Good Grief

My doctor is changing their patient portal, so it was suggested I download my charts for archiving.   One diagnosis in the list caught my eye.


It’s on there because they know I directly cared for my parents in their last decade.

I don’t think, though, my doctor understands how grief is part of the trans experience.

He likes the idea that I am “trans-natural,” as opposed to the patient who got bottom surgery in Montreal and they still refer to as “he.”

The lifetime cost of being trans and not being mirrored, instead being shamed, dehumanized and erased, well, that’s not something he comes close to understanding.

Loss and denial has always been at the centre of my life.

The things that I cannot change — like society’s view of guys-in-dresses (1999) – have always been huge, much, much bigger than what I do have the capacity to change.   My Aspergers parents, my own nature, social expectations all had to be accommodated through my æsthetic denial.

Now, that ocean of unshareable, unbearable grief has swelled around me with no way to manage it other than my fading raw mental discipline.

In Grief Works, Julia Samuel shares stories from her twenty five years of being a grief psychotherapist.   The clients she talks about have finite, understandable grief but even that brings up deep seated issues that they need to engage and work through rather than avoiding for the comfort of those around them who would rather they be “brave” and silent.

My long, deep and profound experience with grief means that I often see ghosts walking.   People wrap themselves in illusions that they cannot afford to let die, clinging to the way they believe the world should be and end up railing against anyone who challenges that treasured belief system.

Worse, they see that experience of grief reflected in me just by looking into my eyes.   I understand that the reason my writing is so hard is because it carries that cycle, not just of rebirth but also of the death it requires.   Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die, going through hell to burn away our comforting illusions and being left with the crystalline and challenging truth of what is.

In contrast to those who “don’t talk about death,” the need to engage the scarcity and loss that was in my life came very early for me.   I was the target patient, the scapegoat who spoke up, named “Stupid” in the family for illuminating that which my mother would prefer to keep in shadow, not playing along with imposed expectations.

In my day, at least, you could never emerge as trans unless you were stubborn as hell, not pounded down by social convention and the desire to be liked.   For me, just keeping my head down, creating a peril-sensitive bubble around myself and bulling my way through was never an option.

As a femme, I had to stay in touch with my own feelings so I could connect with the feelings of others, engaging their stories with respect and compassion so that I could hold them tenderly in my own patchwork model of the world.   Building understanding was at the heart of my mission, helping to take care of others by helping them understand and address their own emotions and needs.

To hold open the space for them to change, to be a change agent and shaman,  facilitating growth & healing in the world, I put my own expression in the background.   By keeping my desires in the background, I could be the concierge, the gatekeeper, escorting others through the liminal space of emergence.

People, though, heal in their own way and their own schedule, so while I could be there to help negotiate their transformation, they were not able to be there for me, not able to understand my experience, not able to enter, affirm and mirror my own grief.

Struggling with grief has made me aware and thoughtful, but it still leaves me with the waste products of a life where rather than learning to trust my essence, able to show it with delight and affirmation, I had to learn to attenuate myself, working to kill off the bits of me that others found too damn much.

I was seen as corrupt, perverted, shameful, incomprehensible, rude and awful.

Hiding became my requirement, using my big mind to manage and conceal my breadth and depth.   I was diagnosed as kind of having depression but I knew the problem to be suppression, the need to heavily police myself in a world that seemed to offered no solace, no sympathy and no safety for hearts like mine.

It is the grief for my own required deaths that enveloped me and the grief that as my own grief and my own awareness of it deepened it cast me farther and farther from simple human connection.   Instead my links had to be processed and modulated, valued for being of service rather than simply being lovable.

The limits of the audience have been the limits of my life so my strategy has always had to be to make the best of what I can get rather than mourning for what I needed and was denied.

Grief has been something I had to manage rather than being able to share.   This has left me weighted down and gun shy, staying alone rather than having to be triggered again in a way that brings down my structures, breaking beyond the scant resources and depleted wherewithal left after tolerating a lifetime of grief.

Love is inside of me and I have given it freely.   My grief, though, is how others find me too complicated to love back, too honest, too big, too queer.   They struggle with the demands this rapid and pounding society makes on them, their own humanity consumed by a million other obligations and stresses.

I understand.   It’s okay that they don’t love me, at least on a conceptual level.

On an emotional, human level,  though, it causes me grief.