You can’t emerge as trans in the world without leaving home.
To become new, moving beyond the expectations your family placed on you from birth, you have to separate from the old.
For many people, this becoming new means becoming part of a new family, finding a new home, a place where the expectations and patterns are just different. You can start at an ashram, join the military, find others with your sexual orientation and so on.
Trans, though, is an individual journey. It is a claiming of self beyond conventions, beyond the big sweep of assumptions that your genitals define the shape of your heart, your reproductive biology essentializes who you are.
As much as we want to move from one home to another, running from one box to another, emerging as trans is never that simple. Unlearning, learning, trying on the new, discarding what doesn’t work, creating a very personal expression is always required because we don’t fit neatly in any box.
Of course, there will always be travellers who do this, people who choose to move beyond convention and take the big journey, but for transpeople, who don’t have any good models of what maturity and assimilation looks like for us, it’s required. We may desperately want to fit into the normative, but there is always a part that doesn’t fit, a piece of us that doesn’t neatly slide into the expectations of any given home. We have crossed through and that makes us transcendent.
A spiritual home, a cultural home, a political home any home always demands assimilation and compromise. The deal, though, is usually set up for the normative, balanced and understood for the expected, and not for those who have a foot in two worlds, who hold a liminal experience within.
Even when we come together we often push apart, our own internalized pain pushing against the pain of others with whom we both share an experience and have made very different choices.
We can fit in places, but always at a cost of leaving part of us hidden. This takes enormous willpower on our part to stay connected, stay a part while staying concealed and compartmentalized.
Somewhere, inside of us, we are always alone. We hold experiences and feelings that are almost impossible to share, no matter how hard we try.
Every human has a bit of this — we are all in this alone, as Jane Wagner said — but for queer people, that knowledge of what we cannot share because there doesn’t exist language or context, because it is taboo or heretical, because because it is baffling or disquieting, because it challenges comforting assumptions is a profound burden, isolating us from finding home.
Our stories transcend, moving between, full of twists and transformations, which is why we even have trouble finding a home in in media, where they are oversimplified to the point of erasure. We get back straightened versions of ourselves, and even when we are present, we are usually freaks or victims.
For me, this lifelong experience of homelessness, having no place I can share myself fully, has meant that my life is shaped not by support or safety, but rather only by my own personal willpower. I couldn’t expect others to do the work of being there for me, of entering my world, so I had to do all the work of being there for them. (2012)
No matter how much willpower I put in, it was never enough. People wanted more from me, more perfection, more taking care of them, more erasure, all that, even when I was performing the concierge role to the best of my ability. They not only couldn’t see the price I was paying, they couldn’t imagine it, because who I really am was invisible to them.
I recently saw a meme “Family is where they love you unconditionally” and I snorted. That feeling is just not in my realm of experience; I have lived a life homeless, other than inside my own heart. I have had to carry my home with me, not even having family that shares my culture or experience of life.
Today, the cost of this homelessness is my limits of endurance. With no clear and desirable outcomes left as I wander through people who live in their own bubbles, I can perform any role, but no longer can I keep it up for very long.
Instead, I get stupid, swamped by my feelings, brought down by my own pain. I know that this is stupid because from a very early age when I expressed my own emotions or beliefs in a way that challenged my family, I was told that I was “Stupid.” It was my common name in the family until the shrink told them to cut it out when I was thirteen. When people call you by the name they hold for you, they tell you who they think that you are.
This fractured momentum, this broken motivation, this shattered hope frustrates me. I used to have the willpower to overcome, but it is gone now, leeched away from a lifetime of overuse. There is no place to refill the fount, no home where nurture, succour and mirroring can refresh and replenish me.
I know why Sabrina dreamed of building a trans home town, and I know why she failed. In a culture where there are no models for what grown-up trans looks like, how can we come together as adults, as the parents who build structures of home to create safe spaces?
The trans journey is a very individual one beyond home and family to claim our own hearts. Coming home again, transformed and the same, to return the gift is always our dream, but so many of us only end up building our own bubbles, relying on our willpower to keep surviving in a world that does its best to erase us, killing off our hearts in the process.
What happens, though, when that willpower fades, when the home in our heart is no longer enough? Too much suffering without support and we succumb to the stupid pain, knowing that simple faces and politicized assertions are no longer enough for us.
Home, other than the home we feel in the ethereal venues of our creator, feels lost to us. Even the dream of it becomes cold and barren, unable to support our own energy, our own willpower.
May you value the homes you find, but never pay too much of yourself to stay there. If you do, in the end, you won’t have enough of yourself left to claim another bright day.