Every teenager believes they created the world from scratch. No one has ever felt like they do, for their first times, first challenges, first feelings are the first that ever existed in their own world.
Adolescents have to create themselves, assembling a new identity. They don’t have the time, intention or capacity to wonder where the components they assemble into their own collage came from, where the strategies that they see as original & innovative were tried before.
Consciousness is not a big factor in the adolescent brain. Transpeople, though, often emerge later in life, with mature adult brains, able to do the work of considered awareness in creating a new persona for themselves, a new approach to the world.
What most of us want when we emerge, though, is to chase that childhood dream, the one we have had since we were very, very, very small. That dream isn’t rational or sensible, it’s not grown up or well reasoned, it’s just massively powerful, pulling at our heart in a way that we knew we had to swallow and deny.
If we had to do a literature review before we leapt, run our dream through sharp thought, well, then we probably wouldn’t leap at all.
Once we emerge, though, how long should it take us before we are ready, willing, able and needing to learn not just from our own experience but also from the experience of others?
The need to invent the world for ourselves, though, often creates barriers to engaging the narratives of others that we never overcome. We fear engaging a broader reality against our dream, so our dream becomes not one of understanding and wise creation but rather one of rejection and indulgence.
The rebellion it takes to claim visible trans identity in the world is often the end of the road for us. Our identity becomes rooted in the negative; we are damn sure what we are not, but have much less idea of what we are. Instead of standing for something, we stand against, attacking and dismissing anything that seems to challenge us, that doesn’t look attractive to us, doesn’t fit in our deepest dreams.
To be a grown-up transperson, for which there have always been very few role models visible, is to be a compromised transperson. Considering the needs of others, of how we are effective, taking power in the world always requires that we be less than ideal, less than radical, less than pristine, less than demanding.
From the first moment I came out, over three decades ago now, I deeply understood that the benefits of balance and maturity were longer lasting and more valuable than the rages of idealistic youth.
This approach, though, didn’t make me popular with those who just wanted to play out the old dream for a night (“Hello, I’m Biff! Hello, I’m Suzy!) or those who wanted to cure their dysphoria by disappearing into the world as their dream persona.
People heal in their own time and in their own way. For all too many transpeople, trapped in the pressure of a solitary life, facing the demands of carrying their own bubble of mental force with them all the time, this healing never really comes.
To heal and grow we must be vulnerable, dropping our armour to connect with other hearts and receive the divine surprise, but after a lifetime of being taught that letting people in is allowing them to hurt us “for our own good,” well, we just don’t do that. We acutely know that the mirroring we need will be denied to us as others just want to tell us why and where we are wrong.
Even other transpeople are unsafe. Their negative identities, based in rebellion and rejection, give them the perceived entitlement to slam anyone who makes life harder for them by not following the same set of rules that they use to rationalize and justify their existence. They can’t hear others voices until they believe we heard them first, yet if we hear them without complying with their fundamental rules, we can’t really have heard them, at least in their view.
Transpeople challenge the hell out of each other because we reveal where dream and reality depart, a departure that can deflate the mental armour we need to continue to impose our worldview in every moment. The shame is always close at hand for those who have to transgress big social taboos just to follow their heart.
Everyone has to figure out their own understanding of the world they live in. We have to create our own mental model, be that a model based on separation, on creating walls between us and the bad people, or on connection, on finding the continuous common humanity that links us with something larger. The balance of asserting, imposing & belief and opening, listening & doubt is always difficult but if you feel you are always under attack and threat, always living in fear of the third gotcha, well, choosing vulnerability is very hard.
I have spent decades sharing my view of the world, a view that is defined by being open to the narratives of other transpeople. My commitment to queer is a commitment to valuing the divine surprise of what others share rather than trying to impose my own schema on the world and trying to silence anything that challenges it.
It is frustrating, though, that more transpeople don’t look around, don’t hear stories, don’t go to the history and the literature to understand the lessons others have shared, to see where and how those tales from the front might inform their own choices, their own creation of self.
Today there is such an emphasis on the newly out, the adolescent and just forming, that the wisdom which exists deep in the experience of mature transpeople is devalued. Instead, rebellion, negation and rage is valued, putting the fury of claiming well ahead of the challenges of thriving.
I stand on the shoulders of others, all those transpeople who have given back by sharing the jewels of their lives, the moments of insight and revelation which both deeply brought up their pain and intensely revealed their beauty.
Others, though, don’t seem to hold this value for the gifts of those who have come before, changing the world and preparing the ground for further flowering. Rejection is the game, creating a new from scratch, without any care for the hard, hard, hard choices which got us to today, even as they now appear less than perfect, less than idea, a little bit ugly, twisted and flawed.
As much as we want to claim our dreams, in the end we are creatures of the flesh, living within the limits and possibilities of the social network that we live within. Rebellion alone will not create the new; any idiot can burn down a barn, but it takes pragmatic work to build one.
Becoming the parent, the one who puts their own dreams on the back burner to facilitate growth and community is hard, for it demands including even that we don’t idealize, demands compromise and grace.
The stories which enlighten those choices exist, but as long as we think we are building from scratch, our identity based on silencing & erasing the old and only creating what we think is new, we will never walk in the wisdom offered to us. The teacher will stay invisible.
For who have struggled to share, connect and teach, I will note, that is a frustrating and painful outcome.