Negotiating Ambivalence

Is there anything that is tougher for a human to overcome than their own ambivalence?

External abuse is hard, no doubt, the pain caused by the circumstances that we find ourselves in.   It takes focus and discipline to endure it, yes, but most times we face it as the member of a group, a family, a community, a people who share the same difficult burdens.

Our ambivalence, though, we have to deal with alone.   Those voices in our head are always there and always just ours, creeping into moments when we might be feeling happy or confident, chewing away at our success, at our sense of self.

We are finite creatures living in a finite world and that means choices must always be made.   Every decision for something is a decision against something else.  This means that no decision is ever perfect, instead being merely the best balance, the best compromise that we can strike in the moment between stimulus and response.

Claim the new & risky or avoid loss by sticking to the known & limiting?   Bite the bullet & take the hit or fight back & expect to win?   Make a bold choice or play along?   Go with wild individuality or a tame attempt to be appropriate?

Who doesn’t want both comfort and achievement, want to be both well liked and elegantly unique?   We want to satisfy people who love us, want to keep them happy, but we want to satisfy ourselves too, reaching for our own happiness.

Emerging as trans in the world always requires negotiating ambivalence.   From a very young age we find ourselves betwixt and between, wanting what we are told we shouldn’t want, torn between our desire for connection and our desire to follow our heart.

This negotiating ambivalence, though, is a challenge that all humans run into eventually.   Being torn between what we should do, the rational and appropriate, and what we want to do, the emotional and intense is always a challenging experience.

How much do we follow the rules, avoid discomfort, stay proper and how much do we do our own thing, take risks and reach for what might be beyond our easy grasp?

For those immersed in the normative, the questions raised by this ambivalence are often never even spoken.   Instead, the social pressure to fit in, to be who other people expect us to be overrides this kind of introspection.   We stay on the move, running after what we believe should make us happy, never really questioning the assumptions & assertions that underlie that chase.

This is the fundamental promise of the normative, that if we just get the one perfect thing that will complete us, we will be happy.  The perfect partner, the ideal job, the special car, the amazing dress, something is out there that will deliver the kind of comfort and joy that we have been pursuing all our life.

Slowing down and questioning those drives, taking the time to actually enter our own ambivalence, facing our fears and beliefs, and figuring out what we do want, even if it isn’t just to gain social standing while we fit in better, takes a kind of courage and determination that doesn’t come easily.  It is much easier to just act out of emotion when our buttons are pushed than to do the hard work of seeing how those triggers are wired into us, seeing how our fears and needs have been trained up to keep us under control.

Is momentum all we need to overcome ambivalence, the speed to break away from those nagging voices inside of us, or is actually listening to, deeply engaging those voices more important?

Transpeople, by their very emergence, honour the voices inside over the cultural expectations bolted onto us by social expectations.  The amount we venerate those voices, though, is revealed in our queerness.

Everyone wants to be both wild, free & unique while also being tame, embraced & assimilated.   This is the primary duality; how much are we willing to fit in, how much do we need to stand out?

Many of us try and be as little queer as possible, just enough to let our own cries of truth out but not enough to deny us the comfort, ease and promises that are wrapped in the assertion of the normative.   We struggle with the question of how queer is too queer, how queer is not queer enough.   Where are we denying, amputating too much of our heart, where are we just being rude and self-centred rather than playing nicely with others?

We want a group to join where all of us can fit, yet that often means enduring shaming and shaping which demands we surrender our own voice to the group in order to become fixed in group identity.    We want others to ease the burden of negotiating our own ambivalence, to offer us an externalized solution, but any external solution can never completely address the conflicting voices we hold inside.

The point where we have to actually enter our own ambivalence, need to start combing through the colourful strands of our own nature rather than just trying to bury them under a machine made, commercial life, is the point where the work of trans-shamans becomes useful to us.   As we deal with the loss of illusions, we have to thread our way through the contradictions and ambiguities of our own rich and nuanced identity.

To me, the forced skills at negotiating ambivalence seems to be the gift that trans people offer in the world.   We are change agents because we are aware of the lines beyond expectations, walking though walls that others have been taught to see as fixed, rigid and impassible.

It’s just what we do.

(As I write this, I am amazed how much of this was contained in my first presentation at Southern Comfort Conference 23 years ago, TG & Recovery)

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