Beyond Wretched

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

It’s just not socially correct to share your own wretchedness in polite society.  People don’t want to hear that once you were lost, they want to know that now you are together, found, and have your eyes open.

That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) started as an anonymous organization.  To create safe space to work on, to reveal, to celebrate transformation they had to create a space where that wretchedness was only shown to other people who understood and who would commit to keeping the secret.

The world has changed since the first days of AA and now recovery is much more often spoken about.   In some spaces, like confessional TV shows, revealing wretchedness and your transformation away from it is even seen as good entertainment. Public figures need to show their contrition and testify before we give them any social absolution.

Going to a recovery meeting is an exercise in revelation, revealing both how we are lost and how we were found.   Narratives of struggle, some still fresh and still raw and some mature and healed up some, provide the identification, the insight, the lessons, the encouragement and the support at the heart of encouraging the very hard work of moving beyond our own fears, pain and wretchedness.

It becomes crucial to value not our success but our everyday work to leave behind wretchedness and become new.   One of my favourite stories is about a guy who chose to go to AA with a six-pack of beer, drinking it during the meeting.   The only thing anyone said to him is “Good to see you here.  Come back anytime.”   They knew that scolding and judging wouldn’t help him, but that anyone who chose to come to a meeting, even drunk, needed to be encouraged.

You can’t be gracious about others wretchedness until you can become gracious about your own.  If you think that you are better than others because you hide your past, your fears and your challenges better then you are not healing, you are just snooty.  Looking down on others who are still struggling with what you have locked away leaves you in denial and judgment.

I know that what I want to share as a transperson, what I need to share, is not just the fact that I can look good and together in the moment, but rather my journey, my truth, the history of my transformation.  If the only success I can possibly have is to make my story and my hard, hard, hard work invisible, then it is always going to feel hollow.

We learn that people who push too hard to get us to disclose our story are usually unsafe, just looking for reasons to dismiss us or to treat us like a freak, even if a holy freak worthy of a pedestal.

It is the people who we can tell have made the journey to healing who we can trust with the messy facts of our everyday struggle to be both assimilated and queer, both our ragged history and our embodied present.  Our story is always ongoing, so finding safe people to share it with helps us keep grounded, have context, and keep the gift by passing it on.

In the deep dark, hidden spaces of transgender sharing look for places where sharing our complex, twisting, nuanced and very human story is appreciated and valued.   As humans, we are always broken and messy even as we are always transcendent and divine, so sharing that full arc, rather than just trying to deny and hide it so as not to squick people, trying to set ourselves apart from others still struggling, is the only way to keep healing.

Empathy and compassion for others, especially when we see their tender and beautiful hearts in the story of their wretched choices, is how we learn to have compassion and forgiveness for ourselves.   By blessing the possibility of others healing, we bless the possibility of our own healing.

It’s great that transpeople can be in this moment in society, being taken just as they are now, their gifts being graciously accepted by others.

But it is also important that there always be space to honour, respect and value the hard work, immense struggle and long journey they are still on.   To become integrated and whole we need to not have to compartmentalize off our past but to have space to hold and share it.

We can be transcendent and very beautiful in the moment and the truth of that transcendence has to be valued.

We are human and wounded, flesh and spirit, full of blood, shit and spark, and the truth of that fullness has to be valued too.

How will we ever help society become less wretched unless we continue to do our own work of vulnerable, open-hearted healing?

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

And what we end up seeing, I hope, is both the wretchedness and the grace inside every human, even in us.

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