I grew up knowing I was trans, feeling that stigma and shame that pushes us into the closet, learning to keep our head down and hide.
That feeling of fight, flight or freeze is written deeply into me. I spent my life understanding I had the obligation to negotiate other people’s fears, waiting for the “third gotcha.”
When I feel the slap, intended or not, my gut wants to slap back, to get away, or to play armadillo and roll up into a ball, safe and alone in my own world. The call to shut down comes instantly, asking me to go to a place where I can be angry at whoever just pushed my button, the bastard.
I have learned, though, that fight, flight or freeze isn’t a good way to develop relationships, to change the world. Often when people hit those shame buttons they have no intention of doing so. They just slip up, don’t understand the issues, haven’t done the work. They don’t want to be aggressive or even be rude, they just don’t have the graces down.
If I treat everyone who pushes my emotional buttons like an enemy, like an abuser, then I will never be able to build bridges. I need to stay open enough to explain how their words or actions made me feel, need to help them understand better ways to be in relationship with transpeople, better ways to be in relationship with me.
The requirement to be at my most compassionate and gracious when I am in the thralls of emotional distress, that fight, flight or freeze response triggered, is tough, tough work for me. That is the moment when I want to be taken care of, not the moment I want to help negotiate someone else’s thoughts, habits and fears.
We teach people how to treat us. We tell them our priorities, our desires, our needs and our emotional triggers. If I want someone to treat me differently, the only way that can happen is if I teach them a new way to deal with me.
One of the first things people understand from us is how safe we are. If we hear something that we don’t want to hear, something that challenges our understanding, will we go ballistic or will we listen with an open mind and an open heart, trying to understand the situation and find solutions?
Many people fly off the handle when they hear something that pushes their buttons, and then they wonder why people are never honest and open with them, sharing their truth. What they end up doing is silencing other people rather than finding common ground with them, end up disconnected and being avoided or being handled with kid gloves.
This behaviour may seem emotionally satisfying, but it just buries conflict rather than addressing and clearing it. It leaves a minefield to negotiate, for others and for ourselves.
Being able to take that moment between stimulus and response, the only moment where we have the freedom that comes from conscious choice, to do the right thing, the sensible thing rather than bursting off into fight, flight or freeze, is the only way to make our world safer.
I may want to blame, scream, rant and act out my emotions, but I know that while the sensation may be satisfying, the results will ultimately be counter productive. I will tell them that I am unsafe, and I worry that will also signal to them that people like me are unsafe, emotionally unstable and prone to distress.
Coming to the understanding that I cannot control how others see me, how someone like me can fit into their current worldview, is trying. It means I might feel challenged, shamed or erased by random people I meet in the world, people who want to reject my hard won reality and substitute their own. If I let those people push my emotional buttons, though, I let them win, ceding them the power to judge and hurt me.
When I show that others can hurt me that easily, others around me see me as fragile and abject, as broken rather than potent. My neediness becomes visible around my own complaining, and people rush to “help me” with their own solutions, which usually involve staying away from the bits that scare them.
It is my strength in the moment, my openness and vulnerability that allows me to create change in the world. It is the moment when I feel most hurt, attacked and abused that I most need that strength, the moment where I want to lash out, run away or roll into a ball when it is really important that I be present.
The only way to get the gifts that other people can offer is to be receptive to them, and the only way to be receptive is not to be driven by your fear and anger. I know that if I am not open, I will miss the jewels offered to me, which almost always come buried in a stream of shit.
My emotions are my responsibility, not anyone else’s. This is something I would like to teach to everyone who blames other people for their own fear and reactionary choices. People who come from blame and separation, always in a defensive crouch and looking for a scapegoat, never get to experience the shared transcendence of connection, of a wonderful wide and diverse world opening up to them.
Fight flight or freeze is deeply ingrained in me. I understand that fear, and worse, understand why my experience means I resist opening myself in situations where there might be shit.
I know, though, that reaction doesn’t serve me. Shutting down like the introvert I am just ends with me shut down. I search hard to find venues which feel safe and open with possibility and search even harder to find reinforcement and encouragement to believe that wonderful things are possible if am just present enough to win.
Even the most well meaning person, steps on other people’s toes now and then. Helping them see what happened and giving them another chance is the only way to build a better coordination and rapport.
Even if your toes still hurt.