The theatre darkens, the crowd hushes and TBB comes on stage.
She is alone in the light, but next to her is a brick wall. Turning, she starts to run and throws herself against it.
The wall stays firm, just as it does for the next hour and a half as she crashes into it again and again and again and again.
I imagined her one woman show after TBB told me that she has, as she matured, stopped running into brick walls. Attempts to make change, as she has in the past, are tried once or twice and then let go.
A long time ago, I begged Chuck Munson for words of advice. He was resistant, but eventually came up with something he felt worthy of sharing with me.
“Don’t piss into the wind,” he told me.
To be trans in this world is to be a change agent. We see things as they could be and ask why not, bringing our own unreasonable and passionate desire to become more and better.
“The nail that sticks up gets pounded down,” goes an old Japanese maxim. While in the west that pounding isn’t as strong, it still exists.
When TBB and I first met, we understood the other deeply understood the experience of being a bold change agent in the world, from having a bigger vision to fighting in the moment to getting pounded back.
Within a short time we were on stage together, improvising hosting the talent show, knowing that we had each others back. For me, it was a surprise to feel safe in the spotlight, going wild and shining. Even 15 years later, someone remembered our performance when they saw us together at dinner, recalling an empowering moment of freedom they found liberating.
We both had big energy, big dreams, big hearts and big mouths. This made us both invaluable when problems cropped up and a huge pain in the ass when those around us just wanted to keep the status quo going, to stay in their comfort zone.
It was that resistance which formed the brick wall that Sabrina kept running into, the howling wind that blew back against me.
The same force that was vital when facing a problem became just too much in so called “normal” life, too exuberant, too questioning, too consistent, too challenging, too relentless. The same people who found us useful and fascinating found us too wearing, too visceral, too intense, too overwhelming.
TBB and I took different approaches to this challenge, as reflected in a sketch The Drama Queens did of two transpeople driving to a conference. She popped on her “peril sensitive sunglasses” to become charming & oblivious, while I felt the need to explain and justify my choices.
Last month TBB took her motorcycle up into the Napa Valley for a weekend looksee. Cruising up a twisty mountain road, she came upon a breathtaking sight, a just smashed classic Porsche hanging off the side of the road with two broken passengers inside. With no airbags, they had gotten much the worst in a collision with a big new Ford Explorer.
While there were other people on the scene, none of them had yearly training in first aid and none of them were TBB. After determining she was the most experienced person on scene, she quickly took charge, assigning tasks and doing what she could to stabilize the injured.
When a paramedic and then a doctor arrived she quickly let them take charge, becoming an assistant to the process. Eventually an ambulance came and then two helicopters to medivac the driver and passenger from the scene.
“I wasn’t put off by the blood,” she told me. “I just saw what had to be done right there, right now, and I did the best that I could.”
Instant laser focus is one mark of too people, quickly engaging with the situation. We don’t live in assumptions and expectations, just ready to play out some internal scripts, rather we operate in real time, able to understand and adapt on the fly, doing what needs to be done.
After the airlift, TBB saw one young man who was on his knees. She went over to him and asked if he needed help.
“That was my brother. I let him ride in the Porsche. I killed him,” he said, understanding that TBB was safe to open up to, that she wouldn’t just play an old tape and make it about herself.
For fifteen minutes they talked, TBB being there for him. As he was leaving, he turned back to her and gave her a big hug.
“Thank you for saving him,” he said.
Through a phone call from him she has heard since that the two are still in intensive care, at least one still draining fluid off the brain, but they are still here, young and in with a fighting chance.
TBB wasn’t expecting to come upon a life and death scene on that beautiful ride, but when she did, she just did the work, blood and all.
Afterwards she looked for some company, sharing a coffee and coming down, but it was getting dark and everyone had somewhere else to go, something to do. They were either observers or professionals, not dynamic participants who had to zoom in like TBB.
This kind of separation comes naturally to us. Most people just don’t get the intensity and vigour that comes with being big, can’t engage the story. Mayebe that’s why she was happy to tell me in a phone call, sharing the experience and putting it in context.
TBB was picking up her children’s mother and driving up to her daughter’s PhD graduation this week, doing the work she has always loved most, building family. She will see her mother and brother, bringing a trailer filled with possessions from the condo.
This is the fight she still manages, the stuff of her heart. She can tell you the brick walls she ran into building family, especially after she came out as trans, and even show you the scars, but enough pounding and there was salvation & delight to be found.
The bubbleheads at work, though, the ones who can’t listen and need to follow their scripts even as failure is encoded in them, well, those aren’t fights she needs to win anymore. She did the work, said her piece, and if they ignored her, well, it’s on their head now.
The history of running into brick walls, though, well it has left her scarred a bit, not so willing to jump in and be a change agent. She is still a force of nature in the world, but a tamed one, more focused on her defences than on her brilliant & beautiful audacity.
In cultures where we knew others as individuals, each one exceptional and valued, TBB would have been treasured by her community.
In cultures where the normative is valued, her bounding heart is seen as too much, just not easily fitting into the machine made pattern of life. From school to standards, fitting in is valued above standing out, so excellence is scary rather than admirable.
Rather than embracing her power as breathtaking, TBB has lived a life where too many have tried to steal the breath from her, the air that might allow her to soar too high on exuberant wings. Hitting that brick wall, you know, will knock the breath right out of you.
TBB, though, still has some left and when the situation demands it, she will amaze and save others.
She just no longer expects people to really honour and encourage that magic. She has met too many walls in her lifetime.
Crash. Bang. Ooof. Ouch.