Every writer is shaped by the restrictions placed on them. These may be as broad as having to write in English to the expectations of the audience for the genre being written
Knowing the rules is always the way to know where breaking the rules might be effective, opening up more space. Operating without rules is operating without structure, without the assistance of best practices developed by others and without handles that others can use for a starting place for understanding your approach.
The context I grew up in is a context where facts — verifiable data — were at the basis of all communication.
My mother picked out my father as interesting when he showed up at that new year’s eve party because he wore a ring made out of iron which marked him out as an engineer. They connected over their worldview, one that didn’t model emotion, one that today we associate with the writings of Dr. Asperger.
As their child, I grew up in a place where fairy tales never came true, but copies of Time magazine were always at hand. As I learned to read, around age three, it was technical documents I consumed, encyclopedias, magazines, and as I grew, Landmark books and even telephone directories.
There are times when I feel the loss of not having fanciful stories that don’t have to stay grounded in facts. Those stories can always be prettier, more fun and more playful, zooming around in a universe of imagination.
Yet, being grounded in facts isn’t something that I have ever chosen to abandon. No matter how much people who transcend trauma do so by polishing their stories smooth of pesky details which hold onto painful moments, when, some twenty five years ago a counsellor offered me a lobotomy to clear my memory and dull my sharpness, I immediately took his point and declined with a laugh. I may be a living memorial to my past, but facts are nothing to be erased like an inconvenient truth.
Today, I see a world where attention is the ultimate currency, where the overwhelming wash of sensation erases facts to leave only ungrounded feelings, where we are encouraged to ever shortening attention spans so that marketers feel empowered to fool us again.
I am a wonk, grounded in data with the heritage of an engineer. While I may care deeply about the stories we use to contextualize the facts we find, I believe that erasing those facts, burying them with bullshit, is no solution for better, happier lives, even if doing so comforts us in the short term.
To embrace facts is to embrace humanity, messy, frail and magical humanity. We do make bigger and better, but not with fear and walls to conceal, but with the smarts and compassion to connect people, projects and possibilities with the future.
Dreaming of a moment when I walk into a group of women to spin the story of who I imagine myself to be, acting “as if” and opening space to become that powerful, beautiful and connected woman whose seeds I hold is a luxurious fantasy.
I would screw the whole game up, though, the moment that a bogus fact came up, something I knew to be untrue, spread by someone who wanted to assert a comforting fantasy. The urge to set the record straight would well up in my bosom to the point where that big, old theologian would need to offer a different way of seeing.
Sure, she would do it with humour and compassion, but in the end, people can tell when their balloons have been burst, when they have been brought back to earth, even when it is done with kindness and the best intentions.
I have seen too many people be broken by weak thinking, by ignoring the data, by not caring about facts. While I understand the value of dreams, knowing that everything has to first exist beyond current doubts, I have trouble grabbing onto that imagination and going with it. My history teaches me to be armoured up to expect the probable.
In an ideal world, I might exist as part of a team, playing the very Spock-like role of offering information and insight to balance the questing dreams of the other players. Trans, though, is a very individual journey, one where our contribution to the group has traditionally be dismissed with our own queerness.
It is easy for me to see the excesses of hype in the world, the irresponsible ginning up of emotion beyond facts, the sensational manipulation of fear to attain power and dismissal of real, valid, smart challenge. Comforting walls between us and them are easy to sell, even as people like me have always had the challenge of remind us of our continuous, common humanity, of our connection to spirit.
The constraints of factual thinking bind me to a very phlegmatic vision of the world, one where it is impossible to imagine me being the beauty I know myself to be inside.
But the power of factual thinking has always given me the power to tell real stories and offer valuable new ways to think about the reality we can assign to the facts, the data we face in our lives. A worldview that starts with a clear view gives powerful grounding by offering deep and universal understanding.
I know why people polish out the lumps, bumps and irritations in their stories, making them pretty to share with others, to offer the belief that engenders hope.
I know why that’s not my history, my experience, or the way I approach the challenges of being a transwoman in the world.
In the 1980s I turned down a lobotomy that might have made my life more comfortable and less aware.
Somehow, I doubt I would make a different decision today.