“I just don’t have the balls to call out my boss like that,” my sister said to me.
She knows that women can find being ballsy useful and effective in the world.
For transwomen, though, showing that kind of ballsy attitude can feel like entering a danger zone. Our inner police knows that being too ballsy will get us attacked while our trans expression will give people ground to remove our standing as women.
“Well,” they will sniff, “you know why they are so ballsy don’t you? It’s because they are really a vile man under that cheap and tawdry disguise!”
That is somewhere that we usually want to avoid going.
And that is sad.
While the people who attack us want to use our ballsy approach to kneecap us, trying to discredit, humiliate and embarrass us, it is precisely that ballsy attitude that the people who like us admire so much.
We are ballsy enough to show ourselves, ballsy enough to speak our own truth, ballsy enough to break through convention, ballsy enough to stand up as an individual.
Our supporters love the idea of us as the spoon of the ice breaker, crushing through blockages to open up space for them to follow through. If we are brave and bold enough to be the bleeding edge then that’s what we should do, crashing down old barriers to create freedom for all!
The people who want to be our allies don’t know how to be next to us or in front of us, but they love the idea of coming up behind us, celebrating the way we make a smash.
They want us to be the change agents, the fear eaters, the ones who show up hale & hearty to reach out, make connections, form new networks, take the lead. They want us to be inspiring and transcendent, overcoming our broken bits to give an example to those more fortunate.
Now, the idea that we have used up most of our vigor just trying to be ourselves in the world, just trying to face down the massive and nasty resistance based on the fallacy of the binary that we have faced all of our lives, well, that’s not something most people can understand. After all, we have done what they would have found impossible; surely we can do more, be more dynamic and forward!
We may know that we do what we do for ourselves and even then at a high price over a lifetime, but they imagine, somehow, that we do what we do for them, standing to make freedom and breath for all, in whatever small way they want to take part in it.
To them, we are the conquering heroes, not the poor shlubs who just barely are still standing after desperately needing to claim our own truth.
And us? We see the nasty naysayers, we feel the crippling scars, we are consumed by the voice of our inner police, just trying to find a way to fit in, be accepted and get a little part of the love we so desperately need.
We just don’t have the energy to be the healers for this world, even if that is a role that people understand for us somewhere deep in their atavistic social understanding. We have always been healers and bridges, always helped the community move beyond and through, but that role worked much more effectively at a time when we had respect, dignity and community in being the shamans.
Today, we understand the need to negotiate peoples fears in a way that tears at our skin, but all our power to do that work has been consumed just in trying to negotiate our little place in this big, noisy world. We aren’t claimed by communities as their beloved and queer transcendent beings, we are abused and silenced into stifling ourselves as much as possible.
Being bold and bright and above the fray is a wonderful place to be. I just wish it was easier to pull it off after a day of being pounded by the third gotcha and being held at arms length by so many people.
It isn’t really a warm and safe place to be, rather it is a place where we have to bring the safety by dialing up the queer in the room to 7, letting other people let out a little more than they usually would if there was nobody to get the joke and take the focus off them.
In my business days, I used to always be the first one to stay something stupid in a meeting so that I could establish a sense of psychological safety which helped encourage other people to drop their masks.
I know how to do that iconoclastic pose as a drag queen, as a guy-in-a-dress, as a wacky eccentric, as an androgynous queer, but as a transwoman, well, the performance feels very exposed and dangerous. That’s a line which is hard to explain.
Is it ironic that I have to keep up a kind of clown mask to help people drop their work masks? Ironic and painful.
People love the performance of queer, of selfless ice breaking and moving boundaries. They often assume that transpeople should be capable of delivering that zip, but they don’t understand that we have gone beyond performance to exposure, showing ways in which we want to be vulnerable, tender, and embraced.
I do not know how to reveal my tender trans heart and perform the invulnerable & eccentric mouthy queer at the same time. I can do one or the other, but doing both feels like burning a candle at both ends, using myself up without the reward of being seen, understood and valued in a way that nourishes me.
One of those roles is about service to the group, meeting them where they are, simplifying and being who the team needs and the other is about personal revelation, complex, intense and real.
People love the idea that somehow, transpeople can be the spark plug in the room, transcending and transcendent, helping the group move beyond limiting conventions to a next step of freedom and release.
They want us to bring the ballsy into the room, assuming that if we can be ballsy enough to claim our own liberation, we can be the people who give them freedom of expression too.
Ballsy, though, often feels dangerous, counterproductive and just bad for us to do in the world, opening us up to people unable to see our trans hearts.
I know what they would like. I know what I need. After a lifetime, though, well, I just don’t know how to put those two together.