I know my role.
I’m a trans elder, a wise one, a crone, a grandparent, there to help the next generation, helping the parents of today take care of the young ones.
There are two big problems with this role.
First, transpeople don’t grow up respecting elders. They emerge in a state of rebellion, of furious claiming, of intense personal focus, of ruthless formation. They emerge into a swirl of peer pressure, enforced political correctness, facing the need to surrender their voice to the group or face shaming.
Second, and this is the tough bit because it’s about me, I never really got the experience of being a trans kid. There wasn’t really anyone there to support me, to help me grow, all that.
For me, this is tough because in many ways I never really got the experience of being a kid. With two Aspergers parents, I had to be adultified early, feeling unsafe, taking care of myself, and being the target patient in the family unit.
When a coach who was a mom told me that I would have been a great mom, I sobbed inside. I was wired to be a mom, but instead of being able to let that nature blossom, serving others, building characters in the world and feeling valued, I ended up having to take care of my parents.
“Power femme trans theologian drag mom” used to be my quick identity summary twenty years ago. The only heartbreaking bit about that is how much I didn’t get to pour my blessings into the world, instead living with the marginalizing, dehumanizing stigma that came with being trans.
It’s really hard to be the elder when you don’t have rich and intense experience of being the youth, don’t have that reservoir of joy to feed you in the quiet times when you are alone and lonely. Old people are supposed to have their deep reveries to feed them, their achievements and children to reflect upon, not just a shattered pile of dreams that have no possibility of coming together at this time of life.
Being the grandmother without ever being the girl, well, it takes some focus and discipline. It requires sewing together a patched up girlhood, assembled from fragmented and tiny memories bound together with decades of cultural immersion, learning from the stories of your sisters. While it may cover you, too often you find a frayed bit, a place where the fabric just doesn’t hold together, and the awareness of what you missed, what you were denied just overwhelm. You fall though the holes in your own story.
Elders, though, are desperately needed, even if the young ones don’t quite understand that. Someone has to provide context and encouragement, even as youth offers exuberance and expansive dreams. There is value in taking care of the details, like making sure people are fed and the laundry is done.
You can’t expect to be thanked for the seeds you nurtured and put out into the world. It is only when people move on to offering their own pieces beyond ego that they can even imagine what has to be done to create a garden where the next generation can find more fertile ground than we did, where they can grow stronger and taller, creating ecosystems that we could only wish for.
There are delights in being an elder, yes. Seeing people we helped start to come into their own, standing on their own two feet, finding reasons to move beyond their gawky fears and emerge from their shell, well, that’s a good thing.
Unless we have our own space, our own home, though, built up over time in more than just mental discipline and aesthetic denial, it is hard to relax, feel protected, enjoy another good day. Even as I write this, I know that this is something that those who have not become elders won’t yet understand, as focused as they are on their own very real and very present challenges.
I know my role. And I know how I had to cobble it together, scratch it out, make it my own.
The roles that should have led up to it, well, missing them had a cost. Not roles, just holes for me.
The show, though, well, it must go on, right? Casting is done, so like the plump girl in high school who gets the role of the grandmother, wrapped in a ratty old fur coat, we do the best that we can. Everyone has their part, even if the leads don’t quite understand as they practice the kissing scenes with a giggle.
Elder flower sometime, eh?