Burden of Remembrance
As a transperson, one thing I have learned is simple: the most important part of anyone is what you can not see at first glance. Humans are like icebergs, 80% hidden beneath.
Personally. I look to see what they remember the most: the story in written their heart, or the legacy written in their scars.
Transpeople are always caught between these two memories. So many of our scars exist because our family, our friends, our community told us that the story in our heart was a lie, told us that they were the only ones who knew who we really are.
When we tell the truth found in our hearts we are called liars, leaving scars. When we tell others what they expect to hear, policing ourselves, those scars throb with denied truth. Lie or be called a liar is a choice that can only break a heart, is a choice that can only break our heart.
The veil of remembering to keep our heart hidden engenders a burden of darkness, a burden often called the closet. Nothing grows strong and healthy away from the light, away from the brilliance of revelation. Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons to avoid and deny.
It is always easier to know who we aren’t than to know who we are, easier to pick out an enemy than to embrace our own nuanced, human, flawed and profoundly individual heart. It is easier to remember our scars, to focus on those who hurt us, hoping they will be erased, rather than to have the courage to reveal our authentic heart, taking the blows and discovering the gifts which come when we follow our bliss.
What lies beneath the exterior of a transperson? If you don’t mind me taking you to a rather dark place – the inside of my brain – I can offer you a list of the things that I am remembering right now.
Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
- Remember to fit in
- Remember to hide your difference
- Remember not to show fear or any other emotion that may trigger them to attack you
- Remember to play small and keep your head down
- Remember to not catch their eye, remember not to invite scrutiny
- Remember not to flirt
- Remember not to use the restroom
- Remember you can’t trust anyone, so stay hidden
- Remember they aren’t staring at you
- Remember to smile, no matter how scared you are
- Remember their reaction is about them and not you, even if they act out and yell
- Remember there are normal people who look like you
- Remember that you belong here, at least as long as you don’t upset the children
- Remember not to confuse people, as that can piss them off
- Remember to modulate and attenuate your voice
- Remember to show your tells
- Remember not to show any doubt or ambivalence lest people pick at you to try and “prove” you wrong
- Remember that you never know how others are seeing you so it is just safest to assume the worst
- Remember that people who know porn may well assume your expression is just about fetish and partying
- Remember that others will get stuck in your biology and your history, not in your possibilities
- Remember that you don’t have permission to break the rules, so don’t let them catch you lying
- Remember not to fall for your own exuberance or passion; you will just get hurt again
- Remember that you have lost your standing as normal, that you can’t stand as a man or a woman, so trying to defend yourself will just confirm their judgment that you are broken, cracked, angry and humourless
- Remember that even if you are just trying to tell the truth, many will see your choices as a political attack on their beliefs
- Remember that they believe they are more scared of you than you are of them, and that they are entitled to their fear while you are not entitled to yours.
- Remember to swallow your pain, deny your loss and shout down any challenges.
- Remember to keep your rationalizations, your excuses, your defences sharp.
- Remember you can’t expect others to change.
- Remember that many will call you sick & deluded, a freak or a pervert.
- Remember that their sense of being entitled to unthreatened comfort isn’t about you, even if it marginalizes, dehumanizes and attacks your expression
- Remember that your rage at being silenced is not only incomprehensible to them but is also seen as an unprovoked attack against their simple values.
- Remember not to show anything when they mock & degrade people like you
- And most of all, remember to stay silent, remembering all this alone.
Here’s the problem, though. With all this to remember, there is a very good chance you will forget who you really are.
Remembrances hidden quickly become burdens. Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons of avoidance and denial.
I carry the weight of trans remembrance with me everyday. As much as I may try to share this history, I have found that few understand this weight of remembrance, the memories which correspond to our inner map of scars.
The only way I have been able to move beyond this burden is to open to the song in my heart, the music that was there long before the world tried to tell me who I must be.
This is what I look for when I see other transpeople, or just other people in the world: what is the story written in their heart, the power deep beneath their scars?
One of my favourite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw. “My tailor is the only sensible man I know. Each time he sees me, he measures me anew .” Every human, if we are lucky and strong, grows to emerge from behind their scars and into the glory of our heart.
What do I really need to remember today? I need to remember to transcend my history and my biology to claim that song in my heart.
And I need a community around me who is ready and willing to listen, able to sing that song back to me when I forget it.
Seeing what we thought we had to hide and embracing that essence is the best way to open ourselves to love in the world.
And it is the best way to honour lives lost because they were made invisible.
Remember that we aren’t our body or our history. We are the choices we make anew everyday.