How many times can you perform the trick of lifting yourself up with your own bootstraps before they just get too frayed to hold you?
When you get abject, marginalized, oppressed people together for mirroring and support one of the big challenges is to get them to affirm the choices others make that they would never make for themselves.
Their own choices are supported by a carefully understood and constructed rationale that keeps them inside of the line, keeps them within the range of approval, and identifies others as too far out, too boundary breaking, too arbitrary, too erotic, too queer.
“Sure, I stuff gerbils up my butt, which is normal, but he stuffs guinea pigs up his, which is just sick!” as I used to put it in the 1990s.
When disapproval, dis-empowerment and dehumanization is at stake, it can feel safe to be on the side of stigma, staying inside what you can rationalize as normative while throwing out those who make choices which squick and scare you. That may mean being too weird or being too assimilated, standing outside of what you see as group values in any visible way.
I know that someone owns their own journey, become positive rather than reactionary, when they can finally say “I would never make that choice for myself, but it looks very good on you!”
These internalized judgments, based on our own social beliefs and personal self-policing, are easily hidden just under the surface, ready to be triggered at any time. We strike out at others at things that we fight to keep immersed in ourselves, ready to attack what we fear rather than having to face it with grace & healing.
If we can’t trust those who are much more normative to support our choices when they feel fear, disgust or intensity, and we are pretty well guaranteed to get pushback from those who are struggling with the same impulses & needs, where can we find the kind of support we need to emerge beyond history and biology?
We can only trust ourselves. Even then, though, we can’t trust everything; we know that we need to keep aware of those who are triggered by our choices, staying safe and connected by active self-policing. So very much to remember, so very much of a burden.
We are expected to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, not only pulling hard but doing it while we show a happy, integrated façade to others so that our sweat and fear won’t upset them. Showing strain asks them to participate in the magic of transformation while they just want to be amazed & soothed.
Does that sound like a recipe for failure? It is supposed to be, of course. The stigmatized are supposed to be pushed to the margins and broken so that others who might think about following them get the message and decide instead to follow the “straight and narrow path” towards social normativity. Fit in or pay the price is the message that keeps the status quo enforced.
Somehow, it’s always much easier to pay attention to those who loudly attack what we hold dear, even at the cold distance of news reports, than to find people ready to understand and support us, or even trust the majority who are mostly neutral, much more concerned with their own issues than with ours. Threats are much easier to be aware of than the banal neutrality which can conceal unpleasant surprises.
Most people, who live in a cluster of like minded friends, know that when they are attacked their group is attacked so they have someone to watch their back. For transpeople, though, travelling the road alone, we don’t have that comfort. Worse, we know that any challenge we offer will easily be dismissed by threatening our standing to speak, every word mocked as a lame excuse that cannot touch the fundamental belief structures and feelings of discomfort held by those who seek to cast us out as sick.
Still, alone we go in the world, without even people to tell us when a label is showing or we have lipstick on our teeth.
I know how to lift myself up by my own bootstraps, no matter how impossible that task may actually be. I have done it many times. I can still do it for moments, falling back and struggling to recover after the effort.
Going through and doing the work to grow & heal is something I have done all my life. My authority and words show that my choices are the stuff of serious consideration and struggle.
Still, I am alone. “The Loneliness Of A Long-Lost Tranny,” as the tagline of this blog has read since I started it 14 years ago.
I don’t see any way to change that, either. My questioning journey may have taken me to places I needed to go, through the hells that blocked my healing (1996), but it has also taken me far away from the banalities of everyday smalltalk. It has made my references almost incomprehensible, my contexts most off-putting and my questions most challenging.
A lifetime of loneliness, starting with my isolation from parents who had almost no theory of mind, no way to understand and enter other worlds, and continuing through queerness and theology, well, once you learn to live there, it becomes a well worn habit, enforced by a society that can’t accept the gifts you have to offer without becoming new & open.
My bootstraps are quite frayed, so every time I grab them to pull myself up one more time, straining for the magic just makes me quite exhausted.
Hard. Yes, hard.