Cri Du Coeur

That low. deep earthy growl that transitions into a high, keening sound that cuts through the darkest and loneliest of nights is not the howl of banshees.

It is the hearts cry of transpeople who feel their isolation and loneliness come up from the depths of their soul.

Inside every transgender person is a lost and hurting child, a screaming adolescent and a mournful adult.    They are the pieces of us we locked away deep inside of us while trying, trying, trying to do what other people expected of us.

Every human has emotions deep inside that get tapped when they feel hurt, ignored or abused.   For transpeople, though, those emotions tap into a hidden and vast reservoir of shame and denial.

We learned that no matter how elegantly and intensely we try to communicate our experience of having our trans heart pounded down, almost nobody understands the experience of having to make your soul invisible or be made invisible because who you are just is anathema to the world.

It takes an enormous amount of will to emerge as a transperson in the world, to show your heart even though it counters all expectations and understanding of most people.    We work hard to create a version of us that will fit in, will find community, will be accepted, but even then, that version is always only part of us, only a hint of the beautiful, nuanced, liminal depth of who we are inside.

We all know how to be nice, appropriate and considerate.  We know how to modulate and play small, know how to negotiate other people’s fears and prejudices, know how to work on keeping people comfortable.

We also all know the price of that exercise, how much it costs us to always been the photogenic object, the one who has to do almost all the work in maintaining relationships.

We fight to stay connected with the people we love, fight to be present for them and give them what they need.

What we want, though, is for them to fight to stay connected with us, to be present for us and give us what we need.

That’s not an easy task.   To stand up for us is to stand against convention and assumption.  It means that you have to evaluate all your old beliefs and find a new way to engage relationships, seeing past comfortable walls of gender.

And it means that you have to consider all the pain inside of us, our long record of being abused into silence and denial, have to be able to be there for that cri du coeur, that mournful cry of our heart when our emotions are tapped.

It may not be seem fair or reasonable to have to be aware and considerate about the cost of a trans life when all you want to do is have someone be the kid, the parent, the sibling that you always knew, but love means understanding the price others paid just to be themselves in the world.

We wail not to try and get some kind of special attention, we wail because inside we have all those hurting selves that will just corrode us to death if we swallow them.

We wail because we have no safe space to surface and release the pain we feel everyday just trying to fit into a world that wants to stigmatize, erase and humiliate us.

We wail because we are just humans told that we are worthless and depraved unless we sanitize our truth for easy consumption of those who don’t want to go where we have had to tread.

We emerge as trans to honor our heart, but we do that at a very high cost.  Our heart has been battered into shrinkage before we do, and even after we are visible, people feel they have the right to slam their politics into our lives, devaluing and dehumanizing us because we don’t follow the binary rules that they were taught constrain “reality.”

You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
— John Morley

As we stood around the body of my mother, still in her recliner, I told the pastor not to worry about me, for I had learned to sob silently.   She had never seen that before, but for me, it was a commonplace of my life, done so many times over so many decades that I knew it cold.

For all the reasons people needed to see me as unemotional — my male body, my Aspergers parents, the women who claimed all the rights to emotion around me, the very intensity of my feelings, and on and on — I had to learn how to sob silently in the world.

Those sobs, though, were the concealed cries of a broken heart, torn apart by walls of demands and conventions driven though it.  I had learned to silence the cries of my own heart to be in a place where I could give all the love I have inside.

I am far from the only transperson who has done this feat, standing up to do what was required but paying the price of a invalidated heart.   We may act with the love, but we don’t get the permissions, the acknowledgements, the understanding and the affirmations of our hearts that people take for granted.   No Mother’s Day or tenderness for transwomen who are easier to see as men, even men in dresses.

That cry, though, the keening of shattered trans hearts, well, it is out there everywhere if you just take a moment to listen for it.

Few people do try to listen.   Even transpeople cannot easily stand hearing the cry, for it resonates in a very uncomfortable way deep inside their heart.  They usually strike out to silence the cri du coeur before they break in harmony with it, a cracking that they know they cannot afford if they want to keep a comforting face for normies.

This is not a society comfortable with emotion, and certainly not comfortable with queer emotion that transcends the enforced boundaries of gender rules.

How do we make people hear the cry of our heart, make them understand how much we hurt and how much we do to love and be loved in the world?

Getting louder and clearer rarely works, instead only pushing people away from us even more, leaving us more lonely, more isolated, and more heartbroken.

But not being able to have our emotion mirrored, acknowledge and validated, not having people respond with empathy and kindness, well, that leaves us in a dark, dark place.

That low. deep earthy growl that transitions into a high, keening sound that cuts through the darkest and loneliest of nights is not the howl of banshees.

It is the hearts cry of transpeople who feel their isolation and loneliness come up from the depths of their soul.

And it is what you hear just as they reach their breaking point.

Enough Eccentric

Eccentric was my refuge.

I knew that I couldn’t get away with normative, so from as early as I can remember, I cultivated a front of eccentricity.

There is power in eccentric, the power of surprise.   The eccentric, you see, cannot be easily predicted.   They can do anything at any time, making unique choices, and everyone will just think, “Well, they are eccentric!”

Eccentric let me not have to get pinned down, not have to lie, not have to be this or that.   I was solid, as one friend said, but solid like an iceberg; I moved around quite a bit.

Eccentric, though, kept me outside.  It left me on the edges, neither in nor out, but a little bit of both.

For me, eccentric was the compromise I could manage.  Eccentric was queer in the old style way, before queer became a label about sexual identity.   Eccentric was the claiming of individuality beyond convention, the power to be myself even when expectations were different.

I needed eccentric.   With my family, normal just wasn’t in the cards.   I lived in a world very different than my classmates, a world where no one was taking my feelings into account, a world where the only emotions that counted were the ones my mother spewed out of frustration and pain.

People failed to understand her, to make her happy, to connect with her.  To her, that was their fault, their attempt to hurt her, their abusing her.

The notion that she was responsible for her own feelings, not her husband or her children, was beyond her.   To her, the only real pain was on her skin, the only emotions that mattered were the ones inside of her, the ones she could neither understand or control.

The only safe space for me was inside my own head.   I was smart enough to survive the torrent by being eccentric, learning to read before I was three, immersing myself in books.   The attention I got were not because I was a sweet, playful kid, it was because I was smart in a way that Aspies could understand and respect.   The defenses I built demanded I understand and manage my parents emotions in a smarter way than they could.

I became manipulative, just to survive, always ready to be sharp.   My manipulation, though, was very clear, honest and overt; no concealment of motives or emotional flattery from me.

When I was 17, I saw Bogart in “Casablanca” on the big screen and knew that his kind of crusty defence of a romantic soul was the most effective way I knew to protect my own tender, feminine, trans heart.   At the same age, though, I was dating women around MIT in a way that years later made sense only as a lesbian style.

My explorations of trans were covered by my eccentric approach, gender freak kind of play that irked the crossdressers who wanted to correct me, explaining that I had to take a femme name, had to really work at being fake femaled to achieve the perfect “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy” second self.

My dream, though, my secret dream, wasn’t finding new and more extreme ways of being eccentric.   Eccentric wasn’t my heart, it was my shell, the defence that let me move around in the world.

Around me I saw transpeople who left their normative lives to claim their own eccentricity, learning to use the effect of claiming individuality to make space for their trans expression in the world.   Good for them, I thought, understanding the power of letting your freak flag fly, but to me, the notion of moving from eccentric to more eccentric just seemed wearing.

Authentic is something I claimed from my earliest days.  At 13, when the therapist wanted me to self-diagnose by telling her who I wanted to be, I stood fast on that trick question: I wanted to be myself.   I was a child for whom magical thinking, dreams and possibilities were purged early, in the face of irrational Aspergers.

My dream was, like the dreams of so many transpeople, to become seen, valued and accepted, to be loved, for the what I knew to be the true contents of my heart.   I wanted to be adored like the girl me inside craved, wanted to be loved like the woman inside me needs.

No matter how much I showed my feminine heart and devotion, that wasn’t to be.  I was just weird, freaky, odd and eccentric, too much, too extreme, too incomprehensible, too overwhelming.

“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple and allow myself to be seen as eccentric.”   It’s the great goal for so many, claiming the freedom of age, but for someone who was adultified early and who has lived their life backwards, well, becoming more eccentric is not nearly such a desirable or comforting outcome.

I know how to use eccentric choices to tough it out, to claim the freedom, to be the one who everyone looks at with derision and awe.  I know how to use that frisson of fear and authority to offer gems that make people go “ahhhh!”

I just know that when I do that, well, it costs me somewhere in my heart.  It’s a front, an eccentric and by now elegant polished front, that may give people what they want but a front that has cost me a great deal.

“Be careful who you pretend to be, because you are who you pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut reminded us in “Mother Night,” which I read when I was 15.   I have put up a pretense of eccentricity so long that I no longer seem to have any other possibilities, not at my age, or state of health and not with my experience of the world.

The moments when someone could have come inside my eccentric, concierge, guru shell seem to have come and gone.   The possibilities of being touched with passion and tender intimacy just don’t seem available any more, not with the crust and scars I have built up over the ages.

I speak with the best voice I can muster, inviting people inside, but I know that the odd mix of theology, politics, vulnerability and pain just throw them off.   They want something cleaner, simpler, more easily eccentric.  They want a product, just like I tried so hard to be when I was young and putting myself on television.

Eccentric is good.  I recommend it.  Use the power in it.

Like anything else, though, eccentric has limits.  Use it too much and things get out of whack, out of balance.  Tolerance builds and it stops working well for you.  The byproducts start to raise to toxic levels and the isolation just gets to be too much, leaving you mired in the well of loneliness.

I love eccentric.   I love the freedom it gives people to tell their stories in their own voice, free from trying to avoid losing in a conventional game that they can never win.   Go Bogie.

But somehow, after a lifetime, it isn’t a place I want to go again.  I’m just too tired.