“You know how the trainer said no one crosses the lines he offered diagonally, like being a fast feeling performer and a slow thinking analyst at the same time?” my boss asked me.
“I heard that, yes,” I replied.
“But you do that, are both those things.” She was right.
I have always existed in those spaces between, the places where people who draw comforting walls think do not exist. My liminality — existence in the door frame — started early when I had to be both parent and child, both girl and boy, both smart and stupid, both aware and disconnected. Wounded healers are always sliced between, both holding pain and transcendence, loss and gratitude, needs and independence.
Shimmering to others is what I have always done, looking both mature and crazy, brilliant and lacking, happy and hurting. Never really knowing how I appear to others, what is lost in the noise they can’t decode, and being aware that any choice I make can crack their assumptions leaves me feeling like I am always on unsteady ground, having to be ready to slip any minute.
Learning to have a thick skin was crucial to growing up in a family where emotions were erased through Aspergers style viewing even as un-managed frustration & pain was sprayed about.
That tough carapace, though, had to help me hold in feelings I had no place to process, no place to even surface, like the dreams I held every night about waking up as a girl.
Today, though, the rifts that run through my presentation in the world, with a big old body that clearly went though puberty as a male, a tough mind that built a model of the world to keep me sane, and a tender heart that never feels like it can melt as it needs to leave me cleft and unsteady. What part of me will trigger unwanted detonations because I have failed to effectively conceal it?
Any space I consider entering is only going to be safe for part of who I am, or at least so I believe. Attenuating the bits that don’t fit their expectations, assumptions and codes has always been expected of me. Maybe, if I had support for some areas of my life I could compartmentalize a bit more, but my solitary existence is pernicious, my profound loneliness threading through every moment of my life.
I know that I can handle anything I face. I also know that there will be a price to be paid for that handling, a cost I have to bear alone over precious time. My resiliency is diminishing with age, as are my possibilities.
As humans, we develop survival strategies that help us negotiate the challenges of the world. Since my Asperger’s parents had no emotional strategies to share, I based my strategies around modelling my environment, developing structures that help me decode stories, finding connections between them to seek universal, baseline truths. I started doing this from a very young age and now have a lifetime of understandings that give my choices structure, give me comfort & balance, if not happiness & warmth.
Not having my strategies based around human networks means I have a very different approach to life than people who go with the crowd, stay connected with friends and family, or hold onto belief structures learned early. I have had to go through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction of my values and knowledge so I could continue to grow and become more actualized. Being post-therapy, though, is a place few choose to go, not wanting to have to face the dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, to go through the fires to burn away the false and merely convenient.
My connection to power is not in being a sweet talker, saying what others love to hear, but instead in being a straight talker, holding fast to the truth as I have struggled to know it. While straight talking has been my key to survival, it has never been a key to making friends and influencing people. I was caretaker to my family, yes, but the most important choices I made were helping them see a bigger picture, feeling safe in a greater understanding rather than just being sweet and giving them what they thought they wanted.
I have never wanted to be too presumptive in entering a space. Over the past 35 years, I never told people what pronouns to use with me, knowing that their choices tell me much more about them and how they are seeing me than they do about me. I do feel better when people see what I am communicating and respect that, but if I don’t want to be told the right way to think then I can’t tell others what they should be thinking. I have explained this to those who want to help transpeople knowing that a beginning and fragile exploration of self can be crushed by someone who doesn’t respect the courage it takes to try to reveal truths we have been told are scary and shameful.
“In your face” was never my choice. As someone who believes deeply in teamwork I needed to build bridges, leading with connection rather than ego, giving the kind of respect I want to be given rather than demanding my way. I have seen too many newly out transpeople act like petulant teenagers, which may be understandable but does not create mature connections. Insisting that others honour your comfort zone while you ignore theirs does not feel like it builds relationships; I don’t want to have to negotiate the fears of others, so why should they have to pander to my fears, rather than expecting me to engage my own challenges?
My writing is my art and it is there I push boundaries, not in social interactions. Finding people who can take these texts as truth, entering them, has never been easy or simple. To do that people have to not just ignore what they don’t understand, assigning their own meanings and leaving the rest, they have to actively receive all of what I say, working, as I do, to grasp my inner map, both the comfortable and the dark parts. For those who strive to avoid their own darkness, though, this is not really possible.
Walking into spaces has always required me to get an understanding of the group dynamic, to find sly & witty ways to interject my own views while respecting & clarifying the views others bring to the table. This has always been my service, but finding those who can offer that service to me has proven well neigh impossible.
Bringing the crags and canyons of my own heart into a space where they are seen, understood and valued, held with compassion and awe, my shimmering nature and the hard won lessons it gave me respected rather than feared or erased, escapes me. I may be able to stay in one zone of my liminal nature for a bit, but I am the doorway and all facets need to be cared for, not just the ones others find simple, useful and supportive.
All humans cross boundaries, transcend limits, offer luminescent connections. Most, though, in this society that craves binary shorthands don’t explore or expose that truth, working to stay in comfortable boxes as a survival strategy.
“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.” I knew that was my mission statement the moment I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say it. I revel in my liminality, but finding ways that fits into social groups, well, never been easy.
My being torn through is a gift I have learned to treasure. Having others treasure it, though, has always seemed to be asking too much beyond cultural norms.
Where do I find the community I need, the one that venerate the divine surprises offered us, those moments of sight that move us beyond comfort and into mature wisdom? Where does all of me, including the precious liminal tears that define me, fit?