In The No

Transpeople, well, we grow up living in the “no.”

We know who we are inside.  And from an early age, we learn that we are expected to say “no” to that knowledge.

We reach for things that our heart desires and are told “no,” those things are not for people like us, that the shape of our body means we must be wrong, mistaken, deluded, broken if we want things like that.

Tell a child “no” enough and they will internalize that message.   They will start to believe that something is wrong with them if the call of their heart leads them to correction, to punishment, to denial, to stigma, to marginalization, to the idea that they deserve whatever shit they get if they follow that desire.

Hearing “no” when all we want to do is make choices we see others make, others are policed by different standards, leads us to believe that something is desperately wrong with us, that we are broken, corrupt, perverted.

We internalize that “no” voice, ramping the inner policing that helps keep most people in balance between appropriate and empowered, into a harsh and cruel jailer.    We learn to harshly incarcerate our own heart, working to keep it deep in the closet so those around us will accept and embrace us, seeing us in the light of their binary, enforced expectations.

The choice must be made: lie about the contents of our heart, about the callings we feel powerfully inside or be called a liar (1997), trying to deny the “truth” of what our biology tells others we “must” be.

To be “appropriate” we are taught to live in the “no,” saying no to the parts of us that cross the boundaries of cultural propriety, the queer bits that transcend the simple boxes of male/man, female/woman.

The challenge of transgender is this: How do we be true to both our heart and our family/society when they conflict? (1999)

At some point, to get healthy, integrated and true, we have to start learning how to say “yes” to who we have always been inside.  Instead of struggling to stay in the closet we have to figure our how to come out, negotiating that space between authentic and appropriate.

This line, though, is important and powerful to many of those around us.   They have learned to like clear and rigid sex/gender boundaries, often paying the price to deny their own hearts to fit more neatly into the box of “man” or “woman.”   These divisions are like gospel to them, real and fundamental, so valued that when they see someone else flaunt them, their own comfort and security feels threatened.

After all, they were taught that people do fit neatly into the binary, taught that people who violate the rules deserve whatever they get in resistance, in punishment.   Those people are gender outlaws, challenging truth and righteousness.

It is this binary assumption that makes negotiating the line between saying “no” and expressing what we know so hard.   What do we have to conceal so that others can accept and understand what we have to reveal?

Learning to have pride in the way our creator made us is a challenge for every person who has been pounded into the closet because others found them too queer, too challenging to the conventional gender boundaries.  When we start to emerge we hear much more about what we are doing wrong than getting encouragement, hear no much more than yes.

“Sure,” others say, “I want you to be true to yourself, but not so much that it offends, disrupts or disquiets others.  Be out, but be respectful and appropriate to social norms and the beliefs of others too.  Can you do that?”

That injunction, though, asks us to respect the fears and limits of others while they have limited responsibility to respect us.   It is that demand that left us living in the “no” in the first place, staying small and hidden so as not to inflame or trigger others to try and force us back into their expected norms.

Learning to say “yes” to our own knowledge means moving beyond the “no” that was imbued into us as children.  We need to claim the “what the fuck” and the “fuck you” pieces (2006), being able to move past our own fear and the disapproval of others to own our own knowledge in the world.

Even if we don’t want to be in somebody’s face, we know that we will be just by coming from what we know rather than from “no.” That is the lesson we were taught so early, the lesson that strengthened our inner jailer, the lesson that drove us into the concealment of the closet in the first place.

Finding a way to be both appropriate to the standards of the group and true to ourselves is hard, and is getting even harder in shame based value systems, as David Brooks writes in the New York Times.

Moving beyond living in the “no” to living in the know is going to challenge people who just don’t want to be confronted with knowledge they have already written off as offensive, sick, perverted and destructive to their values and identity.

The world doesn’t want the deep knowledge we gain from our journey, as Joseph Campbell reminds us, because if they did, they would already have it.   Our truth is erased for a reason, constrained by walls seen as real & solid, maintaining a comfortable status quo.

We need to move beyond a simple no to claim what we know.  Doing that while being a valued and respected member of the group is tricky.   We need to move the boundaries, open the possibilities, transcend the assumptions to offer our own heart in the world.

There is no transperson who did not grow up in the “no,” who is not struggling to find a way to be affirmed and affirmative, saying “yes” to what they know. We need to move from living in the “no” to living in the now, coming from the best our creator gave us, not just cutting ourselves back to be “appropriate.”

What we know, what we have always known is powerful.  That’s why people worked so hard to train us in “no.”