We are the choices we make under stress.
That’s why writers love stressful situations, because they reveal character quickly and intensely.
Every human being has stresses in their life. They have their history, their biology, family dynamics, financial issues and more. We each respond differently to stress. For some, it rolls off their back, for others, it sends us into spasms of thought, research and reflection. We are who we are.
For transpeople, though, we know that we are not just taking on our own stress, we are taking on the stress of everyone who is very invested in having a neat, binary gender system. We have been taught that it is OK to stigmatize and dehumanize people who are seen as destroying something precious, valuable and holy.
Beyond that, we know that people’s understanding and vision of us can change in an instant, based off some limited stereotypes they hold in their head.
When you add the stress of being a human to the stress of being trans in the world, either trans in hiding or trans and visible, the stress gets intense. We walk through the world waiting for the third gotcha and wonder if we will have the reserves to handle another person’s fear and acting out, handle being marginalized and dehumanized, handle not being heard or having our gifts minimized one more time.
When we face that, the broken bits begin to show.
The classic model of research into LGBT looked at people who couldn’t handle the stress, found them broken, and then used that to justify stressing us more. “See,” the experts would say “we told you that they were broken and should be marginalized, and their behaviour proves us right.”
The notion that we were broken because we grew up inside a society whose goal was to try and break us, break our spirit, break our lives, break our hearts so that we wouldn’t be visible and challenging was never part of the equation. How do you sort between the flaws in someone’s nature and the stresses of being abused into denial? For the experts, mostly they didn’t care to do that.
Having to be both stressed to the hilt and be the one who gracefully & maturely handles the fear, discomfort and myopia of others is an enormous burden for any transperson. It is this burden that drives us into armour, creating a shell that just doesn’t engage the feelings and fears of other people. We just get into our bubble and let the stigma bounce off.
Living inside a Lucite egg isn’t a way to be wholehearted, compassionate, connecting and healing. It is a way, though, to survive a world where people don’t thing you are only responsible for yourself but you are also responsible for the feelings of other people towards you and your kind, whatever they define that to be.
Having our broken bits cripple us so we don’t make too much of a challenge in the world, so we spend more time trying to survive than we do demanding to be able to thrive in a place that is our world too is the heart of stigma. Leaving us broken, abject and pitiable means that we aren’t powerful in the world with the ability to create change.
I know that my healing is my responsibility. I also know that the stress of being a visible transperson in the world means that I don’t have much reserve for that healing left. There is a reason I am not out there, everyday, making new.
My broken bits ache and the pain associated with those injuries still haunts me. I did learn how to play small, how to closet myself, how to keep my head down. I may have a bold, open and honest voice in this space, but this space is not an action space.
It is hard for any human to endure stress. It is hard for any human to heal. Doing it yourself, though, with limited support, in the face of a culture that feels like it at best erases you and at worst stigmatizes you, is an enormously hard task.
Every human has broken bits. Most humans, though, don’t face the same kind of stress, and most don’t face it so very alone. Their broken bits have time to heal and strengthen, while ours feel irritated over and over again.
We have to be kind to ourselves, compassionate and tolerant of the stress of living a trans life. It’s damn hard.
But if it wasn’t the best way we knew to heal, to get stronger and more authentic, we wouldn’t be visibly trans in the world. Being out and honest, vulnerable and real is the best way we can move beyond broken.
Until other people are willing to be our allies in healing, though, it will still be a huge struggle.