“Did you hear that?” TBB asked me. “Did you hear that?”
“Yes,” I assured her. “I heard.”
“My mother said you look beautiful. That’s high praise. Believe me, she speaks her mind, and if she didn’t believe it, she wouldn’t say it.”
“I heard her.”
“You know that she has amazing fashion sense, right? She caught my father by being stylish. The only reason she didn’t got to FIT was because her parents didn’t want her travelling through certain neighbourhoods.”
“Yes, I heard her. She also said that I was a good helper,” I said, knowing that learning how to be a concierge was always appreciated by those who needed a little help and confidence.
“I’m not sure that you did,” TBB said. “You often seem not to hear people who say good things about you. You analyze what they are saying rather than embracing it, trusting it.”
“I heard her,” I reassured TBB.
“Good, but I am going to remind you again,” she said.
TBB was trying, I know, do so something that is important for me: realign my mirrors.
Aligning your mirrors is one of the hardest things that you can do on your own. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are, never objective but always subjective.
When transpeople emerge, their self image is limited by the amount of light they were able to bring to their own closet. Coming out into the sunlight, into the gaze of other people is always challenging, sometimes because they see us as a cartoon and sometimes because they see beauty we never believed in.
Recently, I have been starting a lot of writing and not finishing it. The problem is simple, rooted deep in my experience, back to my earliest days. When I look in the mirror, I’m not really excited about what I see.
Avoiding fun-house mirrors is a challenge.
We all know people who look in the mirror and see only their projection, becoming full of themselves and missing obvious areas where they need work. We want to be humble and gracious, having a realistic view.
Many of us, though, look in the mirror and are blinded by what we have been told are flaws, missing the context which carries our human, natural beauty. We feel that we only have two choices, either to try and build a mask we can wear around or to give up even trying to connect with people.
“Grant me the courage to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That’s not easy to do when we are looking in a mirror, our own vision twisted by the messages of a lifetime.
I have learned to listen, to hold onto the shards of mirroring I get. I didn’t discard or dismiss what TBB’s mom said. I did, though, have to hold it in context, struggling to build up a self image out of mirror fragments, evaluating the subjectivity of the observer.
The guy who told me how ugly I was after he found out that I was trans, well, I had to understand that as a compliment. If he hadn’t been attracted, he wouldn’t have had to be so vocal, wouldn’t have had to prove his heterosexual bona fides.
That moment, though, when your gender shifts in someone’s eyes is always the dangerous one, the moment of the third gotcha.
I know that I have had a massive failure in mirroring my whole life. I learned to analyze compliments (and every other bit of feedback) rather than just accept them. That experience is redolent in my writing.
What moves me are not compliments but conversations. I want someone to fall into connection with me — usually intellectually (I’m a Miranda), but spiritually, emotionally and maybe even physically. I want someone to take the time and effort to engage with me, really see me, to want to look deeper.
This conversation is what I want each time I leave my cloister. It isn’t, though, something I can ever expect to get. “Too much to expect, not too much to ask.”
I know that there is nothing more important that I can do than realign my mirrors, to change how I see myself in the world.
And I thank TBB for knowing that too, for working to help. Her belief that I am “part of her mind” so she feels safe with me, wanting me to speak up in the world so there will be words she can use to help others understand her own experience is powerful, moving and real to me.
Right now, though, my mirrors are way out of whack.
And aligning your own mirrors is one of the hardest things any of us can ever do. Our vision is limited, and those limits limit our vision. It is a feedback loop that keeps us small.
Armistead Maupin tells of coming out to a woman in San Francisco whose response was “So What?” When heterosexuals care less about your gayness than you do, that was a breakthrough to him.
The problem was, of course, that he couldn’t see his own queer nature clearly. To him, it was all fogged up with decades of hiding and denial and shame.
Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know — one of the essential foundations of recovery. — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score
I need to realign my mirrors somehow, and I am without reference for that tricky manœuvre. Observer bias is rampant, I know, when they glimpse people like me.
But TBB’s mom thinks I am beautiful. And that’s something, anyway.