Steel Boxes

Our dreams are the most delicate things that we own.

We learn that early; if our dreams get crushed, our life turns sour.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-- W.B. Yeats, "He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven"

To keep them safe, somewhere inside of us we build a casket to hold them, a steel box to protect our dreams, to keep safe the tender heart which holds them.

Some of us grow up in a place where we can share those dreams sometimes, open the vault, show our deepest desires and get them affirmed, assured, treasured.

For many of us, though, we learn early that we have to keep our dreams locked away, hidden and denied, because when we let them out, people around us feel the need to humiliate us and crush our dreams.  We just can’t tolerate much of that, so we build the defences stronger, more powerful, more isolated.

I was a transkid, living with a narcissistic mother who felt abused from the isolation which came from her Aspergers.   My father lived in his own world of engineering, only coming out to service my mothers demands in a codependent way.

I was smart and challenging without an extended family or a network who understood the challenges.   Being the target patient, the scapegoat, called “Stupid” because I would stand up for those I loved, well, it was crushing.

That meant, for me, learning to hide and deny my dreams, putting them far past whatever.   My mother couldn’t even easily let me date, having surrogate spoused me when her Aspergers husband didn’t attend to her uncontrolled emotions.

Every kid who grew up trans, though, knew the costs of letting their heart be exposed, of letting their dreams surface.  That moment when we heard the parents car drive up we knew we had to strip off, hide the clothes, put our heart away and show up defended to help bring in the shopping.

The ability to slam our feelings, our dreams, into an impenetrable steel box at the drop of a hat became the key protection of most trans hearts.   We shared the experience of being shamed into the closet, believing that if we showed our nature, we would be branded sick, weak, perverted, indulgent, rude and less that human.

Through the years, this dark container became our own Pandora’s Box, a vessel to contain the parts of ourselves we learned not to share in the light.

There are grave consequences to learning to divide and hide our emotions.

We throw all our feelings into the pot, not having the will or the support to work them through, leaving us isolated from the emotions which can connect us with the world and the ones we love, separated from healthy intimacy as we hide ourselves.

The hole left where our emotions should be can lead us to finding man-made replacements for those desires, trying to stuff the voids.   Nothing grows healthy in the dark, so we instead use drugs, anger and our own version of trans-porn to substitute for our natural desires, leaving us warped.

We try to fight off the desires we have been told are corrupt, but they are part of us, woven deep into our heart, and they don’t go away.   We then try to examine them, but we have to do so not tenderly, but as a political act, full of rationalization and bravado, the antitheses of the true heartfelt things they are.

We always are waiting for the third gotcha, that moment where we have been too relaxed, too comfortable, too exposed and then we get slapped in the face with the stink of social stigma against who we are.

At that moment, unless we are able to slam our own dreams back inside the vault, sealing up the box to try and protect our tender, battered heart, we can be hurt very, very badly.

Every transperson knows that moment when their dreams are too exposed, when their feelings are too close to the surface, when their heart is too vulnerable.   We know how hard it is to take the blow at that time, know that when other people politicize and slam us, we will find it almost impossible to keep stranding, keep going, keep doing what we need to do.

We learn to keep our own Pandora’s Box, our own dreams locked away, just so we don’t get crushed again.

You can categorize transpeople most easily by the defences they use, the shape of the steel box they have built to protect their tender trans heart.    The shape of our defences become the shape of our lives, from denial to activism to magical thinking to ego to service to aesthetic monasticism.

We cling to whatever strategy we learned to protect our tender heart in a tough and terrifying world where our very nature is demolished as a joke, as sick and evil.

The need for instant walls to slam shut over our dreams means that for most transpeople we are always only a hair trigger away from sealing up our feelings for pragmatic and practical reasons.  When feelings get too much, when they threaten to swamp us, not letting us seal them away again in our steel box, well, we have to tamp them down immediately.

The only way out of hell, though, is through.   Unless and until we can sort though those feelings, owning them, the shame and fear will continue to control us.  We will act from our defences rather than from our love.

In a world, though, where it always feels unsafe to expose our deepest feelings, this is almost impossibly hard.   People around us want to fix us rather than supporting our quest, want us to use whatever solution they use to stay emotionally stable in the world, never really understanding the breath of our challenges.

We may find somewhere to reveal our heart, but we quickly learn that we also have to have somewhere to conceal our hearts, keeping that steel box around to stay upright in a world that feels always ready to slam us.

Our deep wounds can make us profound healers, understanding the challenges that humans face.   They also can, though, isolate us from the healing gifts of others, those who have resisted going to the depths we needed to go to reclaim our own hearts.

We have learned to protect our hearts at almost all costs.  Once we they are smashed, so is our hope, our dreams.  There is a reason we don’t go there, don’t open to emotions that are deep, tender and powerful enough to destroy our day, destroy our week, destroy our month, destroy our life.

That bunker we carry inside is hard won, shelter earned from years of living with a battered heart.  It’s not something easy to shed, no matter how we understand it helps keep the stick up our ass.

Our dreams are the most delicate things that we own.

We learn that early; if our dreams get crushed, our life turns sour.

To keep them safe, we build ourselves a steel box to protect our heart.

I have walked away from that sealed compartment to do the kind of exploring and integration which allows me to own my emotional core.

Now, it becomes very tough to put what what was in the vault back to walk defended in the world.

If we don’t grow beyond our box, we are stunted forever.   If we do, though, we no longer have the resilience to take the blows, to put ourselves out there to find the kind of reflection and nourishment we need.

I know what it feels like to bravely show my tender trans heart and have it shattered by the ignorance and arrogance of other people who assert their political binary over my living liminality.   It sucks.

And I know why other transpeople keep close to the door of their safe, ready to slam the door on anyone who triggers old and painful feelings.

But I worked so hard to get out of the compartment that having to go back in just to walk in a wider world feels like death.

Being defined by my steel box, though, just because I need to keep my heart safe, well, that’s no way to live.

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