Shelled

Is the metaphor of being both a tender child and a protector, both a seed and a shell, common to all people?

ShamanGal was touched by my discussion of that experience, finding it resonant.  I suggested that it was it was powerful to her because it mirrored her own experience in the world.

While the details of her experience are very different than mine, centered around ethnicity, class and ego, the function is the same.   She set up defenses to stop her heart from being exposed.

Everyone feels a bit like Rapunzel, trapped in a tower by a witch, waiting for someone to rescue them.   Our jailer wants to protect us from the world, wants to keep us pure and innocent, and we value that intent, but the jail stops us from getting what we need.

We love our protector for keeping us safe, away from the danger, and we hate our protector for keeping us trapped.  Women understand this ambivalence, wanting a knight to save them, but not wanting to surrender their freedom for the privilege.

For transwomen, though, we have the challenge of both being the princess in the tower and also being the dragon who protects her.

Wise manipulators long ago learned that self policing is the most effective kind of policing.   Not only is the jailer there all the time, inside the same head, but there is also very little real negotiation about boundaries.   To stay safe, the self-policed are always over policed, challenged at the smallest infraction.

The cell walls we build for ourselves are always the strongest and tightest boundaries.  They don’t have room to let us wiggle, to see what might be possible and safe beyond the limits of our own self-imposed fears. When your terror creates the fence, the fence is powerfully charged indeed.

Our shared ground is the experience of the closet.   We have all been scared into hiding our nature behind walls, keeping ourself safe by keeping our queerness hidden away.

The jailer who built those psychic walls, our protector, lives inside of us.  We fight against our internalized fears, fears which tell us that they are just here to keep us safe and pure, keep us worthy and decent.

When we battle against an internal force, the war never really ends.  Our inner narrative is always a fight between safety and freedom and in the end, without intervention from outside to break the cycle, it is a fight that we can only lose.

Too often we lash out, externalizing our inner battle, wanting to believe that the demons we need to slay are out there.  We want to slash at anyone we see challenging us, want to thrash other people who are doing what we want to do wrong and bringing us grief.   We end up being hypersensitive and pushing those who might want to help away with our own touchiness, our own over sensitive triggers.

Most people don’t understand the power of this inner war, and those that do are usually so immersed in our own crusade we have no time or energy to help others.

Very few of us have a voice in our lives that will offer the time and engagement to help us get past that inner war to find safer, better and more empowering ways to be in the world.   Those voices are incredibly rare and very precious.

Mots of us have to work to find the line between freedom and control, between love and fear on our own.   This is an immense and solitary struggle, one that often comes off as incomprehensible to those still in the midst of the fight.

The battle between protector and child rages on inside many of us all the time, so strongly that it keeps us with a stick up our ass, always on guard for the third gotcha.    We become more our armour than our heart, struggling to be invulnerable in the world rather than being open hearted.

When the cycle between protector and child is in our head, held inside because what we protect is either secret or not understood by others, breaking it is very difficult.  External forces mostly only prompt us to become more defended, more hardened and more twisted, not less, as they usually prove the fears we already hold.   After all, those fears came out of our experience so they are always based on some kernel of reality.

There is no way out of our spiral of defense, at least as it seems from our viewpoint.  The reason we built the protector is real and any attempt to drop the armour reminds us of that.   How do we open ourselves when the only defence we have is the one inside of us?

Even when we meet someone else with the same challenges, the odds are that our defences will bounce against each other before we learn to cover each others back, affirming choices they make that trigger our fears so we would never make them for ourselves.   They are often more likely to stimulate the terror that keeps us isolated and alone rather than the compassion which might end up connecting us.

Humans, in their essential form, are naked and exposed to the world.   We aren’t built to survive alone; we need some kind of protection.   When the people who are supposed to protect us end up hurting us, even if they believe that they are doing that for a good reason, we end up having to protect ourselves by growing our own carapace, our own shell, our own armour.

That shell, though, ends up both protecting us and limiting us, isolating us from the nourishment we need to grow and constraining our possibilities to the boundaries of our internalized terror.

Restraint is restraint and when it is applied internally, based on self-policing, the negotiation and affirmation of going beyond comfort and convenience is just not there.   We become stuck in our shell, protected to the point of diminishing returns, which suits a community which wants to maintain the status quo quite well.    To them, the imposed stigma has worked, keeping us constrained and compliant or at least marginalized and isolated.

The experience of living trapped in a shell, the protector keeping the tender heart both defended and isolated, not really growing healthy, is not unique to me.    I have done an enormous amount to understand and release that spiral, but as long as I have to do it alone, the limits of my possibilities will always be constrained.

Being lost and lonely, well, that’s been the thread here for the last decade.   And it has been the thread for many other people, especially transpeople, for as long as I have been observing them.

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