“Have you ever found people to play with you?” she asked, following a support group we facilitated where I had brought out my inner Southern Belle, going all Sugarbaker to talk about the importance of play to discover our shadow selves.
“You must have played alone a great deal as a child,” echoed in my mind, asked by a gal with whom I took a course in early childhood development in my freshman year of college.
Telling my sister about the question, she immediately understood. “No, you never had a group to play with,” she remembered, reflecting on a lifetime.
From its beginning in 2005, the tagline on this blog has been “The Loneliness of a Long-Lost Tranny.” That loss and the resulting loneliness comes from one place, a deficit of mirroring which directly comes from the lack of safe play pals, of people who not only get the joke but affirm and extend it.
If you invest enough time and effort, some say, others will catch up to you, creating understanding and connection. This only works, though, if you stay fixed, offering a point they can find. I am unable to stay still, though — always hopping — which also means the distance to my viewpoint is a moving target. My continuing creative play is always exploring, always enlightening, always expanding & renewing my vision.
I love entering the stories of others, sensing our shared world through their experiences, their own eyes, ears and hearts. This is the way I gain a wider view, engaging the surprises of other voices, other visions.
Yet I have been unable to get a clear understanding of my own possibilities through this engagement. When I walk in the world, I don’t know how I am seen, of how I can express myself in new and graceful ways with confidence and assurance. The lack of mirroring drives me to silence & avoidance, falling back on old patterns rather than trusting that my own blossoming is visible and beautiful. Assurance fails me, so I go back to the strategy I learned so very long ago when I was so very young, playing alone.
Taking care of others, reflecting them from my concierge role comes by habit, but being cared for beyond what I know is seen as my own intense, overwhelming and prickly nature, just isn’t in my experience. People grow and heal in their own time, focusing on their own challenges, not being able to enter mine.
My play is always queer, not just repeating patterns but searching for new. I need the surprising, the witty, the cutting. Exploring is play for me, creating beyond expectation. “Make Me Laugh, Think or Come” said the old t-shirt, and while I have had to pass on one of those options, that makes me more passionate about the other two.
Playing stops me from fitting neatly into some predetermined role, instead staying liminal, in the doorways which offer connection. It is that play which kept me alive and aware, even when the world — and my family — seemed to want to crush me.
I couldn’t easily play with the boys or with the girls, and couldn’t play with others who couldn’t understand my family experience.
Not having anyone to play with, though, has left me very alone, profoundly lonely and a bit lost.
We each need someone to back our play, to play straight,to throw a flag on the play, guiding us back into safer spaces. The sparks off interactions open us up, melting our fears and taking into new possibilities.
Not having those kinds of people, I tend to stay as invisible as possible, simply pulling on jeans and polo shirts. We costume ourselves for other people, identity, competence, attraction and more coming into play, but if you aren’t going to engage others, don’t think they will play nicely with you, well, why bother going to all that trouble?
My play tends to be cerebral and creative more than being routine or physical. Finding an audience for that kind of play is hard, but finding someone who can enter that world, share and expand it, someone to play with is much, much harder. Relying that someone else will be there, a co-conspirator, a fellow cast member, a playmate, is important to trusting your heart enough to take risks of exposure and creation.
Stories are much more powerful when they are shared, held in trust between people rather than just questioned as solitary thoughts. Together, they become dreams, real and remembered, with someone else to remind you of them when you forget or when your faith just slips a little bit. Tossing energy back and forth always multiplies it, while trying to hold onto it alone just leaves it wilted, diminished and eventually corrupted.
In the glow of shared tales we can emerge from behind our individualized armour, knowing that we are not alone and lost, ready to be picked on. Sunlight bounces, growing healthy in a way that hiding in the darkness never can.
When we hold conventional beliefs, standard expectations, commercial needs and assimilated rules, our play is constrained by social norms. Like any marginalized person, I understand the regular dreams, but they never met my needs or desires. I can enter that mindset, but only with the effort of an outsider, while insiders usually can’t even fathom why anyone would want anything other than the feeling of safety being comfortably normative offers them.
Did I play alone a lot as a kid? Yes. Have I ever found a group of people to play with? No.
Does that leave me feeling long lost and lonely? Hell yes.
I know that I need reinvention, rebirth to get me back into social roles which offer rewards, the practical, emotional and intellectual rewards that come from sharing my gifts with others. The vacuum I exist in does not offer me the energy that comes from sharing stories and possibilities, from playful enthusiasm and exploration.
It’s just that after decades of trying, I still don’t know how to find those committed, energetic and understanding playmates.