Divine Discomfort

We humans are very, very good at avoiding discomfort.   We know very well how to stay inside our comfort zone, no matter how small, how twisted or how limiting our habits and expectations have made that space.

Discomfort, though, is required for growth.   If we only do what we are already comfortable doing, instead listening to the resistance of our ego, nothing will ever change.  After all, the only way change can come is when it starts with new choices by one human, usually you.

We can always find reasons not to expand our life, not to risk, not to take a chance, not to face potential embarrassment and discomfort.   It is easy to surrender to our own inertia, to be too tired or have too little hope, to just continue making the same choices while complaining that nothing ever changes.

That critical voice inside has a point.   We do need to be smart about where we use our energy, our resources, not just taking shots that use our wherewithal up or lead us to believe that change is impossible.   Spitting into the wind rarely gets us happy rewards.

But as long as we avoid discomfort, we avoid even the chance of finding the divine surprise, that moment when our vision opens and we see the love, the awesome,. the possibilities of better in the world.    We miss the miracle of seeing with new eyes, scales falling away while beauty and potential is revealed.

It’s impossible to be in the right place at the right time if you just aren’t anywhere at all.   Braving discomfort, risking change rather than just working to avoid loss is required.

Do one thing everyday that scares you,”  Mary Schmich advised graduates.   Its the only way to expand your horizons, to really find out what you have inside, to claim that gift of a lifetime that Joseph Campbell spoke about, becoming who you really are.

I know that for me, it is again time to come out of my basement hermitage and take the risk of exposing my nature, of trying again.   I have been licking at my wounds long enough.

Performance Anxiety (PA), often known as stage-fright, is an old friend of mine, as it is for most performers.   If you aren’t a bit excited, you don’t have the energy you need.

For me, though, what I need from performance isn’t simple.   My performance is far from conventional, challenging to many, and baffling to others.  I will never neatly fit into expectations and the kind of engagement I need will never come from simply affirming pleasantries.   My distance from simplicity and cuteness makes me exceptional, like so many others.

Still, I am human and I need connection with other people.   Few may get the joke, but if I decide to value momentary comfort over exposing my truth, how will I ever find anyone who understands, who cares, who wants to play?   Only braving my own discomfort, moving beyond fears & assumptions, can allow me to be present for others and possibly, just possibly, have them be present for me.

If my experience with PA teaches me anything it is that first showing myself is always the hardest part.   Once I relax into presence beyond fear, my reflexes take over, letting me appear in a way that most would call natural or authentic.

In other words, it’s not the work that is hard, it is finding a way to open up and get into the swing, the patterns of the work.   If I just stop resisting, doors open up and I can receive the gifts waiting for me, even if those gifts include hints on how to be better and stronger the next time.

Entering the discomfort, then, is the only way to get smarter and more myself.   The only way out of hell is through, as someone said.

For me, the people I want to meet are those who are also on a journey of discovery, open to the divine surprises they find along their path.   When others take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings, rather than seeing someone to blame or demonize, they commit to connection rather than separation.

Travellers always step out of their comfort zone, knowing that anything that doesn’t surprise, disquiet and challenge them, at least a bit, is something that they already own.    Curiosity drives seekers, rather than the simple sensation that tourists desire.   Transformation always has a cost and a value, setting us apart from those we come from, while sensation just entertains, allowing us to return satiated to the everyday norms.

Working to expand our knowledge and awareness can only come with the embrace of discomfort.   We may want to grow our mastery, learning to be more precise and effective, or to engage questions, even questions we had never considered in the past, but whatever expansion we desire, discomfort lies on the path.

Avoiding discomfort is avoiding the hard work of growth and healing.  We trade momentary ease for a more limited future.

I know that if I want a more full future that my only chance demands that I open the door and push into the discomfort that stands between here and the possibilities that lie in the treasures of divine surprises.    Avoiding those surprises through avoiding discomfort is avoiding the gifts life has waiting for me.

The youthful exuberance and resilience I once had is gone, replaced now with more wisdom.  I need to choose where and when I push through discomfort rather than just bouncing about, hoping to find an opening.

Between love and fear, choose love, opening to connection rather than closing down to pretend separation.   Have the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But always know that to get the most out of life, choosing to push into discomfort is the only way to go beyond where you are now, to make new and better choices that offer the blessings of divine surprise.

Carry That Weight

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

Part of the whole construct/deconstruct/rebuild ethos of rebirth is looking deeply at the ideas you carry, at the expectations and beliefs that are contained in your stories, and discarding those that you can.   To become new we must clear out the old, but not at the cost of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.   Something must be worth holding on to.

I am aware that I do not discard enough in my life.   Intellectually, that is easy to know, but emotionally, in a life full of hoarding scraps, of protecting what I have scraped together, well, letting go is easier said than done.   I know loss very well, being used to having what I value removed, so discarding isn’t easy.

I know that objects and symbols are not meaning, that their power comes from the stories attached to them, but those tales form the bedding I nest in every night. New possibilities always seem to come with new burdens, weights that feel more oppressive than the bundles I have already learned to carry.

With my low levels of latent inhibition, I have always been more of a saver than a tosser, knowing that keeping lets me find patterns, giving me the possibility of having what I need in the future.    Still, I deeply process what I save, looking to work through the emotions as much as I can using my patented rational filter, the one I built in childhood to keep my feelings in check by processing and understanding the choices I saw (and felt) people making around me.

Emotion, though, doesn’t leave just because you understand its context and its roots.   The body keeps the score, as Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us.

The weight I hold isn’t in my mind, it is held deep in my body, trapped emotions, pervasive hyper-vigilance, crippling angst, creeping fear.  “That poor, twisted man.  But don’t the suit fit nice?

Solitary rationality just can never touch that residual emotion.  Yet, that residual emotion is so sharp that it makes it difficult to touch, especially for people who never touch their emotion except in sanitized packages like workshops and Hallmark movies.   Raw is raw, and only those who have pushed through their own hell can possibly enter yours.

Eating emotions, though, does not release them.   The body still keeps the score.

As a woman, a caretaker, I do the work of engaging the emotions of others, mirroring, contextualizing and reinforcing them.   I enter their world to support them, but as a trans person who is a child of Aspergers, finding people who can enter my world has been well neigh impossible.

A burden unshared is a burden multiplied.

For those of us on a solitary path solitary burdens abound.  My personal Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) piece from last year was called “Burden of Remembrance”  in which I listed all the things I was taught to remember when stepping outside presenting my transgender nature.   One PFLAG mother thanked me for explaining the weight that I feel and she doesn’t notice as a normative person, but a therapist just wondered why I didn’t effectively work the crowd after I presented, seemingly not understanding the burdens I outlined weren’t just rhetorical or hypothetical.  In fact, she later told me I needed to attenuate myself more, cut my voice back so as not to challenge others, wanting to add more weight on me.

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

I just don’t have the eyes or the perspective to see myself objectively, to look beyond my burdens to my possibilities.   For the people I care about, I always mirror them so they can see both their potential and the things they do that block that potential.    Using witty reminders of choices made, choices that created better results and choices that didn’t work so well, I offer them encouragement, a clear “Yes!” to moving beyond fear and shining in the world.

Seeing beyond convention takes work.  One of the first steps is to develop language to describe what most people take for granted, their own expectations of normativity.   Until you can express your vision, you cannot change it.  After that, learning to see the range of possibilities, even possibilities which you would never, ever choose for yourself, enables a glimpse of options to be offered.

I know that even when I ask people to tell me what they see and what can be changed, their normative assumptions limit what they can say.   So much of me remains invisible, unseen and unspoken, outside of the bounds of vision.

The stories I carry, the truths I have boiled down, the foundations I have dug down to, are vital to me.   Dropping them because others just find them to be meaningless noise is not an option.

Until I can trust that others carry some of my valuables, though, figuring out what burdens I can successfully drop, what weight I can shed, is very, very difficult if not impossible.

Yet, dropping some of the weight I carry is clearly the best thing for me.   I know that.

Who would I be without the burdens that I have learned to carry?

How the hell should I know?

I guess, though, I should find out.

Alluring Aspirations

Girls learn early that the best way to enact the woman they want to be is to copy women who seem to embody their own aspirations.   Gender may be a copy with no original, as Butler said, but the copying, the copying is an essential and driving part of womanhood.

In the end, women have to end up creating a collage presentation, with a little bit of one role model, a lot of another and a scattering of family & community influences, but copying, seeing what fits, keeping the best and looking for better is deeply embedded.   This is why women, unlike men, love looking at magazines and shows filled with images of other women, stylish women to read, women to judge, women to reject and women to copy.

Forming cliques of other women — other girls — who look like you, act like you and think like you is foundational to creating identity.   Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda knew how to be smart single girls in the city, and so they created a pack, one millions of other women dreamed of joining.

I know what women hold images that call to me, who have shards of style that I want to own, including in my own presentation.   Joanna Gleason, for example, is a woman whose cool smarts have always appealed to me.

What I never knew, though, is how I could become those women.     The limits of my own typecasting, from body to history, seemed to create an immutable wall that just trapped my heart under the weight of simple divisions.

Women bond over aspirations, over dreams, desires and role models.   When you are separated from those shared possibilities, you are separated from gender.  I sure as hell never wanted to be an attractive man, and was sure that I could never be an attractive woman, so what the hell was left to weave me into the networks of dream sharing friends?

When I read about women who left behind medical care to follow a fraud who claimed to have found the secret to resisting cancer while staying lovely,  I know why women were so attracted to the aspirational dream she offered, even if it was a lie.   I know why Kate Bornstein read the TV hosts so as to say that she found David Duchovny attractive, knowing that women bond over shared crushes.

We live in a world of “infuencers” who offer dreamy faces of a “perfect” life for women to swoon over, imagining being that woman, in that place.   It is the reason women have always loved romance novels where they can be almost as swept away as the heroines, taken to a dreamed about world of beauty.

If I can’t be swept away because I have learned that those dreams are verboten to people like me, how can I join the crowd that shares aspirations?   How can my enforced “hyper-sanity,” the solitary isolation I had to navigate with rationality, ever let me simply be part of the group?   How can I dream of being like them when I know the only damn thing I can be is more myself?

It is powerful to know that the gift of a lifetime is becoming yourself, but having to do that too early and for too long is very isolating.  I may be comfortable with having God as an audience, as she knows my heart and sees my choices, but having others to hang with, to have my back, to know me in messy, earthly ways seems to be a compelling thing too.

Worse, I know that the best way to build a following, an audience, is to be aspirational, offering attractive images to others.   Until and unless they want to emulate bits of you, they don’t see much point in listening to you.   Knowing I have never been slim and pretty means knowing that many have rejected me as any sort of life model, not wanting to look like me or end up like me.

Pretty packages, well, women have always known that they are the best way to get people to engage and accept your gifts, to draw you into their awareness.

Seeming authoritative is easy for me after 25 years of deeply exploring the meaning of life and queerness, but that appearance both lets me touch some while many others feel the need to reject what I offer.   The fight inside of them against what they find challenging is easy to externalize onto me, feeling that if they can just silence me they can silence their inner fears and knowledge.  Not having assurance in their own choices, just being able to thoughtfully express their own point of view, erasing challenges seems easier and simpler.

It is good to know that what I say can often stick in the memory, coming up years later to inform and support new choices, but having to be rejected in the moment, often with upset acting out, well, that doesn’t make me feel safe as a girl.  I may know that they are fighting with themselves, externalizing inner battles, but that doesn’t stop many from kicking out to wound and silence.

I carry many of the same aspirations as any woman, especially to have partners who share and support my dreams, helping take care of each other’s needs.

Those aspirations, though, were first crushed many years ago, and have been further worn down by age, experience and awareness.  The part of me that was never allowed to be a girl may still be vibrant in my heart, but the rest of me has grown even as she has been flattened.

Who can I dream of being?   What shards can I show, cobbling together beauty, strength and vulnerability?   How can love find those who have an unlovable surface?

Can I ever aspire to be alluring?

Characteristic

Over the years I have written a number of character sketches of “Callan” in this space.  Most of these were meant as a kind of marketing exercise; could I shape a description of someone who would be strong, focused and attractive to connect with?

The art of marketing is oversimplification, as Ries & Trout reminded us, so all of these profiles described a kind of face shown to the world, a public visage that didn’t show all of my tumultuous thoughts, all the struggle of my history, all the raw and still bloody emotions which still drive my work as a wounded healer.

If I could just define such a well defined and transcendent character, I should be able to play that character, right?

What I found, though, is that while I could show the world a carefully edited part of me, an elegant façade, keeping that face up was quite a chore.    Without a well developed support system, a backstage area where I could let my hair off, the deeper parts of me bubbled to the top, seeping out as if they were laced with Olestra.

In the well polished concierge role that I shaped to take care of my parents and others around me, a thick skin and a focus on the needs of others is easy, all part of the act.   It was just an extension of the breeches role I created to act as a guy in the world, a way to have a feminine heart and a male body while still staying connected with people I loved.   Who cares, though, for the care givers?

Revealing more of that feminine truth, though, feels like being very much too exposed to a world that just doesn’t get the joke, a society which has no way to understand or contextualize the contents of my heart.

How can I both serve by simplification while also having my deeper needs met, rather than just having to hide and compartmentalize them?   It’s a challenge that even trans support spaces couldn’t help me with, leaving me alone again and again.

I remember a crossdresser coming into a meeting and reading a poem from Yeats.

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats - 1865-1939

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.   Yes.  Yes, I understand that deeply.

Today, drag performance is very much in the public eye.   Flaming, genderqueer twisted shows, taking a “let your freak flag” fly moment.   Drag characters are fun and powerful, though they are rarely deep, human and complicated.   I know this because I first came out as a “guy-in-a-dress,” showing a mixed performance in a quest to perform a kind of gynandrony/androgyny.  They remind me of a memory from one ZsaZsa’s husbands, who found it difficult they could not go down to the store or for a walk easily, because she first had to get into full Gabor face.

While drags may brilliantly reveal aspects of humanity, they do it by concealing other parts of their humanity, using the marketing art of oversimplification.   It is fun to watch, bringing attention, but always at some kind of cost that needs to stay hidden for the performance to work.   Never let them see you sweat, you know.

Drag is what I do everyday in my concierge role, a strong exterior which allows my my woman’s eyes to look out, my feminine voice to sneak out, asking the tough questions with a mother’s love.

For me, even today, it is still too painful to reveal a persona that feels like it allows others to tread on my dreams.  How long will I be able to stand strong with a trounced heart and what will it take to heal enough to risk again as I lay all alone in my hermit cave?

Without revelation, though, attracting those who can help me becomes impossible.  Revelation through oversimplification, though, showing a loose and open appearance, is not something that feels like I can master; my depth of vision tends to leak through, sooner or later.

So, what kind of character can I present that both is simple enough to be marketing effective and is also not so constraining that it leaves me crippled, gasping for breath?  How do I reveal the gifts of my journey without being accosted by others who want to silence me into hiding what challenges and discomforts them?

That question has bedevilled me for a few decades now.  It’s why I have written so many character sketches, trying to suss out who I can show myself as in the world to get what I need while serving others.

I have long known both where I am best defended and where my tender, vulnerable spots are.   My power may come from a big, feminine heart, from a deep art, but keeping that protected behind a curmudgeon curtain has kept me functioning as well as I have, keeping meltdowns for private places and times.

Growing organically to find balance is definitely the best plan, but at my age and weight — the history, thoughts and awareness that I carry — that is far from a simple process.   Young and cute and full of promise I ain’t.   People want to know who I am, how they can engage me, how I am like them and what I offer, not feel threatened and overwhelmed by my history and intensity.

I can write an nice Callan.  I can even perform her, at least for a while.

But wiping off all the mess from my life, my being, my presence?

That I don’t know how to do.

The Entitlement Of Children

“Look at you, a grown ass man fighting with children!”

Those children appeared to be a pair of twenty something lesbians, the more butch of whom had driven her minivan with a “Bernie For President” bumper sticker around me in the facing traffic lane as I waited for the car in front of me in the entry road to Walmart.

They felt entitled to break the law, be unsafe and rude to get where they wanted to go, but felt that no one, especially me, had any right to challenge or confront their choices.

Removing my standing was their big move, as they told me to go away, as they mocked my hair, my whatever, calling me rude names as I just wondered why they felt they were entitled to violate rules, social and legal.   Together they agreed that I was the fucking asshole, that I was harassing them, that calling them out was just improper.

It was the more femme one who finally made the point: “Look at you, a grown ass man fighting with children!”

My reply was simple: “Anyone with a driver’s licence is not a child.”   You have agreed to obey the rules of the road.

But they, you see, saw themselves as children, entitled to do whatever they wanted to do.

(For the record, it’s the same Walmart parking lot where a young woman of colour yelled at me for an hour after she hit the back of my car as I was backing out of a blind parking space.  My fault, yes, but grown ups know how considerate we have to be in parking lots.)

I spent years talking about the obligations of parents, and beyond that, the obligation we each have to parent the world, caring for others, caring for community by taking responsibility for our own actions and the shared actions of the group.

That chat got me kicked off lists, attacked and spattered because I was a grown ass human fighting with children.  Many demanded the indulgence and entitlement of selfishness, the kind that lets you just cut around cars in the other traffic lane to get where you want to go rather than waiting for your turn, rather than respecting the other people in front of you.

Call out culture is to call out those above us, those who should make room for our youthful demands, not to call out the teen spirit that lets us be rebels in the quest for getting what we need, what we want!   How can you, who we see to be old and straight, possibly understand our suffering?

Insisting that other people make way for you while you just get to slam them for causing you challenge and discomfort is definitely childish behaviour.  It is the kind of behaviour one would expect of one who wants to be a spoiler in the Democratic party while identifying as an Independent.  Oh, yeah, the bumper sticker makes sense.

This culture knows how to pander to children because children act on whims and are malleable.   They are cute and hot and manipulable.

Seniors, however, like the three people who encouraged me to go in front of them in the line at Aldi because I had just one item, right before I drove into Walmart, are more settled, more sane and more balanced.   You usually can’t just use emotion to get them going, tempting them to buy whatever you are selling, from phones to political actions.   Telling them that the kids are trying to take away everything they value may get them hot enough to fight, but that’s a battle it takes two to heat up.

Learning that your choices have consequences, that you shouldn’t do onto others what would be hateful to you, that you have the responsibility to model good behaviour is something you grow into.   It’s easy to attack people who make choices that you would not make for yourself, but not so much fun when you get attacked for making choices that your peers approve of but don’t pass muster for grace and legality.

Accountability is not only for others.   Telling people to go away because their witnessing of your actions makes you uncomfortable is not politically correct.

Every time you use being a child as an excuse to get away with selfish, entitled behaviours you tell the world that you are not ready to be seen as an adult, not ready to make the choices of an adult, not ready to be given responsibility for shaping a world that respects everyone with dignity and consideration.   It’s okay to be a child, still experimenting and forming, still caught up in your own stuff, but both being a child and a leader doesn’t work.

When people show they are working to take responsibility, it is easy to offer them a hand.   When people demand our indulgence, shining in their own sense of entitlement, it is easy to demand responsibility from them.

In my heart, the call to mother has always been loud.   Being a mother, though, doesn’t mean just smiling as kids make unsafe, rude and selfish choices, it often means mirroring those actions to help them find mature choices.

As long as people continue to use being children as an excuse, though, they remain both dangerous to others and unsafe to themselves.   As much as they need a chance to explore possibilities, they also need to understand that their actions have consequences.

Why do I mirror those who think their identification as children entitles them to selfish indulgence of rule breaking and other crude behaviours?

Because I believe that in every child there is a grown-up who can come out and be a valued asset in the world.

No matter how much they and their peers just want to talk shit, minimize me and rationalize their own behaviours.

Attraction Fraction

There are days when I really wish I could believe in the “Law of Attraction,” the idea that simply wishing for and visualizing things can draw them into our life.

There is some truth encapsulated in that notion, of course.   If we don’t believe we are worthy, don’t trust in our own grace, we will have problems accepting what is offered to us, missing possibilities that those who trust in their own attractiveness will easily grasp.  It is very much true that those who are confident and open about their own shining attraction will be seen as more attractive than the skittish, defended and avoidant.

A pretty woman can play ugly but an unattractive woman will have trouble playing pretty goes one old casting saw.   Someone who is confident in her own beauty can show her insecurity and mousiness but one who never felt attractive has much more of a challenge finding her own inner vixen.

Every woman knows her flaws, having them mirrored to her by a judgmental and compeditive culture.   This is one reason the “put-down” pickup technique often works, where a woman is challenged by a man who appears to not be struck by her beauty.

Not every woman knows her glories, though.   The mirrors are shattered and warped for those women who don’t fit conventional expectations, those who are marked out by not fitting the images of beauty all over the media.  We live in a world where trolls all across the internet feel entitled to slam those that they don’t find appealing with whatever horrible put downs that they can muster, cruelly judging women on appearance alone even as they never question the value of their own looks.

“You are the fat girl!” I was told as I posed in a vintage Corvette at a photo shoot in the 1990s.  “You need to smile!  You need to look jolly!”  When the editor of IFGE Tapestry wanted a picture of me, she turned to a premier photographer who attended trans conferences.   She quickly called me back, saying “We will go with an illustration,” acknowledging that my big frame just was never pretty enough to catch the eye of Mariette.

“The only way I will be with a man is if he sees me as a woman,” I told a gay guy at a bar.  “That’s never going to happen!” he responded.  “Okay, then, it’s never going to happen,” I accepted.  One reason I have been abstinent for so long is a refusal to play into the roles my body typecasts me into.   I can’t be intimate with anyone who doesn’t see and reflect my big and beautiful heart.

That’s why the law of attraction is so ephemeral for me.   I know that most can’t see beyond my body and my history, most cast me into roles that they understand and that keep me separate, rather than opening up intimate pathways.   I’m smart, sharp and loud, yes, but because that comes from bits that went through puberty as male, my tender heart tends to get trounced in the interactions.

A lifetime of interactions, added to the truth that aging tends to move us away from any ideal of desire, shapes the expectations I have around attraction.   Few women see themselves as getting more attractive as they get older; a realistic viewpoint.

To be a more public person, though, requires me to trust in some level of my own attractiveness.   If I show myself, put myself out there, what will people see?   Look at me! See my heart! Don’t look at me! Don’t see my assignments!  I knew the issue twenty some-odd years ago. How has it changed now?   How can I change now?

I need the social connection that attraction can deliver, but I have learned not to trust my own image.   People are happy when I take care of them, but being present for me is more than they are ready or willing to handle.   I am not a beautiful flower but a big bull, ready for work but not for admiration.  No one was ever wrapped around my little finger, smitten by my fragile beauty, desperately wanting more of my glamour.

Always depending on the kindness of others leads one to a limited life.   Accepting the gifts — the miracles — of the life you have is more important than imagining what you want and finding ways to try and get it.   Learning to do the work of growth, change and healing is vital, and not just when the bloom is off the rose and you are no longer the flavour of the month.  It is easy to lose yourself in who others want you to be, in creating what they find attractive rather than what you know to be authentic, and that can lead to the loss of inner comfort and awareness.

It’s the balance that counts, and while for many women, learning to find themselves apart is hard, for women like me, learning to find myself connected has always been the challenge.  I had to be a strong self from earliest days when even my family cast me out as “stupid,”  so never learned to be a strong link, part of the network of women.

Attraction for me is not about finding something sexual, it is about connecting with something powerful.  Olympia Dukakis says that when she met a transsexual woman prior to playing Anna Madrigal in “Tales Of The City” she was most surprised when she asked why they had gone through all of the changes.  “I needed the company of women,” was the answer, which was both surprising and sensible to Ms. Dukakis, who knew that her power came from being part of the web of women in the world.

My mother in the sky finds me brilliant and gorgeous, I am certain of that.  My mother in this life, though, never did.   Too many have expressed their own odd attraction to me, seeing me as fire, both fascinating & illuminating while being terrifying & isolating at the same time.

There are days when I really wish I could believe in the “Law of Attraction”  but then I flick through the way I have been mirrored in the world, the way people like me continue to be mirrored in the world, and somehow, my faith quickly fades.

Salvation’s End

I believed that rationality would save me.

What else possibly could?

I was growing up in a house where my mother’s intense internalized trauma of growing up with Aspergers got sprayed over everything and everyone, where every moment threatened another explosion, another erasure, another lashing out in search of a scapegoat who must be the one who stole her normality and happiness.

She had chosen my father at a new year’s eve party when she saw his iron ring, a signature of engineers in Canada.   He brought a kind of rationality that didn’t demand the emotional involvement that other men demanded, a kind logical problem solving approach that would enable him to focus on taking care of her with no messy needs of his own.

Between the flailing, pained emotionality of my mother and the withdrawn thinking of my father, I had to find a way out of the challenges that faced me in the family, the home, the neighbourhood.

I believed that rationality would save me.

I could think my way out, moving beyond mess to clear & sharp understanding.

That choice has been my blessing and my curse.

Neel Burton has a new book out, “Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking.”   It is a direct response to his last book, “Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception” as he found that there were those in the world who strove to purge themselves of self-deception,  learning to think out of the box, and that those people find both benefits and costs from moving beyond convention.

Both mental disorder and hyper-sanity place us outside society,”  Burton wrote in 2016.   Both shatter the self-deception that most use to hold themselves together, the shielding and shedding through latent inhibition used to hold onto the conventions of sanity.   “By protecting us from fearsome truths, ego defences not only blind us to those truths and so to reality, but also confuse and constrict our thinking.

The truth around me, no matter how fearsome, was not manageable by blindness.   I didn’t understand how rare my concept forming survival strategies were, though I did understand that most people “didn’t get the joke,” weren’t able to understand and mirror me.

Others, I also knew, weren’t as excited to see the world from another perspective, to go around corners and find new ways of understanding our shared world.  Not wanting their beliefs and feelings to be challenged, they tended to cling to the known and comfortable instead of opening up to connections, mental and otherwise.   Quick, fluid, deep thinking isn’t easy for those not taught the habits of analysis and understanding.  Seeing things as we expect them to be is so much easier and assuring of current comforting correctness, so for many rejection of challenge as “noise” becomes second nature.

It is not sick to be sick of sickness.   I knew my choices were limited as a queer/trans person, as a child in my family, as someone who could see clearly.  I knew that I had to trust rationality to save me.   In a world that values assimilation over sanity, though, that rationality also has the power to destroy me.   I know what it is to be seen as a “too person” — too smart, too sharp, too intense, too queer, too overwhelming.

The idea that rationality exists in opposition to feeling, that it mostly serves as a way to impose structure on the world, winning by forcing it into your own framework is held by those who seek control rather than understanding.   To me, rationality is a gateway into understanding natural complexity, even the beautiful complexity of my own soul.

Seeking the connections between stories lets me identify deeper patterns, the truth that can often be lost in as we rationalize difference or try to impose arbitrary structures.   Living in the chaos made me understand it, and while I tried to control it by manipulating those around me, it was not until I let go of those behaviours that I could finally embrace messy humanity with all the passions, needs, desires and brilliance.

Rationality, though, is one of the most effective ways to identify and challenge rationalizations, those mental mods we build to try and justify our choices and beliefs.  This has always made me seem dangerous to those trying desperately to stay in place even while it makes me compelling to those who seek healing.   Too many have wanted me to use my rationality to challenge what challenges them without challenging their own assertions, but questioning just doesn’t work like that.   It is always our assumptions which have to stand the test first if we really want to get to clear thinking.

To question our rationalizations is to question the fundamentals of our own identity.   If we aren’t the notions that we use to inform our choices, then who are we?   If the ground we stand on is shifting, what can we trust as a foundation for our claims, our beliefs, our truth?

For me, going deep into connection is the only way to find a bit of bedrock, but the willingness — no, the absolute need — to always be questioning, ready to doubt, makes it very hard to assert ego in the world.    I may have found some fundamentals but I know they will be dismissed by anyone who finds them threatening to their identity props and I have no simple conventions to back up my hard earned wisdom, only the way it has helped me understand my surroundings.

I believed that rationality would save me and it has.

I learned early, though, from a mother that gave me the family nickname of “Stupid” that my questions would also isolate me and keep me lonely.  This pattern has continued, wearing me down and wasting me out.

Does this make me “hyper-sane?”   I’m not quite ready to embrace that moniker; I still have a few questions to work through.

And that, I know after all these decades, makes me me.