“Guys pay attention to my friends at Hamburger Mary’s,” she told me. “Why don’t they pay attention to me?”
“Are you interested in what they have to offer?” I asked.
“Well, they all want the same thing,” she said. “They just want me to stroke their ego, to play along with their sexual fantasies.”
“Is that so bad?”
“Well, they are just such guys and kinda icky. Any guy who is hot for me must have something wrong with them.”
“Do you think that they can tell there is no chance of you buying what they are selling?”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “They may be guys, but they can figure that out.”
“So why are you complaining about how they behave?”
“Well, my friends get attention and I get jealous.”
“So you want some guy to flirt with you, to tell you you look great, to pay close attention to you, hanging on your words like you are brilliant and beautiful?”
“Yeah! That would be great!”
“So you want them to stroke your ego and play along with your own romantic fantasies?”
“Well, yeah. I guess so.”
“Isn’t that just what they want in their own way, just what you refuse to do?”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I guess it’s not just guys who need their ego stroked. It’s humans. ”
The traditional path to enlightenment requires getting control of the ego.
Finding a humility and a presence that isn’t focused on what would satisfy our ego in the moment is vital to having the context to understand our shared space in a new and more spiritual way.
The ego desires what it desires: comfort, convenience and control. It demands to be satisfied, putting our own wants first, lashing out at those who challenge our view of the world.
For me, there was never a time when my own ego was supported. I was never anyone’s darling, never the brilliant one. I was the scapegoat in the family, the target patient, being called “Stupid” as a nickname, without any parent to cherish me beyond my service.
While this may be excellent training for a theologian, it is hard duty for a heart. I had to learn to not let my ego run amok, knowing that the things I desired were deemed corrupt and could lead me to pain.
When I see transwomen being bold and visible in the world, I usually see quite a bit of ego behind their expression. They believe their own hype, gleefully taking the spotlight with an assurance that people will buy into their own shining vision of themselves.
That kind of cocky confidence can be attractive, playing to the conventional expectations of the world.
It’s not something I was able to manage, though. Instead, I had the freedom to speak a kind of truth, basing my value not on how people liked and affirmed me but rather on the smarts and the service I could bring to the conversation.
I came to know myself as a femme lesbian, but one who never when through a hot period where she and her curvy young body was the toast of the party. Learning how to get my ego needs met by satisfying the ego needs of others wasn’t a game I learned. When I told people that I missed the ego lessons being a teenage girl, though, they usually pooh-poohed me and told me to detach, even if ego detachment was something that I mastered early.
Being very aware of the needs, thoughts and feelings of those around me, I didn’t have the ego force to impose my own beliefs on others. I never had the cocky assertion of presence, so the power shift that comes with gender shift was easier for me as I had less of that defense to lose.
Today, though, I see the need to have more ego, more belief, more assertion in the world.
Learning to do ego later in life, especially with a lifetime of habits built to suppress desire, is tough. Learning to do ego when you don’t have the stability of gender expression that most people take for granted, when your gendered role tends to slip around based on the assumptions of others, well, that’s really hard.
I have learned that people find me challenging because what I offer doesn’t easily fit into their expectations. I am big, bright and sharp, funny and insightful, and while that can be delightful from a distance, many people resist getting close up. Maybe it would be better if I could move beyond my own emotional needs, but I don’t know how to do that; decades of trying to hide them hasn’t worked.
Being entertaining, having the ego of a drag queen, claiming laughter and appreciation, is often suggested as a key skill for transgender women. Why can’t we just have the boldness, the bravado, the ego to stand at the front of the room in the spotlight and do what people who have always resisted crossing through the well guarded minefields of gender can never do?
While every transperson has to navigate their own path through gender, facing our own fears to get to that ultimate trans surgery, pulling the broomstick out of our own ass, we don’t have the same obligation to be the ones who deal with others internalized gender fear, their own struggle with the expectations binary gender puts on each of us. We can’t heal them; they have to do that work. We can’t even agree not to trigger them; they own their own feelings, not us.
I knew a bunch of things soon after I came out. One was that my body would never read as having gone through puberty as a female and the another was that I didn’t have the ego to assert my own bubble in the world. I always was a guerilla fighter, making change one question at a time rather than with a bombastic presence.
Now, though, I look for ego support and have trouble finding it. I am as alone as I have every been, maybe more, no one to support my possibilities and presence. I know life doesn’t have to be this way, but learning by myself how to be in trusting and empowering relationship has never really worked for me.
I learned to let go of the ego. I just wish, often, that I could find a bit of it back.