Loneliness is a big deal for any human.
In Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick, they show lots of studies to prove that assessment. Cacioppo wants to make it clear that there is a profound physical cost to loneliness and that loneliness, while also being destructive and debilitating, isn’t the same as depression.
Loneliness is a lack of meaningful connection with other people. It is a strong sense of isolation and separation from other people.
For transpeople, it is exactly this isolation that has been used to have us deny our own nature so we will act in a more normative way. When we try to show our hearts, we are shunned by others. This may be an active process, deliberate and forceful, or it may just be the outcome of having no understanding, no language, no way to explain how we don’t fit neatly into the genital/gender boxes that are taught as “real.”
We are told that the only way to be seen, valued and reflected is by fitting into other people’s concepts of what is meaningful. Since those concepts don’t include people like us, we feel isolated and lonely.
The costs of this isolation are high according to Cacioppo, even extending to an inability to properly socially regulate because we don’t have context for what we share in the world,
Coming up with strategies to manage the profound loneliness is at the heart of how we engage our own transgender nature in the world.
For many of us, we desperately to create connection by working to fit into the meanings that other people hold. We try to box up the bits that others tell us are not good, useful or attractive, working to compartmentalize them off by storing them in the closet.
This is the strategy used by people who don’t have much tolerance for isolation, those who very much need the company of others. The only other choice, to engage and use their isolation to explore inside of them, is very difficult, feeling like they are cut off from the warmth of human connection.
We struggle to build community, coming together to support each other, but when we see how others are outside social convention, how they are different, we see our own possibility of being different mirrored in front of us and feel the need to castigate them, to say how they are wrong, to shut down connection with them rather than to build it.
We are afraid that if we have to stand next to people like that, being their allies and being seen as like them, we will be even more isolated and lonely. We already know the sharp and deep price we pay in loneliness for our differences so we can’t imagine tolerating even more isolation by speaking up for them.
It is so difficult to tolerate the level of loneliness we get from being trans in a world where trans is erased, shamed and stigmatized that we cannot imagine taking on any more isolation to do the work of finding ways to come to peace, to be more comfortable in our own skin.
This is why the process of emerging as transgender has always required finding strategies to deal with loneliness. We know that as we come out those who have fixed expectations of us will pull away, know that as we come out people will understand less of the meaning we offer, know that as we come out we will have to engage how people see the queerness of people like us.
If we cannot tolerate entering our own loneliness, we cannot tolerate entering our own growth and healing.
I learned to enter isolation at a very early age. With two Aspergers parents, even simple things like touch were denied me. I learned how to live in my own world, reaching for books and other forms of connection to substitute for meaningful emotional contact, affirmation and connection.
All the aspects of my life, from my theological bent to my big brain were pulled into service to create an hermetic, solitary life. I created meaningful connection with a wider understanding even as meaningful connection with other people escaped me. From where I sat, they just didn’t understand the meaning I lived in, just didn’t get the joke.
I did what Cacioppo suggests as a strategy to overcome loneliness, entering the meaning of other people and being of service to them. While that provided connection, it did not provide reflection of who I am, leaving me even more inside “the loneliness of a long lost tranny,” the tagline of this blog for a decade now.
There have been people who have been served by my reflection on their choices, feeling seen, understood, valued and mirrored by me. They were forced into a choice, though: do they disconnect from the conventions and meaning around them to go deeper and claim some part of themselves, or do they continue to feel connected in a way that means they don’t feel as lonely?
My message, that the only way out of hell is through, that you have to enter your own difference to claim your own soul, is the message that you have to willing to be alone and tolerate loneliness to disconnect from mass social meaning to reclaim your own personal, handmade meaning. You have to be willing to let go of social comfort to connect to your creator.
This is hard magic for those who grew up facing profound inner loneliness, knowing that there were parts of themselves that had to remain isolated, for if they showed them they would be shunned or abused.
As a wounded healer, I show the power and joy of finding your own voice, of standing alone and proud, but I also reveal the terrible price of isolation and loneliness.
Is there any wonder why people want someone else to do the hard work healing for them, rather than facing the challenge of letting go of their peers, of entering the scary, lonely journey to claim new and more profound meaning in their lives?
We need social connection, yes, need the tame assimilation that keeps us connected and part of the group. We have to be part of the band.
We also need our own voice, need the wild individuality that keeps us connected to inner and deeper meaning. We have to true to ourselves, ready to claim our own values over social pressure and constructed meaning.
Like every other human experience, loneliness is required, but too damn much of it can leave us hurt, isolated, and really beaten down.
Those of us who had to stand out and stand up alone in have a much more difficult time learning how to fit in because our meaning, our gifts, are always seen as isolating, different and challenging.
The best thing, though, is people who know how to fit in can learn how to stand out too, finding their own power to stand up for themselves and others.
You just have to learn to enter the loneliness rather than to run from it.