On the old TV show, I was interviewing a runner and mentioned that I rode bicycles.
He just snorted.
When I asked him why, he was clear.
“A bicycle carries its own momentum,” he told me. “You can rest for a moment and keep on moving. Running, on the other hand, takes focus in every moment, because when you stop moving, you stop dead and have to start again.”
He had a point, of course. Still, living a life without momentum, without some forces to get you restarted, to keep you moving, is not a practical solution to life.
We all need to use the momentum we can find effectively. For most people, that momentum comes from community. When we are working on a shared project, focused on a common goal, the energy of others around us restarts us when we flag, keeping us on track.
While passing the baton, sharing the impetus, using the momentum of the group is useful, it also has strong limits. Like holding a rotating bicycle wheel, the spin of others exerts pull in a very specific direction, pulling us back into line even if we feel the need to move on our own path.
The challenge of using the momentum of the people around us to keep us moving forward, though thereby being held in their circles, versus having to restart when we flag, but being able to choose our own course, runs deeply through the primary duality of balancing our own wild freedom and our shared tame connection.
Peers reflect energy, but only the energy of the group. Solitary movement allows personal discretion, but at the cost of having to maintain our own momentum.
For normative people, especially guys, they often see their experience of life as one seamless arc. The momentum they have from following along with the expectations placed on them carry them along, allowing them not to have to get off the track, not to have to struggle to go inward and find their own drives.
Women are more used to seeing their lives as chapters, but they use the expectations of their friends to transfer momentum, letting others who have faced the same hills and valleys get them through the changes in their life.
For transpeople, though, we have to let go of the old momentum of our lives to claim another incarnation. We can’t just follow the path laid out for us, we have to become new and unexpected, navigating rarely tread ground in no man’s/no woman’s land.
Our initial momentum for change comes from pent up desire, from the excitement of finally being able to follow our own Eros. We burst out with passion, seeking the dreams we have held for so long, riding the high of emergence. We rush to catch up with our dreams, floating on a cloud.
When you first come out as a transgendered person, you spend your first year in absolute euphoria. Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
— Joan Roughgarden, New York Times, 2004
That burst of momentum can only carry us so far. While it is important to use it well, the amount of work we have to do to jump tracks, to let go of the assumptions, expectations and beliefs we have carried and become new is huge and difficult. We don’t have the kind of support that lesbians and gays get from coming out, the connection with new networks of lovers, because trans is a journey to ourselves and not to a shared group identity.
So many transwomen end up losing momentum in the world because they are unable to find a new peer group that supports them unless they are willing to significantly compromise their trans dreams, learning to fit back into the expectations of others. That often means we have to agree to be seen as an eccentric guy in a dress as people judge us on visible biology and presumed history rather than on our choices.
The value of momentum in the world is enormous. Hopping into a stream of other people, even a mainstream of other people, carries us along to knowledge, transformation and affirmation we could never find if we stayed inside of our own comfort zone, choosing not to interact with the drives of others.
The cost of momentum in the world can also be enormous. To be out in the fray of other people we have to be ready to engage the conflict they bring to us, facing their beliefs, assumptions and self-interest at all times. This can be enormously pounding on our own energy, allowing the terror of the third gotcha to be always present.
To be out and in the stream means we have to face the stigma that shamed and pounded our nature into the closet in the first place. Yet, to not have momentum, a drive to move forward, we can easily get lost in our own sadness, loneliness and isolation. We suppress our own energy, staying hidden and never getting the benefits out there.
Finding other people who can be your bicycle, keeping your momentum going when you hit a rough patch, seems to be the most important part of letting your energy flow in the world. Trying to find others who support openness, vulnerability and growth, though, can be very tough, as most people are firmly implanted in their own habits, assumptions and self-interest. They resist change and the engagement of loss that change requires.
How fast do you have to go to run away from your own feelings? How many people do you need around you to stay distracted from your own heart? Knowing the answers that people can hear is different than believing those oversimplifications. Too often, momentum can take over our lives, consuming our own better knowledge, demanding that we resist engaging loss transformation and change.
As we get older, our exuberance and resilience recedes so we need to treasure momentum. The problems thrown onto me when the parents I took care of for a decade died stopped me dead in my tracks for over two years. While I searched for a network to help me regain and retrain my own momentum, I found only resistance, fear and a demand for attenuation.
Finding the balance between needing the momentum that others can bring and trusting the choices of your own heart is very hard. It is easy to get lost in the motion of others, very easy to get stuck in our own habits and comforts.
I love to see people who use momentum to drive change, to move their lives forward. The momentum of the inner life is crucial to me, which is why I seem so prolific a writer, so much so that people often assume I can’t have meaningful content.
Having momentum in the outer world is a powerful force, but not when it comes at the cost of having to only play a shallow game, living in the assumptions and expectations of others.
Finding peers to support my own momentum without having to put too much of me into containers feels important after the deliberate momentum chopping that trans expression brings in the world.
That challenge of getting on the surfboard again to find a path that both is very much mine and leverages the energy of others is very hard.
In the end, though, it does seem like we all need a bicycle, something to carry us through the tough times when our own momentum flags.