So, like, once, when I was in like tenth grade, I was talking to a guidance counsellor about my work at MIT HSSP, a Saturday program where college students taught classes for high schoolers. It was part of the whole caring about education, a way to get some teaching experience for undergrads.
For me, though, it was a place where the freaks and weirdos from all over the Boston area came together, creating a space for the rest of us. Too smart? Too nerdy? Too aware? We came together.
When I started telling this teacher about my work there, he initially pooh-poohed it, but slowly, he seemed to be understanding. He said what I was doing was good, that it was something to be proud of.
I didn’t believe his affirmation, so I questioned him. He assured me that he was being sincere, which is something that I didn’t get any of at home, where every comment was barbed and destructive. Failure was the celebration for my mother.
I remember that moment vividly even today, after so many years. This counsellor told me I should be proud of what I was doing to build community, to bring people together, to create support for those who needed it. My parents didn’t even understand what I was doing, let alone value it.
My life has always felt unseen and unvalued, no matter how hard I worked to do what I thought, what I knew was the right thing. People just didn’t get how hard I was working just to keep going, let alone take care of the people around me.
Whatever I did, people wanted more of what they valued and less of what I was doing, wanted me to fit in and do what was expected. That’s why my nickname in the family was “Stupid” for many years, until the clinician suggested that they stop calling me that as a matter of routine.
I was the target patient for the whole family to start, and as I grew I took on that role for bigger and bigger groups. I spoke for truth and healing, spoke for change and transcendence, spoke for integration and connection.
Today, I still do that. I keep shining a spotlight for change, even though I know that the vast majority of people just don’t get what I am saying, just can;t afford to go there. They have to fit in, to get the work, to be in the mainstream.
Sometimes, though, that speaking for healing, healing that can only come in its own time and its own way, can feel lonely and costly. I know how much of my own comfort and needs I have to ignore to keep going, to focus what energy I can on doing the work. My feet, my mouth, my future are all blanked out to me, as I deny the costs to keep going.
There was never any reason for me to play for applause and compliments because I knew, I knew that I wasn’t going to get any. The target patient is the goat, the bugaboo, the crazy, not the warm, loved and cherished member of the group. I was the target patient and I knew how important that was, how important that is, being the canary in the mine, but I knew that people who were resisting facing their own responsibility to heal could only take shots at me, never seeing me as offering an incredible gift.
I knew early that I was the scapegoat, but I also knew that I was the only one who had any chance of saving my family, my father and my siblings. When they sent me to counselling when I was 13, I would only go if they promised to help my parents also. They lied about that, of course.
During their last decade, I never saw myself as taking care of my mother, whose Aspergers based disconnection lead her to narcissistic pain, but rather as helping my father take care of my mother, making sure that she would not crush his sweet and lost soul.
Of course, that meant I was the scapegoat until their final days, something that I only handled by being in concierge mode.
“Sometimes,” my mother would tell me in her last year, “your father put the kids first and that really upset me.”
I knew that, of course, but I also knew that we were just kids, dammit, and we needed someone to at least try to put us first, no matter how much toxicity was being pumped out.
It’s easy to decide that I made the wrong choice, that I should have cut lose at the earliest moment, owning my own life, rather than being the caretaker. That doesn’t, though, acknowledge my femme heart, the massive challenges of being trans in the world and the damage I took from a lack of mothering in my infant experience. Wanting to protect the people I cared for is not simply a stupid mistake.
Spending a decade or more trying to create spaces which ennobled and empowered transpeople in the area was also not simply a mistake, even if the results were scant and the work still goes under valued.
Speaking the truth of my experience is still valuable, even if most want to write my tales off as crackpot rantings which don’t meet the criteria for political correctness or positive contributions.
My life has been spent pissing into the wind because I knew, I knew, I knew, that it was a horrible, lonely and destructive job, but somebody had to do it. Someone had to surface the truth, had to be smart and loving, had to value continuous common humanity.
Once, a long time ago, I told my story and someone valued my work. I remember that moment to this day.
But somehow, whatever the mess and however much I needed someone to understand, respect and value the special gifts I brought to the group, I kept doing my job.
If you tell the truth in the forest and nobody hears it, does it still make a difference?
I believe that it does.