Raw Skin

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.

When transpeople try to explain their experience of struggling to claim themselves in the world to others we often find it impossible.   Those who hear our tales try to map it to their own experience, their own understanding, but they come up being at a remove.

Why can’t we just make different, more assimilated choices?   Why do we have to break the expectations, be so damn queer?   Wouldn’t life be better if we were just nicer, simpler, and more conventional, putting the needs & concerns of others before our own?

They don’t feel the urgency, the pressure, the pain, the needs, the intensity for one simple reason.   It’s not their skin in the game, it’s ours.

Trying to turn down, to attenuate the sense of our own skin is not as simple as it is for others to just ignore our feelings, our experience, our knowledge.     The only way out of hell is through, not just building walls & compartments to lock away the inconvenient & challenging bits of us, putting on a nice face.

Coming out requires coming out.   If you are not striving to integrate yourself, you are disintegrating.

When we are shamed and stigmatized into the closet, the prescription is simple: the world needs less of you.   You are too much, too challenging, too queer and if you reveal that in the world you deserve whatever you get.

I have learned that the obverse is true.   The only way to blossom is to share more of you, to give more of the gifts you have inside, no matter how much that triggers the fear & discomfort of others, no matter how much that triggers the fear & shame inside of you.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
― Gospel of Thomas

Instead of being more like them, you need to be more like you.   Being yourself is the gift of a lifetime, as Joseph Campbell reminds us.

Finding people who will support you in facing your fears and being big, bold, beautiful and queer in the world is rarely easy.   Other people work on their own issues, the places where they have skin in the game, but that often means that they still have places where they resist, areas they don’t see the need to enter, places that they would rather leave in darkness.

Playing small to satisfy others is rarely the path to embrace your own authentic, queer voice.   Until they can express what they fear, what makes them uncomfortable, they can’t be there for you.   People who won’t fight with you can never fight for you.  Valuing the unique gifts of others is hard, but it is the only way you can learn to value the unique gifts that you possess.

Until you are comfortable in your own skin, you can’t be comfortable with other people shedding and growing into their own new and bigger skins.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.   That means that I am my own person, without a convenient identity group to fall in with, without a tribe who I can trust to welcome, understand and value me.

None of this is new, of course.   Anyone who read my work, who actually engaged it in an attempt to understand, will have seen these themes come up again and again.

“You don’t have to be too queer for the room, you know.   You just have to be better assimilated, more deferential, using more filters to attenuate your intensity.”

The first time I heard that was from my mother, telling me that I kept getting sent to new schools as Aspergers lost my father his job, but I was too stupid to learn to play along.

Yet, I knew the truth when I was four and found my favourite poem:

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.
— Alan Alexander Milne

Lizard Strongbox

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

In a meeting with a flack, my big boss told her that my boss was being promoted. She was surprised, asking “Who knew?”   He assured her that nobody knew, but she had seen my stoic reaction and was puzzled.   “They knew!” she cried, pointing at me.   He was clear: this was the first time I was hearing the news.

She was impressed that I didn’t flinch, understanding how useful that kind of face was in dealing with the press and public.   No tell from me, no leakage of difficult and nasty emotion.

That armour was developed because I from a very young age, I needed to appear to have a thick, tough masculine hide, no matter how much my emotions were visceral and intense.   Only one person was allowed to spew feelings, lashing out at how she was not only misunderstood but also tortured by everyone, including (especially?) her very young children who should know and behave better.

I had to be able to put my heart inside a strongbox, locking away my earthy, primal lizard brain for protection.   With it hidden, I was protected from showing my feelings in a way that left me vulnerable to wild & painful attacks, and it was protected from being shredded by being exposed as tender & feminine.

Being seen as a porcupine, all sharp observations, all cerebral edge, a phobogenic object, too cutting for the room, became my lifemyth, became the way I understood my place in the world.

All it cost me was the price of hyper-vigilance, of always having to be on guard for danger, ready to toughen up to take the blow which was sure to come.  I just had to always be on alert for the next shot, never trusting my own heart and my own nature, the nature so queer it called me to cross gender boundaries in a way that was sure to stir up the shit from others.

In the long run, it wasn’t just me I was protecting.   As a kid, I took the blows for my siblings, and in the end of their life, I was here to take the hits my father could no longer stand, helping him stay safe from tough demands on his co-dependent habits.

The body keeps the score, though, and the cost of a lifetime in instant response armour shows.   Playing the smart one who can take the hits has shaped my life and my character.   My hermit choices come from only feeling safe, from understanding that my frustration, pain, rage and other feelings need to be concealed or softened so as not to inflame others who couldn’t understand how someone so tough could also be so tender, couldn’t see how they are two sides of the same painful experience, the foundation of a wounded healer.

Everything about me seems so very stout, from my memory to my shoulders to my voice, that it is inconceivable that inside lurks something so very delicate and fragile.   I, though, am reminded of that truth every time I fear opening an envelope, hear a surprising sound or feel myself step out into the simple vision of others.

My lizard brain knows safety, and from my youngest days that safety only existed when I was alone with myself.   Slowly — very slowly — I learned to go deep, to first control and then to engage & understand my own feelings, working out a context for living with myself.

That context, though, has left me being the one who has to understand others, to enter their worlds, to take the blows of their own acting out deep fears & feelings.   Expecting to be understood, let alone soothed by others is off the table, so I am always ready to hunker down, to hit the deck, to toughen up, to take the blows, to lock my own heart behind compassionate armour.

It is a gift to be strong, smart, empathetic and understanding, but like every gift, it comes with a cost.   People who are still looking for someone else to blame, to lash out at “them” haven’t yet come to grips with the profound and painful lesson of sharing continuous common humanity, of needing to make others seem inferior so they can feel superior, even if that is the narcissistic vision of superior martyrdom and entitlement.   You suffer because of them, so you deserve whatever you can grab.

When you lose surface connection, all you can do is go deep to find the undercover currents that flow between, connecting all.   Visualizing depths, though, offers views of emptiness, pain and unhealed places that most often go unexplored, undiscovered and unhealed.   See too much and it often becomes easiest to just pass on the play, no matter how much possibility or potential is on the line.

All this bouncing between my deep cognition and my lizard brain leaves one bit of me isolated, unseen and untouched by others.

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

I also learned not to like taking hits, no matter how important the fight was.   The action may have been crucial, but it damn well was never fun.   That’s why I worked so hard to learn to fight fun and fair, taking care of others, even if they didn’t know how to use playful wit & empathic love to soften the fury of their expression.    It was always my job to figure out meaning, to find truth, to address feelings, the designated whatever in the family.

Answers always lie in connections, in process, in interplay, in conflicts, in liminal ambiguity.   That’s where I had to learn to live.

That doesn’t mean I ever, though, stopped waiting for the “third gotcha.”