Your Fears, Their Problem

Everyone has things they resist in their life.   There are places we don’t want to go, areas that just aren’t us. We spend a lot of time knowing what we like and are good at so we don’t want to be told that we have to go someplace we feel uncomfortable, inept or false in.

You get to decide what isn’t you, what you don’t want to go near, what squicks you, what scares you.

How you deal with those fears in relationships that you care about, though, is a big deal.

Every kid knows that the time to put on a sweater is when your mother gets cold.  She may just be sitting on a bench while you are climbing all over the jungle gyms, but she worries, so she decides that she knows what is best for you.

No matter how confident you feel climbing the bars, when she feels a twinge of fear, imagining something going horribly wrong that involves a sobbing visit to the emergency room, she starts trying to pull you down, wants to get you to police yourself, to be less exuberant, to not try with such lovely abandon, to not take risks she is uncomfortable with even though you feel quite sure that you can make the leap.

Mothers are often told that worry is virtuous, that it is just an attempt to protect the people they love from a dangerous, cruel world. When I have been to support groups for parents of queer people, I find myself talking about how we have enough challenge negotiating our own fears and that adding your parents fear to the mix can be crushing, delaying good things rather than hastening them.

When transpeople come out to their families, often the people we love see the possible risks inherent in our behaviour, so they believe it is caring to be what they see as the voice of reason,  telling us to slow down, to take less risks, to not go where they see danger.

That voice, though, is rarely the voice of reason, rather it is the voice of fear.

Nobody else can directly feel the need for liberation, the joy of authenticity, the drive for emergence, the passion of our hearts.    Any benefit they get is second hand, seeing us when we succeed, when we get to own the happiness they claim to want for us.  Of course, they also see the bumps, the falls, the scrapes, the frustration and the pain we go through in the process of taking risks and finding our feet and that can often be tough to watch.

I remember a blind guy talking about his eighth birthday.   On that day, his mother told him, she would no longer rescue him when he bumped into something and hurt himself in the house.   She would just let him bawl, expecting him to get up and move on.

This wasn’t a gift he wanted on that day.  He liked having the comfort of mommy picking him up, paying attention, tending to him.

When he was in his twenties and told us this tale, though, he understood the awesome value of this present, this demanding he be present for himself.   And he also understood the high price his mother had to pay to give him the present, watching as her dear child bumped in the darkness, scared, alone and banged up.

She knew, though, that the best thing she could give him was encouraging to move past frustration, to learn to be persistent and resilient, fending for himself and owning his own power & agency.

It’s hard to say yes, hard to hang back when we see people we love taking risks that could cause them pain.

We often believe that we are much more caring, much kinder when we share our own fears with them.   If it scares us, shouldn’t it scare them?

We get to fear what we fear, yes.  But when we pass those fears on to other people, often the person we care about most, the one we want to protect, is us.

By leashing them, holding them back, threatening them with losing our support, we don’t have to face our own fears, don’t have to do our own work, don’t have to go to our own dark places.

Saying yes, even to things we never got to work in the past, is offering the gift of possibility and learning to the people we so much want to help blossom.  (1998)

One of the hardest things for transpeople, who have learned to police their own choices very hard with the combination of fear and the discomfort avoiding voice of the ego, is to embrace the choices of other people, especially other transpeople.

We are terrified that their choices might reflect badly on us, putting us in danger or disrepute.  We don’t want to have to have bits of them revealed that we find so ugly in ourselves that we struggle incredibly hard to hide those bits everyday.

It is only when you finally own that big trans surgery, the pulling the stick out of your own ass, that you can say “I would never, ever, ever make that choice for me, but it looks great on you!”

Somebody has to do the work that you aren’t able to do, the work that scares you.  Isn’t trans about the emergence of the individual rather the compliance with the apprehensions and enforced limits of the group, about escaping the safe view that peer pressure offers and boldly being yourself?

If we can’t affirm the success of others, won’t we just stay crabs in a bucket, tearing each other apart rather than working together to create more freedom and more growth?

The worst part of having success is to try finding someone who is happy for you.
— Bette Midler

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

Your fears are your fears.   That’s fine; you get to own them.

When you make your fears someone else’s problem, though, diminishing their dreams to keep you comfortable and feeling unthreatened, well, that’s not fair.

Every transperson has felt the sting of being asked to cater to the fears of others, to hide our nature in order to not upset other people.   We were told that if we did anything to make people uncomfortable, we would deserve whatever we got, whatever they chose to dump onto us.

4) The most difficult thing about trans is negotiating others fears. (2002)

Even when we went out to get support we quickly learned that the fears of our clinical professionals, our clerics and others were one of the biggest challenges we faced.   They chose not to encourage what they found distasteful, trying to constrain us to choices that they felt virtuous making for themselves.

For example, if they feared guns, they might impose those fears onto us, demanding that we surrender our weapons so they could destroy them.  Logically this makes little sense, since we can get another gun, but it makes them comfortable in an irrational, triggered way.

We have each experienced others trying to make their fears into our problem, have all felt the pain and impossibility of that demand.

How do we learn to encourage rather than discourage, affirm rather than negate, keep our fears for ourselves rather than spray them onto other people’s dreams?

How do we learn to say “Yes!’ even when we feel queasy imagining all that might go wrong?

Your fears, the terrors that limit and constrain your choices, are your fears.  Nobody says that you don’t get to own them.

When you make your fears somebody else’s problem, though, be that people who just need to use the restroom or those you love dearly, well, that’s when you step over the line.

Do not do unto others what you would find hateful to you.   Is being whipped with the fear of others something that you would ever want for yourself?