In my family, struggling was the norm. Discipline was required. Enjoyment was not really approved. While I worked hard to give my parents “one more good day,” their enjoyment was always bounded by their Aspergers.
My sister recently sent me a video of goats balancing on a sheet steel arch.
Her note was heartbreaking.
“Ahh, to have energy and curiosity to just play!”
She suffers with physical pains, with stress and challenges. Being forced to live in her pocket for the last two and 1/4 years has been very repressing.
There is a reason we need to harness the exuberance of youth where novelty is enough to enjoy. As you get older, “been there, done that, ate the t-shirt” sets in. When we can read situations well at a glance, there is a strong disincentive to just take a shot and see if this one will come out differently.
There are a lot of things not to enjoy about being an aging transwoman in this society. Waiting for the third gotcha, having a tiny PPP, being with very limited community support, and so on can really be wearing on a soul. Add to that a community expectation of buying into the abjection model, revering oppression over joy, and things get very, very challenging.
This separation between those who enjoy a trans life and those who are suppressed by the seriousness of it is not a new thing.
At IFGE 1998 in Toronto, TBB and I started our hosting of the Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards with a fight. I was a transsexual whose consciousness raising group agreed that there was nothing fun, funny or enjoyable about being a woman in the world, leading me to hang up my Drama Queen title, while TBB was a fun loving crossdresser who just wanted to party and enjoy life. She wanted me to loosen up and be funny and I resisted, refusing to betray those who were still suffering in the world.
That same tension exists today, seventeen years later.
TBB is thinking about marching in the first Space Coast Pride Parade this September and wondered what to wear. I suggested a slogan t-shirt — always good for Pride — or even her merchant marine uniform, to show her responsible role.
Neither of those interested TBB. She wants big hair, something bright and sparkly. She spends enough time being appropriate, gender neutral and sweaty on the ship where she loves what she does but has to play small to fit in. For Pride, the bigger and bolder the better. Playful and free to be is the kind of joy she wants to claim at Pride, all the better to hold on to as she goes back to the denim and t-shirt world of naval life.
Living an attenuated, modulated life, self policed to be appropriate is just not very enjoyable. But even TBB, more of a ham than I, someone who enjoys being a bit of a parade float, knows that without a mob to join, an audience and other cast mates, being big can just feel exposed and silly.
When people ask me to imagine what I might enjoy, what might restore energy and flavour to life, I balk. If I saw something I would enjoy, I would try for it, but I know that the one thing I can never do is recapture lost opportunities.
What I would enjoy, though, is feeling safe enough to reveal myself, to let loose and play in a place where other people come along with me, getting the joke. I enjoy smart, challenging and witty. I do enjoy crafting good writing, but without engagement or affirmation, it is barely enough.
TBB was very clear to me. “You will never get the kind of feminine affirmation that you need in this world. You are in the whirlpool and while you are a very strong swimmer, if you don’t find a way to change your mindset, to change direction and go at ninety degrees to the current, you are going down that drain.” She seems to think that somehow, Boston has a chance of saving me.
I don’ enjoy feeling beat up with no hope of rescue. I don’t enjoy the idea that the only way I can get what I need is to struggle harder, deny more, be more of what they are comfortable with.
Where are the wins? What is there that I enjoy? Feeling unsafe in the world doesn’t open much room for enjoyment. Without enjoyment, finding a good reason to bound out of bed is very hard. Getting nourished and replenished is almost impossible. It becomes time to simply surrender to the whirlpool.
Enjoying yourself is easier said than done when you live in an empty box, staying small to stay appropriate, without community or understanding. There is no one to share the little things with, no one to encourage moving beyond convention.
Yet somehow, I just imagine TBB taking some time away from building her new plane to sing with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians: