I am horrible at sweet small talk. I like content, especially meta content, looking at process and meaning.
I have learned to play nice with others, but I do that by not filling the room with my voice, by larding my offerings with compassion and wit. I learned a long time ago that the best way to be seen as smart is to only speak when you have something valuable to add.
Being my parents primary and then full-time carer for decades meant I had to be there for their small stuff. There was laundry and cleaning and cooking, chats and videos, all that.
My relationship with sweet is very conflicted.
I am smart and sharp, always have been and probably always will be in this lifetime. I worked hard to hone my edge, using it to cut away rationalizations from truth, to reveal connections and bedrock.
Smart and sharp have had to work for me, while people saw me as a man, when people saw me as a transperson, when people expected me to take on the burden of their fears.
I dressed that up in curmudgeon guise, deadpan jokes that revealed the sweet heart inside, much like Bogart taught me, but as Brené Brown notes, I knew if I looked like a guy I had to find a way to not be seen as weak.
My heart, my sweet tender heart, under all that performance, has always been broken. A smart trans kid growing up in a culture where we were erased with parents who didn’t have the emotional skills to get past themselves, scapegoated and denied, out of the mainstream and in their own inner world, well, you can see how being that lost might be lonely.
The message was simple: it was my fault that I was queer, so I had the obligation to negotiate the fears and assumptions of other people, to be strong and kind and empathetic while they did whatever the best was that they can muster. All I had to do was all the work and accept whatever I could scrape up to nourish myself.
I have gotten the same message in the last week from a young performer who I hoped would be encouraging, from a gal who was running a salon, but didn’t want to go to the question of if gender was constructed or essential, and even from a woman who found me challenging to her identity of being the smartest woman in the room, so she chose to deny me woman.
To be sweet, they believe, is to be harmless, to be abject and compliant. How can you be sweet and also challenge the status quo, also confront their assumptions and their fears?
I have learned to live with a broken heart that I have to keep hidden under wraps because other people need the forces which broke it to stay hidden and unspoken in the world.
My obligation as someone too queer for the room is to be gracious and kind to others who are doing the best that they can, to only use my smarts, empathy and insight in a way that helps them and not in any way that might possibly scare them. If they are scared, then it’s my fault.
My broken heart has always been something I have had to take care of alone. No one is going to be there, even after the enormous cost of taking care of my parents. I was even asked to leave two different caregiver groups because I was scaring those with easier burdens.
Do I want to be sweet, pretty and taken care of? Sure.
But the obligation I have learned is to be strong, defended and isolated even as those around me need to be taken care of in ways that don’t upset or challenge them too much, as they heal in their own time and their own way.
Becoming inoffensive and unthreatening is not a possibility for me. That means I have learned that being sweet is also off limits, something I have to deny myself, something that will be denied to me.
Using my sharp mind, I have figured out guru, have found the voice of the wounded healer inside of me.
But my sweet broken heart?