Every transperson needs emotional support.
That’s true of every human, of course, but transpeople face emotional challenges different than their family of origin, different from their peers. In fact, those challenges often include having to help those around them negotiate the emotional issues that this culture builds around transgender issues for everyone. We don’t just have to do our own emotional work, we have to help others do theirs, work that they don’t have the same incentive to accomplish as we do
In a gender system designed to enforce pair bonding and procreation, ownership is split between the gender roles (which are in turn linked to birth sex). If you want a complete life, you have to come together with a person of the other gender to form a unit.
In the very traditional form of this model, before the changes after WWII, men got property & money and women got family & emotion. Men had pressure to have a family life, including a partner to “service his needs” and women had to find and keep a man to support themselves and their children.
The needs of men included emotional support. Emotion was not valued in the realm of men’s power, but every man had emotions, needed emotional satisfaction and guidance, which he learned to farm out to his wife. Owning emotion was one of the ways she kept power in the relationship, creating the tenor of the house, as in the phrase “If mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.”
For many transpeople who went through puberty as a male and who identified as a crossdresser, this meant that they ended up dumping the emotional burdens of being transgender in this society directly onto their wife. She had to deal with all the feelings, the secrecy, the guilt, the shame and the Eros of crossdressing.
There was a whole industry to support the wives of crossdressers, including events like the SPICE conference where no transgender expression was allowed by anyone to try and make a “safe space” for spouses. I did some writing to support those partners.
My real work, of course, was to try and explain to those crossdressers why they had to take responsibility for their own emotions if they wanted to be responsible for their own transgender expression.
This was not something they wanted to hear. When I asked them about going to a therapist, they often told me that I sounded like their wife. Yes, well, there was a reason for that.
You cannot engage your own femininity and your own womanhood without also engaging your own emotions. Women connect in the realm of feeling and have learned to be the mommy and the wife, emotionally supporting their children and spouse. The world of desire is where much of our power lies, as Audre Lorde explains in talking about the uses of the Erotic.
There is an old saw about men in therapy: You need to spend the first year convincing them that they actually have feelings and the next year convincing them that they won’t die if they actually feel them. Brène Brown talks about this brilliantly when she talks about the one imperative we shame men over: they have to be strong at all times.
Processing internalized shame is at the heart of getting clear about transgender, as it is the heart of getting clear about so many emotional issues in this world. And getting clear about emotion is the only way to become balanced, open-hearted, integrated, actualized, and all those other things that reduce suffering and bring us peace, opening us to bliss.
Getting emotional support about transgender is very difficult. The amount of time that I and other transpeople have spent educating clinicians on our dime and then still running into their emotional limits, their inability to enter hell, is enormous. Even people who want to support us end up placing us on pedestals, replacing our story with their own expectations, or treating us like test subjects.
In this culture there tends to be resistance to actually feeling your emotions, as Brène Brown talks about, a resistance to engage “bad” emotion that leaves us disconnected from all of our emotions. To feel anything, you have to feel everything, and that means doing the work to process your emotions, to be able to manage your feelings with wisdom and grace, not just for yourself but for those who you give emotional support with the power of your empathy.
Having grown up in a family with two parents who had the kind of mind that Dr. Asperger described I know that effectively processing emotion can be difficult for reasons other than cultural.
If emotions can be so overwhelming to neurotypical people that they avoid engaging them, imagine how much more challenging they are to those whose minds tend to move away from emotion. I had to learn to help my parents process their feelings using the circuits I built to process and control my own feelings as a child, the kind of mental monitoring of emotion which still is the foundation for me being able to elucidate visceral subjects in clear language, like I do on this blog everyday.
When you go into the community of support for Aspergers, you find many parents who are just frustrated as hell at their inability to engage and control their kids, who they often see as “broken.” The cost of engaging and servicing someone who is not neurotypical is very high, very draining.
There are, though, spaces where adults who know they are not neurotypical share their challenges and their strategies to engage and own their own emotions, no matter how difficult that may be. They know that even if they don’t have the standard firmware, they can learn to be responsible for their own feelings rather than just being overwhelmed by them, just asking others to support them.
I know how hard it was to have to learn how to manage my own feelings without the social support of others who had the emotional chops to engage the challenges of my life, smart, transgender and the child of Aspergers parents. I had to do it alone, struggling hard, and that therapeutic work left me a wounded healer, able to help others but still scarred and torn.
Our own struggles to find healing always give us the tools to help others, even if they leave us battered and lonely, without the kind of emotional support networks that we need to be nourished and cared for.
The only way out of hell is through. You have to enter your own emotional space in order to name it, claim it and own it. We are the prime contractor for our own healing, and while we can use all the subcontractors we can find to help, in the end, the job of our emotional healing is our responsibility alone.
I understand why people resist engaging their emotions, instead just acting our on them. Even today I am desperately struggling with emotional blocks that I know are massively crippling me but that I don’t have the will or the support to get over anymore.
This resistance is why people seek “special relationships” that they want to believe will bring them someone or something which will heal them with an outside force rather than having to go inside and do the bloody hard work. It is one reason that they find this emotional and thoughtful blog to just be “gobbledygook.”
The gender system is changing to support the idea that we each have to be a whole human, coming together not in dependence or independence, but rather in interdependence. Rather than deliberately breaking and disintegrating ownership, forcing dependency, we ask people to be whole and healthy, open minded and open hearted in the world.
This means having to do the work to not be thrown about by emotional hot buttons, means learning to use that moment between stimulus and response to make considered and healthy choices rather than just habitual and rough knee-jerks. Each one of us has to take responsibility for our own thoughts and our own emotions, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging that work to move beyond comfortable habits and judgments might be.
You are only young once, but you can be immature forever if you don’t do the work. Nothing in your life will work unless you do, processing your own wounds and your own possibilities. That change in you only comes with a change in your perception.
Each of us has real blocks to doing the work, has real reasons to be hurt and angry, but if it is to be, it starts with me. I am the only person I have the responsibility of changing and healing, even as I support others, so I have to clear out my own hell, rather than rationalizing by blaming others, rather than searching for a “special relationship” that will fix me from the outside.
We all need someone to hold our heart sometimes, all need emotional support. That support, though, isn’t to replace our responsibility to own our own emotions, rather it is to give us insight, courage, permission and nourishment to help us do our own emotional healing, no matter who we are or how hard that work is.
The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are. You must enter your own hell, kill the dragon with “thou shalt” on every scale, tame the bear in your closet, and find your own higher self.
Wholeness, in the end, is a good thing.