Trigger Warning

I’m not much of a fan of “trigger warnings,” the notice that something in the following text may trigger an emotional response.

I see them as a precursor to political correctness, to the idea that certain topics or views must never be expressed because they might cause distress to some people.   To me, this lets the self described victims set the agenda, constraining discussion to what they find within their comfort zone.

Recently a transwoman was turned away from a church run soup kitchen because they believed she would be disruptive.    The staff offered to feed her if she wore the clothes that they considered Biblicaly correct for her, but otherwise they felt she could trigger others by making them uncomfortable.

The notion that I don’t have any right to express what might trigger others, that I have to hide behind screens of consent, as YouTube tried when they marked much LGBTQ content as requiring adult access, well, that’s been something that has hurt me all my life.   I learned to stridently self-police so as not to upset the kids, not to challenge the beliefs of others, not to be attacked because I triggered the unprocessed rage and fear in someone else.

When others deliberately try to push our buttons, though, triggering us by reopening old wounds, well, that’s a very bad, mean and nasty thing.  So much of what passes for argument in this narcissistic, me-first time are ad-hominem attacks, attempts to control people by manipulating them into brokenness.

As someone who grew up trans in an Aspergers family, I had to learn early how to not react to attacks, instead taking the moment between stimulus and response to come up with a considered and effective response. Staying cool on the surface let me practice Akido, allowing others own energy to throw them off balance rather than having me take the blow.

That doesn’t mean, tough, that the slams didn’t hurt me, leaving deep and profound wounds on my heart & body, only that I could come from head and stay tough.

Over the decades, I have learned to create my own content warnings.   Even if I can hold my own in the fight, understanding the cost for participating and measuring against my current reserves becomes very important.

Now, with my batteries so depleted and my resources so thin, I often avoid rather than engage in situations where I know I can get triggered, bloodied and need time to heal.

For example, there is a trans health and law conference tomorrow, around two hours drive from here.

If I was able to go there as a professional, listening to and engaging people, ready to absorb their challenges and re-contextualize them, then I would have much to give.

On the other hand, if I show up as a bruised and battered transwoman who has been desperately isolated for a long time, the odds are that I will just leave worse than I came.  There will be words from others that hit deeply, creating an emotional response that I have no means to tend or heal.

An infomercial selling a simplified computer for seniors includes an expert who gladly points out that social isolation isn’t just bad for pensioners, it’s bad for anyone.   I wish someone had figured that out when I was around one or two years old; learning to manage social isolation like a hermit was the only way I could stay stable.

I go to events hoping to meet someone who gets me.  My most powerful dream is sitting in conversation with someone and looking at the clock, surprised at how quickly the hours have flown by.

What I tend to get, though, are moments when my previous experiences come up, someone offering a thoughtless & graceless assertion that just erases what I have been saying and leaves me, one more time, cut to the quick, old wounds savaged again by old and painful ignorance.

There isn’t a transperson alive who hasn’t felt the need to swallow their own massive pain, eating their own nature to keep the environment sweet and comfortable for those who feel entitled to hold onto their cherished and blinkered view of what is right & normal.

To live by the golden rule, I know that if I can’t abide being silenced for the sake of not triggering others, keeping them in their comfort zone, then I can’t demand that they be silent for me, their free speech constrained by what triggers me and opens my old wounds.

That leaves me responsible for my own feelings, for managing and respecting them.   My history, my fears, my blindness, my neediness can never be the bounds for what is acceptable in the world.

With that personal responsibility, though, I need to know when I just can’t engage those who aren’t sensitive, aware and respectful.  I have to respect my own triggers.  If I can’t stand the heat, I need to stay out of the kitchen.

And that’s why I will end up alone in this basement again tomorrow.

Sick Of Sickness

“So, this is what I want to tell you…”

Many of my blog posts start out with that phrase, though I have been writing long enough to edit it out.

Trying to share a view of the world, to give context by revealing connection, has always been a key part of what I write.

Lately, though, I haven’t been able to pull that off very well.   I start to create a message but the energy just peters out, leaving it rough, ragged and short.

When I write now, it’s more about my personal state than anything else.   That’s not good, not good sharing, not a good sign.

There’s a conference coming up this weekend and a lobby day next week, both of which I attended last year.

The odds of making a great connection at either of them are very small, but at least they offer me an opportunity to create something, asking myself the question of what I would say if they gave me five minutes to speak to the assembled group.

Now, though, I am coming up blank.

I scratched together a workshop proposal for the conference — Trans-Empowerment: Believing In Yes — but understood it was too much, so I didn’t submit it.

And as to the lobby day, well, what I would want to say would highlight the limits of politicizing trans expression, believing that somehow new laws can change the trans experience.    It’s easy to demand that others change, and trans rights are human rights, needing to be supported, but trans is not a political choice and therefore political solutions have limited benefits while demanding high costs.

Many, many, many times over the last few decades I have expressed these views, offering cogent theological, political and emotional arguments, but my impact has been negligible to the point of being unmeasurable.

All this means that there is nothing left that I really want to tell you, because I don’t believe that there is anything most people really want to hear.

A place of healing is always also a place of sickness, be it a hospital or a recovery group or anything else.

As humans, we live with sickness, often because it seems to be the best way to assimilate, to fit in, to play small.    Our sickness, pain and futility is ours and that makes it comforting.   We started making those choices to comfort and protect ourselves.

Until we are sick of sickness, understanding the price it demands, how it stops working for us, we cannot move beyond to claim growth and healing.

Everyone heals and grows in their own time and their own way, even you.   This is the most frustrating thing about being in relationship, as we see how moving beyond limiting behaviours could benefit people around us, but only they can heal themselves and they won’t do that until they are ready, until they are so sick of the sickness that they cast off the illusions to take on the challenges of divine surprise.

Engaging with people means engaging with their own comforting beliefs, pushing at the boundaries of what they are willing to embrace.  It’s a fight, the kind of fight that parents and children have, filled with irritation, growth and love.

I have been engaged in that kind of fight all my life, though without much ego.   I don’t want people to be like me, don’t want to be the centre of attention, don’t want to make people like me, to play for their affirmation.   Very early I learned to live on the edges, a sharp eye replacing a needful heart, and that approach never changed, no matter how much my heart bled.   The costs and failures of living for others was clear to me from my earliest memories.

There is nothing I can tell the world that I haven’t said many times in the past.   Polishing and sharpening my message is possible, finding new language to go deeper, words that may help convey meaning with a bit more detail, but that hardly seems worth the effort.

Nowadays, all I do is try and express my own feelings, capturing the fleeting bits that go through me, the residue of a life spent as a transperson who lived though a set of specific circumstances that don’t seem to be easily engaged by others.   They just don’t get it, the jokes, the delights, the visions, the pain, the love.

So this is what I want to tell you, that I have nothing to tell you.  Live a good life, ready to step into a tomorrow where the divine surprise offers lessons which ask you to move beyond comfort and into transformation.  Use your energy well and the vision will open to you.

Keep going, and when you are exhausted, well, do what comes naturally.

Glorious Noise

For the last two weeks I have spent my days to the sound of a robin throwing himself against the windows.

It’s spring and the sap is running, so this bird feels the call of nature.   To him, that means defending his territory against other males, making sure that all female robins see him as the top.

There are no other robins for him to fight, though, so instead, he spends hours everyday fighting himself.   He sees his reflection in the glass and it irks him, so he flies straight in to terrorize and thump his imaginary opponent.

You might figure he would learn from crashing into a pane of glass over and over.   He has, a bit.

The first day the thuds were loud and painful sounding, but now, after two weeks, the skirmish with the shiny robin is less intense, turned more into habit and routine.   I now only hear a soft clatter from across the room as he skitters up the pane, scratching and clawing at his imaginary opponent.

It would be easy to think that there would be some kind of metaphor there, a koan about persistence or learning, a tale of futility or self-delusion.

Instead, all I see is a bird who has it in his nature to confront and display finding a way to do that even when he is more or less alone in a quiet yard.

We are who we are.  Some parts of us are rooted deep in our creation.  We execute on them even when they don’t serve us any more, when they are just shows of atavistic expression.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Does an action have to be perceived to make it real?

Clearly, our robin says no.   Just the bold defence alone is worth the valiant and repeated effort, with or without another bird to intimidate, another bird to impress.

In neurolinguistic programming (NLP) terms, I am an auditory.   While I see and feel, my primary experience of the world is through hearing what is around me.

I don’t just listen to sound, I make sounds.   An old friend once told me that she would hear me making noises and be sure that I was doing it deliberately to annoy her, but when she saw me, I was oblivious to her, just reading or typing or whatever.

A staffer told me that she knew I was good when I was working hard and “singing” a little bit, focused and intent.   An old boss told me she was entertained by the little “radio plays” that came out of me.

When I am alone, I often have conversations with myself, just to hear the sounds of the voices inside, amused by their tone and interplay.   They are my “Jonathan Winters” sounds, the play of a writer exploring words and meaning.

Growing up in the world I did, though, there was no audience to get the joke, to engage and encourage my natural expression.  Those around me were much more likely to see it as an attempt to annoy them rather than just my nature leaking out though sonic vibrations.

I learned to stay silent, learned to shape my sound to communicate with an audience.  My playful nature had to be curbed and constrained so that other people would not see me as a nuisance, as weird, as sick.

So much of my nature had to be forced down and away, into the depths of a dark, cold and very lonely closet.   I knew people didn’t see it as star quality, as something I needed to polish to let my heart shine, rather they saw it as brokenness, unpleasant to them and a mark of my impending & inevitable failure.

Compliant silence and abject service was all I could offer unless I wanted to be marginalized and shamed for my noisy nature, as I learned very, very, very early.

Nature, though, runs very deep, as my intense robin reminds me everyday.   I still make those sounds, though for myself, when I am alone, or sharing them via writing that I know few will ever see and even fewer will ever hear.

Fighting to place your nature in the world is exhausting and costly.   I had other fights that seemed more important to me, fights about caring, about love, the fights of someone with the heart of a mother, that fighting for personal expression fell to the rear until I was too pooped, too beaten down by scarcity to engage for myself.

The sweetest sounds I ever heard are still inside my head and my heart, just as the most important sounds lie trapped in there too.  I have a handful of nice drafts I  started over the last two weeks and a few more notes, but I can’t seem to get the sounds out.

So much of my exploration has come down to symbol and meaning, which the wider world sees as value versus noise.   Sounds that don’t fit into the current schema are just reduced to noise, cluttering up the simple truths, simply nattering and braying that gets in the way.

While my training may be in trying to keep down what people cannot yet understand so I can attempt to get what meaning I can across, my life has been an experience in glorious noise.

The divine experience comes only in the unexpected, in the juxtaposition of the known and the unknown.   Between this world and the next lies illumination, trapped in the words which struggle to convey the shimmering interference patterns of truth which cuts across our perceptions and into our hearts & minds.

The effort to take the glorious noise inside of me, that nature which lies in the surprising interplay of sound, and turn it into mild product which doesn’t threaten or disgust people into shutting down, well, that has taken the most of me without creating a lovely reward anywhere than in my own relationship with my creator.

No matter how tough you are, you can’t keep flying smack on into a window forever, no matter how much nature calls

While it is happening, though, it is a glorious noise, part of the immense soundscape of an interconnected world, where nature, if allowed to blossom, keeps things alive and growing.

I love the glorious noise that has always tied me to the rest of nature.

Sharing that glorious noise, though, has proven difficult.

Brilliant & Gorgeous

“Remember: You are brilliant and gorgeous.”

For decades now, this has been my affirmation to my sister.   She started a new job this week and even joked about tattooing B&G on her wrist, so she would be reminded every time she sees it.

Like many humans, she understands the objective logic of my invocation, knowing that she is as good or better than most other people, but the emotional embrace of it still comes hard.

The voices of lack, of failure, of disapproval & disappointment are much easier to hear than the truth of the capacity to be exceptional, the truth of our own brilliance and beauty.

I started reminding her that she was brilliant & gorgeous because I knew firsthand that she grew up in a home where her good stories were stolen and everything else was marked as a disappointment, a heinous failure to make her mother happy.   Rather than being praised for her shining and encouraged to stretch, she was bathed in her mother’s failure complex, a never ending loop of self-pity that turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Expecting pain and failure gives a great excuse not to try and not trying guarantees the comfort of having you expectations be rewarded, allowing your soft bed of assured indolence to harden into cement that traps your soul.

It was obvious to me that anyone who came out of that home needed all the encouragement and reminders about transcendence that they could get.   That lesson, shall we say, was written deep and painfully onto my own battered soul.

Giving is receiving, as any parent needs to know and as I was taught early.   Giving my sister the affirmation that she was brilliant & gorgeous and that the world would see that too if she only had the courage to show it to them, well, that was the best I could do to make sure that message existed in the world.

Like most messages we put out, the best thing that can happen is to have that truth reflected in the world, mirrored and amplified through the shared energy of a family or community.

My personal experience, though, has never been to feel excitement & affirmation about my contributions, very, very rarely having them valued and returned with building enthusiasm.

Instead, I find that I am obligated to teach the same lessons over and over to an audience who has an almost infinite capacity to resist the hard work of accountability and responsibility, instead looking for comforting short cuts and repeatedly going back to their unconsidered beliefs, the cherished assumptions that they hold onto as firmly as a security blanket.

The surety of entitlement is deeply embedded in this culture and those who challenge us are easily dismissed as crackpots.   Why should we be accountable for anything but what we believe to be true in the moment, held responsible for where our path crosses others in a way that they don’t like?  Isn’t that just their problem?

I learned early to confront shallow thinking that did not respect and consider the needs, feelings and requirements of others.    This quickly became the theme of my life, not going along but standing up, trying to be seen, heard, understood and valued.

Taking my fight for granted was easy for other people.  After all, I was standing up for myself, illuminating deep thought, asking smart questions.   How could I need anything that they had to give?   They had their own struggles, so it was easier to only go to me when they needed something I had to give and to just stay away when they didn’t want to be challenged.

All the reasons why people find me a bit challenging are very obvious, not only to me but also to the people who are in relationship with me.

The ways that I am brilliant, gorgeous, charming and attractive, though, don’t tend to get reinforced.  It is clear that I am my own person, that my approach to people isn’t to make them comfortable, telling them what they want to hear, reinforcing what they already believe.

Sometimes, though, I am reminded that on some level I am fascinating, compelling, dynamic and engaging.   My approach is entertaining, using humour and surprise to offer a different view, all wrapped in a sure and even seductive voice.

Those reminders, though, are easy to lose in the midst of others who resist entering my world, seeing through my eyes.   They easily believe my stories of being a bristly outcast, understanding the cost of having to attenuate and play a role that fits into the expectations of others.

The notion that a path forward lies not in fitting in but in standing out, in being big, bold and brilliant in a way that can engage and delight people, well, that’s not something that fits into their own worldview.    They are very circumscribed by the boundaries of their imagination which not only defines their choices but also defines the fear which limits their vision.

Few people are ready to affirm in others what scares them in themselves.   Transpeople know this vividly, having lived within the boundaries set by the fears of others.

I know how to affirm that others are brilliant & gorgeous, but finding that same mirroring for my own cutting & queer self has always been very, very difficult.  Is the simple humanity, the bold & tender heart behind my sharp brain visible, compelling, lovable?

Leading with my brain offered me a survival strategy, enlightenment that kept a bitter world in context.  Protecting my tender heart from the assaults that were supposed to train and constrain someone with a body like mine to service, well, I needed all the shell I could get.

Now, though, my challenge is to let that heart shine, brilliant and gorgeous in a world that still wants to read my history and biology as “real” and my self awareness as just noise that can be dismissed & erased.  Trying to get that heart  affirmed has always been a challenge for me, and it doesn’t become easier the older I get, the more ancient I am seen.

More revelation is always scary.   It lets people judge you, not on what they see but on what they already believe.

You are brilliant & gorgeous.  Let it shine so people can see it and be attracted to you, wanting to engage you by entering your world a bit.

Me, though?

Am I just too damn queer for the room?

Or does that spark exist inside of me, also?