, is asking for people to enter their own emotions and feel the resonance with mine, my big, intense, smart, queer emotions.
There aren’t a lot of people in the world who have had the need, the time, or the attention to work through their own emotions in a way that they can really own them. They haven’t taken the journey through their own hell, instead walling it off into nice compartments with walls they shouldn’t like being shown as only illusions.
When others try to connect with the emotional by using the techniques they used to constrain and manage their own emotions, they end up imposing their own rationalizations onto others. They are unable to engage the beauty, strength and majesty of emotion, instead working to stay separate from it in the name of rationality and reason.
I love the power of thought. I had to master the power of clear thinking early to give me mindfulness tools to keep an eye on context so I would be able to not be washed away in the unkempt emotions of my mother and father, by the emotional calling I felt inside of me that others told me was sick and corrupt. I’m damn good at thought.
Emotions, though, are vital to the human experience. Our passions, empathy and love connect us, gracing us with the spark of creativity and abandon that surges with the force of life.
Emotions are just so damn emotional and that is the blessing they give to us. Sharing them makes us vulnerable not just to feelings but also to growth and transcendence, moving beyond the rational and conventional to the magical and divine.
I work hard to forge thought and emotion into effective text, but I know that people often get an emotional hit from my expression that they end up seeing as lazy, sloppy, indulgent or crackpot. They then feel entitled to demand I rationalize more, at least enough to make them not feel disquieted by my too intense sharing.
To move beyond, though, emotion is required. We need to own our own passions, not just try to prune them back to fit neatly in other people’s expectations of us. And I need to feel those emotions being understood, respected, supported and valued, no matter how queerly human I am.
So I keep trying to dry my pain, mix it with wit and sharp thought, then share it for others to connect and learn from.
It’s the best I know how to do.