My Tears, My Squalor

I get to write a blog post whenever I want to.

And I get to say whatever I want to in them.

It’s not very much freedom, very much control, very much agency, but it is the power that I have.

For me, the reward is in being able to stubbornly speak my piece without having to worry too much about the audience, about what other people will think.

This amount of agency turns me from a constrained victim, trapped in a culture where others want to judge or erase me, to someone with power over their own expression.

That’s a big deal.

In a film called “Knocking,” Joseph Kempler, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp talks about why his experience lead him to join Jehovah’s Witnesses.   He was in the camp because he was Jewish, one of the millions of victims of the Third Reich, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same camp were there because they made the choice to follow their beliefs.

The Witnesses could have been released if they renounced their beliefs and swore allegiance to the state, but they chose hold fast to their faith instead, even at the horribly brutal cost the Nazis enforced in the camp.

Others around them were victims, their choices removed, but to this survivor, the Witnesses were heroes, choosing love over fear and paying the dire cost for that choice.   They were a beacon of integrity and dignity in a heinous situation which is why, after he was released, Kempler joined them to claim his own agency, the power of his own choice, even if that meant complying with the diktats of the group.

My first question in my first session at my first trans conference was about power, about finding ways to shift power as we gendershift.

How do we feel like we can get through to other people, having them hear what we have to say in a deep way, really seeing & respecting what we offer rather than judging, dismissing, erasing and projecting onto us, allowing their own sense of entitlement justify shaming and marginalizing us?

If the only way we can get what we need is to play the victim, abject people oppressed or with a tragic birth defect, well, it’s hard to feel power and safety in the world.

I was very young when I understood that I had the choice between being a victim of my mother’s distressed craziness, the emotional turmoil of someone with Aspergers or I could have power inside of my own world, inside of my own head.

If I needed what she had to offer I had to play along with her twists, but if I could suffice on what I could scavenge, even to the point of theft, I could have my own agency in my little world.

The world wasn’t meant for people like me; others just didn’t get the point.  In the big world, I had to stay defended, armoured up, but inside of my zone, I was safe, with power and agency.

When we feel our power removed by the expectations & assumptions of others, by the conventions of a dualistic culture that craves walls between us and them, we feel smashed, hurt, broken.

Everyone who feels marginalized has the need to claim power, claim agency in some personal way.

For many, this means claiming a group membership, be it religious, ethnic or affinity, becoming swept up in a community they feel represents and values them.   They are willing to comply with the rules of the group, however rigid, to gain a sense of place & belonging.

For transpeople, though, our journey is very personal.   We don’t travel in packs, don’t want to surrender our voice, our agency to the group.   Instead, we want to claim who we know ourselves to be deep inside.

Even if we have worked to understand our nature in context, the obligation to explain and justify ourselves in every moment is crushing.  We may be able to sway people who are open minded, open hearted and willing to engage, but we know that most people don’t have the time or willingness to understand and embrace us.

It’s much easier to play by the conventions of the binary, using already present tropes to take power than to claim our own truth in the world.

I couldn’t do that.   I learned how to attenuate, to play small, to be the concierge, to service others, to enter their world, but the only way I could hold onto my own heart is to protect my own inner world.

Writing bulletins from that world is a way that I make myself present in the bigger world.   I open up and share with aplomb and grace.

Very few people are ready to engage that sharing, I know.  If I focused on results, on swaying the biggest number of people, as I would have to do if I was a public figure, I would have surrender to what is already comprehensible, have to engage the tittle-tattle of tiny issues around toilets and such.

Instead, I write for my own agency, my own expression, my own claiming of presence in the world.   I don’t need to convince anyone, don’t need to stand up to the blows of those who want to erase me, don’t need to walk around in political armour.

I don’t get much in return for my sharing, it is true.  Instead of respect, affirmation and commercial success, I simply get my own dignity, my own power and my own agency.   All the rest I have to scavenge, just like I have done all my life in the face of a desperate scarcity of love, understanding, and mirroring.

If transgender isn’t about claiming our Eros, our lust for life & beauty & vitality, then what the hell is it about? (2007)

Even if that quest doesn’t get us everything we want, it gets us what we need, a sense of power, place and agency in the world.   If we claim our own truth, we aren’t simply a victim, which is why I have spent decades working to encourage others to claim their personal grace in the world.

And even if no one listens, just the fact of speaking out rather than just trying to blend in and play the bigger, official game, allows me to feel present in my world.