When you become a grown-up, you learn that it is important you not be controlled by your feelings. You need to keep those feelings in context and get on with the job at hand, using your own discipline to not become a leaky, drippy mess.
That doesn’t mean the feelings go away, of course. It just means that we have to not let them out in inappropriate ways, in ways that confuse and put off other people. We need to put our work and relationships first and our feelings somewhere down the line?
How do we end up handling those deeply internalized feelings? How do we process them, engage them, use them to grow and let them inform our lives?
Many people go to family, but transpeople almost always have a very different experience than any family members. They don’t understand our choices, our feelings or our experience in the world, and may very well resist, deny and attack us.
If we were in recovery, we might go to a meeting or call a sponsor, someone who has learned to be receptive and kind with feelings. They would help us process, first letting them out, then trying to remove the ego — you are never upset about what you think you are upset about — and show the connections & patterns. After that, they would help us with next steps, ways we can understand and manage the feelings in the future.
In recovery, we would have a community that has a clue about our experience, a community that has rules and traditions about sharing and helping.
Transpeople don’t have that kind of community, though. Instead, we have a lot of people who don’t understand the transgender experience or people who are so involved in their own expression, so fighting internalized oppression that they find it easy to tell us how we are wrong, stupid and selfish.
The transgender experience is boldly individual. We don’t emerge as trans to assimilate into a group, rather we come out to be intensely ourselves.
We understand our continuing obligation to moderate our own choices, never quite able to get away from the “third gotcha,” people who see us as at best “warrant women,” and not entitled to the full range of woman expression.
That makes a transgender life very lonely, as the tagline to to this blog has announced for almost a decade now. Transgender does not come with family ir community support. It doesn’t even come, as gay and lesbian lives do, with lovers and ex-lovers who are inhabiting similar spaces and experiencing similar challenges. Building family isn’t as easy.
How do we engage our emotions? Like people who write on bathroom walls, I tend to roll my shit in little balls but dried emotion, spoken in monologue, isn’t the most satisfying way to process feelings.
Most of the time, we end up eating our own feelings, chewing them down and internalizing them. After all, that is the habit we had to learn to stay in the closet for however long that we did.
Often we mix them with a bit of ice cream or lasagne to add some comfort to the process. We learn to become a closed system because we have learned how difficult it is to be open about the challenges of a transgender life.
If we are not going to be positive and affirming of our trans choices, who is? Learning to show that we are happy and healthy is one of the first parts of navigating the fears of others around transgender expression.
When first coming out, bathed in the release of what we have hidden for so long, that may be easy.
When you first come out as a transgendered person, you spend your first year in absolute euphoria. Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
— Joan Roughgarden, New York Times, 2004
For those of us who didn’t come out as teenagers, we end up having to dig out lots of feelings we kept in the closet. The only way out of hell is through, having to engage and process the feelings which have crippled and bound us as we have tried to avoid the discomfort of actually feeling them.
When we know that we can’t expect our cross-gender truth to be affirmed, let alone celebrated, instead having it just tolerated, we learn to keep those feelings inside,
Deep feelings keep coming up for us, not just those triggered by our own experiences, but also feelings around the experiences of others who share their stories with us, individually or in the media. How can we be present for them when we don’t even have the wherewithal to be present for ourselves?
Finding ways to feel our feelings, not just swallow them, is at the heart of a healthy life. If we don’t engage them, they keep us from opening our heart to others whose feelings surface and need our touch.
In a world, though, where transgender feelings are so far from understood, where there is no network, audience or community to provide safe and affirming space, we are challenged to eat our feelings to stay standing up in the world.
So, would you like a nice side of fries with those emotions?