In my life, I have hit my fair share of walls.
I often think about where I went wrong in this life, where I might have made better choices that would have lead to better outcomes.
Others, though, just want a quick way to judge me.
“If you’re so smart,” my mother would snipe, “then why aren’t you rich?”
For her, financial and social success were the easiest to measure, the standard benchmark, the one thing she knew how to value & brag about. Your children had success when other women can get the success.
If you believe that money is the only scorecard and the key to happiness, well, aren’t the wealthy the smartest and most successful people of all in this world? Doesn’t just looking wealthy give you credibility and status that no one in their right mind can challenge?
Choosing to value something more than cash can seem almost like sacrilege in a consumer culture. Money can’t buy you love, but it certainly can buy you something that feels a lot like it, as the marketers are more than happy to tell you.
The choice to turn away from external success wasn’t really my plan. I just needed to focus on something else, something inner, something deeper.
To be in the big world people expected me to be a man, making tough choices and taking the blows. What they were looking for is what they already thought they wanted; a transcendent corporate shaman was not in the job description. I knew I couldn’t pass as born female, but my very femme heart had trouble both trying to open and staying in some kind of box that met people’s assumptions & expectations.
It’s one thing to be a woman in business, with all the challenges and benefits, but another to be a warrant woman in business, a guy-in-a-dress that we all indulge for his whimsical choices in clothing. Today getting hired as a transwoman is a much less daunting challenge than it was back in the 1990s.
To go on my journey past assumptions, I had to not be expected to play into them everyday at work. Compartmentalization was the antithesis of integration and vulnerability.
Time and time again, though, I ran into walls, huge stoppers that felt almost impossible to transit. Instead of crossing them, I explored them, scouted the territory to see what they were made of, understanding the foundations of the public ideas that meant to keep trans hidden, closeted and marginalized.
Those observations are the basis of my understanding of the terrain transpeople live in. When I am at a panel discussion about trans, the audience often comes up with questions that the experts can’t answer, queries about the bounds transpeople face. I stand up and give my perspective, helping people understand trans beyond the conventions, and people find it useful, even if they find me too queer to be comfortable.
What I usually end up saying, though, is what I needed to hear when I faced those walls. I was doing it alone, going from zero to one, but when I meet someone else who is facing similar challenges, going from one to two, I can help.
What I needed, what I cried for, what was lacking was mirroring.
Two thirds of giving help is encouraging, so having the courage to show your own trans heart, to be sure that someone else has seen it, has helped you polish it a bit, just makes it so much easier to stand and reveal. You have the connection to someone else who understands and values you, reflecting your grace, which helps keep you pumped up while others are taking shots and trying to cut you down for their comfort.
Nobody knew how to say yes to me, to say yes to my queer, yes to my intensity, yes to my big femme heart. Mostly fears played out, sharing the shaming of that inner jailer who warns that if you are too big, too much, too present, you will just scare the shit out of the crowd.
Time and time again, I hit the wall and it stopped me cold. My walls were big and stony, well set and very deep.
Are there times when I wished I just cut away from the wall rather than being stopped by them? Do I sometimes think it would have been lovely to go corporate, to make my bones, build a comfortable and commercial life? Sure.
Service & contemplation, though, were more important to me than stuff & status. I had learned early to live without social standing, to rely on my connection with something bigger than a web of judgmental humans. This baffled the humans — why wouldn’t I just play along? — but it made sense to me, the only choice that did.
So many people want to cluck their tongue, shake their head and say “My, my, if you had only made another choice, a better choice, one that would have put you on a more positive path.” What they miss is that to make another choice you would have had to be a different person at that point with a different outlook and different values, willing to battle for something different.
We make the best choice we can in the moment, and while that choice may, in retrospect, appear to be less than idea, well, if we could have made a better choice we would have. It’s much easier for others to twit us for what they see went wrong than to stand by us and help us have the breath for the risks that might just help us go right.
If I had made other choices, I wouldn’t have been who I am.
I like to believe that what I offer has value, even if many don’t see it. The traditions of human cultures is often to value those who bridge between worlds, those who bring insight and compassion.
Hitting the wall, wall after wall after wall, has defined my life.
All this crashing experience has not made me an expert in hurdling barriers.
Rather I have become an expert in walls, expert in how they pop up to stop us, what they are built of and what we can do when we hit them. I have the knowledge to help others deal with the walls that confront them, offering the a hints and encouragement to get over them.
It is comforting to think that my hitting the wall can offer others who come after me smarter & easier ways to breach the walls, to move on, to claim the space & success beyond.
As for me, though, a life time of wall hitting has a cost. Someone has to get out of here but not all of us will. The walls, well, they were always intended to stop.