Resisting shame

There are three ways people attempt to overcome shame. We move away from the stimulus, by disappearing into our own lives; move towards it, by trying to prove ourselves, attain perfection, people-please; and move against it, by using anger and trying to shame others. All of these dig us into the hole deeper, and move us farther from our present selves. They remove a little of the pain, only for it to come back later.

(What is the alternative to being present in the moment? Being stuck in the past, in failed past tactics for dealing with problems.)

These strategies do not work. They attempt to disconnect from the pain, but we must feel it, accept it and let it go. With a woman who tries to do her down, Brené Brown repeats her mantra: Don’t shrink and be small for people, don’t puff up and get arrogant and cocky, just stay on your sacred ground. Actually, that sounds quite perfectionist.  In shame, trying to respond rather than react after the woman pushes her buttons she says to herself do not talk, text or type. She has to bring matters to consciousness and soberly assess what the facts really are.

She says, face the shame and heal it with conversation; and with laughter, not as defence or deflection but recognition that I am not alone in this.

I am ashamed of my ways of dealing with shame. My mother taught me to people-please, to pretend to be the way I ought to be; to hide away; to be perfectionist. I am hiding away in my reclusive state, and ashamed of it, because I should not need to.

Much of this has been unconscious. It is all what I do, or what I ought to do, just the way the world is and reality is. I need to bring it into consciousness because otherwise I do not see what a burden it is. In order to go out to work, to face the world again, I need to turn my life around, and like a supertanker with a relatively small rudder I see what a big deal that is. Suddenly that expression is particularly meaningful. It’s huge.

Shame at my effeminate self made me attempt to make a man of myself, joining the territorial army (just about the place I least fitted) and then a woman, by having my testicles removed. It would have been a small price to pay to be normal, to have nothing to feel shame about, if it had worked.

Shame keeps me hiding away.

From Dr Brown’s assessment, self-esteem, considering my gifts and qualities, will not ameliorate shame by itself. Now, it seems that I am ashamed of everything, of all that I am and that I do, and even that I should be so shamed and so incapacitated by it. I fear being shamed if I go out, and then ashamed of not going out. These are powerful buttons for others to push. I am ashamed of what I do to resist feelings of shame. I am ashamed of my life, of the little I have made of it.

I deserve better.

Jigsaw

You’re one of the most impressive people I’ve ever encountered. Ooh, tell me more!

I am wise and loving. I know this. This is my nature. I am highly intelligent, by which I mean I make connections; sometimes I am tired or have a blind spot and make them more slowly, sometimes I am practised and on a good day, and make them quickly.

On the phone to the Samaritans, I recounted some of my tales of rejection, difficulty, and trouble at work. I have had a difficult time, and it has broken me. While some people are more resilient, many would be badly hurt by my experiences. And I feel more withdrawn and less able to go out and engage than I was five years ago, when I last worked. It feels as if I am trying to put together a jigsaw, and the pieces and patterns on them do not fit.

In adulthood and in childhood. My mother was controlling, and she communicated her fear to me. We must present a face to the world which is nothing like the organismic self underneath; and we hide away whenever possible, taking refuge in prescribed roles where unavoidable, and in privacy at other times. Her shame and terror made these things into absolute rules for survival in my own mind. While other people don’t care about my eccentricities, particularly, hiding them was paramount for me.

Brené Brown’s free to watch video is for counsellors rather than clients, but I found it useful. How do you protect yourself from the pain of shame? It is the experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging, she says, and we respond to that pain as we respond to trauma. The only people without shame are also without empathy and the capacity for compassion. There is no significant correlation between shame and self-esteem, because shame is an emotion and self-esteem is a cognitive construct. So repeating my gifts as above is positive, but does not reduce my shame.

We suffer in absence of connection, and after lack of motivation stopped me seeing people on Sunday and bad weather stopped me seeing one person on Tuesday I was feeling this badly. I have not seen another human since Thursday. I joked to Poppy, the Samaritan, that if I were an orangutan that would be OK but for any other great ape, and most primates, it’s bad. Yet I feel weak and needy because I need connection. I should be self-sufficient. I beat myself up about that, as about many things.

I need connection, and I have a drive to hide away, driven by shame.

Shame is not guilt. You feel guilty about behaviour, shame about self. I did something bad, not I am bad. Humiliation has the same physiological response as shame, but we recover because we do not believe we deserve it. Feeling embarrassed is less traumatic, because as you feel it you know you are not alone.

Shame correlates with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, bullying, aggression and violence. So trying to shame someone out of addictive behaviour does not work.

Shame is reinforcing- there is something wrong with me; individualising- it’s only me; pathologizing- I’m broken. If we can bring these things into conscious awareness we can counteract them.

I do that. I must change in order to get out and use my gifts for the community, benefiting others and fulfilling myself. How must I change, I ask. The jobcentre client adviser wants to put me on a new scheme, but did not say what it would do for me. I feel if she thought I would desire what it might do, she would tell me more. She said “You want to go back to work, don’t you? Because some people don’t.” And I thought it is more complex than that. I fear I do not have the resilience or motivation. I don’t feel motivated or resilient. I grope for understanding of this wherever I might find it, such as a documentary on anorexia- the woman knows she has the condition, yet eating anything terrifies her as it will make her fat. They are not being manipulative, getting their parents to look after them again, and they cannot snap out of it. They die of it- or exist, in suspended animation beneath the waves. As for me, I cannot just conjure up resilience and motivation with a few mantras. I can tell myself of my gifts to build self-esteem, and try to notice emotions making me hide away as my mother taught me.

Resilience is critical awareness: Demystifying- I understand how shame works; contextualising- it’s bigger than just me; and normalising- we all struggle.

Binge. Purge.

The title “Recovering Crossdresser” might make you think of recovering alcoholic- a person who will always have the temptations but is doing their best not to give in. Take it one day at a time. However, this blogger keeps cross-dressing. He loves lingerie. He was worn a skirt and a top, occasionally, but that does nothing for him.

I am not here going to look down on the man. Anyone prejudiced against us would see no difference between him and me, except in degree. “This kind of trans are disgusting weirdos, that kind of trans are completely acceptable, almost normal in fact” said no non-trans person ever. I am weird enough not to mock another’s idiosyncrasies. I have fellow-feeling.

If I tell you not to think about an elephant, you will think about an elephant. I don’t know how not to think about something, but writing a blog, detailing exactly what he was wearing, is not it. It can feel that way. Naming it- one of the wife’s white lacy bras, plus my own recently acquired white suspender belt, white hold up stockings and one of my white g-strings– may bring back the feeling of revulsion which led you to purge all your stuff in the first place, but will also foster the incipient feelings of arousal. That’s the way it works.

His wife’s bra? Well, she wears sensible underwear, rarely bothering to have it matching, and almost never wears the sexy frillies he buys for her. I have not read the whole blog, but not saying stuff may be the saving of the marriage. He buys expensive lace, it sits in her drawer, does she expect him to get a message not to buy more?

Possibly, thinking of cross-dressing with as little detail as possible, and dwelling on the shame, the feelings of not being in control, and the experience of being caught might stave off the desires. It was the only time, he said, in April 2015. “All hell broke loose”. However, now she “loves” it when he has his whole body waxed. She might have made the connection, and might be hinting she could bear his cross-dressing. I hope so. It would take a lot of the shame away, and that might reduce the compulsion. It would just be something he did.

He may seek out the shame, though. He wears lingerie to work. He calls this “underdressing”. He is careful to wear baggy sweaters so that cami-suspender lines do not show. But he is self-conscious:

I felt sure that there were people passing me by, who, as I sat there, minding my own business, casually reading, were, I felt, taking a slightly longer look in my direction slightly longer than might be naturally expected.

Maybe it was just me, in a partial state of paranoia, but then again maybe it wasn’t. 

I wonder if he has heard of shadow-motivation- acting to achieve something you are not conscious of desiring. He wants to be found out, or wants that delicious state of paranoia. If they are studying him, it is probably because they see he is more self-conscious than usual, not that they guess he has women’s underwear on. More likely, he is just imagining it.

Fear and shame are a great deal of the excitement. People are aroused a lot of the time, including at work, but an employer might disapprove of doing things there deliberately to get aroused, and colleagues might object, as women object to men watching pornography in public. Or, getting away with it might please him, but how would anyone know?

Here we are, with our fear, shame and compulsions. I might like to be free of them, but is anyone?

Trans sex

How could it not be a sex thing? But, so what?

I am walking in the park, and there are many sensual pleasures- the last of the blackberries, the sun and wind, those high trees with long, pale, grey-green leaves- but the one which pleases me most is this long, full silk skirt. It’s Monsoon. I love the feel of it on my legs and the way it moves in the wind, the shapes it makes. It’s a bit of a turn-on, actually. The lining is less full, ending just above the knee, and if I stride too far it is a little restricting. I love this skirt.

James Cantor coined the term “Euphilia” to mean sexual drives which unite two people. “Sweet-love”. Good, nice, normal, neatly including gays as well as straights, for Dr Cantor is gay. Then there’s paraphilia, “beside-love”, sexual stimulation from non-sexual causes. This is only a bad thing- a “disorder”- if it causes distress to the subject or others- no, I should not steal clothes from washing lines, and too great shame about something which harms no-one is unhealthy.

All that shame has done me no good. Shame about what aroused me and what I desired has been the greatest pain of my transition journey, perhaps of my life. And here I am in the park, enjoying my skirt. I am not going to disturb walkers whom I greet as we pass. You get aroused? Welcome to the human race! It’s so much better than being a panda, pandas are dying out: the drive needs to be this strong to make people bring children up to adulthood, and is bound to have side-effects. People are aroused a lot of the time. We don’t act on it but don’t need windows into others’ souls. I judge myself for everything: I should accept pleasure where I can find it. I fear everything: I should learn not everything is a threat.

In my state of regret at the moment, wishing I had retained my sexual organs, I recall how I felt: how expressing female was lovely, and presenting male went from dull to unpleasant to unbearable. I worked hard to resist it, as we all do. I feel no shame at failure. There was no failure, the problem was the shame which made me resist. I would have been much higher-functioning had I not had to deal with this war within myself for so long. It is a compulsion, and no-one has the right to demand that you torture yourself by resisting it: not even your wife, even if she did not know before marriage and you have young children.

It is more than a sex thing. It is how I express who I am, all my beauty and creativity; but humans are sexual animals, and transition is part of that. The craving for the operation came from the necessity of passing as a woman rather than the desire to transition.

thomas-lawrence-margaret-countess-of-blessington

When I was considering transition, from 1998, when I transitioned at work, 2002, and when I had the operation in 2004, in my milieu people were divided into transvestites, sexual perverts who were disgusting or at least ridiculous, and transsexuals who were women. But non-op transsexuals were dodgy: not really transsexual, probably something less, even if they said they could not have the operation because a heart complaint. Some of this was fear and internalised transphobia. We felt we could say, but I am transsexual: I have a medical condition, and the treatment is hormones and gender confirmation surgery. I am not like those perverts over there.

That was how it was for me. It is much easier now to be trans and not have the op, and some people don’t; and people who do, do so because they have a need to feel comfortable in their own bodies. F-M chest surgery is about how you are perceived by others as well as how you perceive yourself, but a penis may be tucked away out of sight, even in tight jeans.

I felt great shame. I was aroused by thinking of myself as female or female-bodied, and by clothes- though not all the time, more and more they became just nice to wear. I was put off the thought of transition by the spectre of autogynephilia: I thought I was a pervert.  My wet dreams were about cross-dressing and I found that of all the shame the most shameful: I could not be aroused by another person, only my own fantasy.

The Script increased the shame. Don’t tell the psychiatrist that, or you won’t get treatment. Tell him (yes, well) that you knew there was something wrong aged 2 and knew that you were a girl aged 5. Later, when I told a psychiatrist I had no thought of cross-dressing before age 14 and no thought of transition before my thirties, he said lots of people were like that, if they’re honest.

Then I decided, transition was what I wanted more than anything else in the world, and why I wanted it did not matter.

I had not had a satisfying emotional relationship, because I hid my real self behind my manly shell. I had not had a satisfying sexual relationship. I had some idea of what I was supposed to do in bed with another, but none of what I might like; and so I had the operation because of social pressure. That was what I understood I had to do, to be acceptable. I wanted to be accepted in society. For that, the law said I must be proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

thomas-lawrence-maria-conyngham

Transition has enabled me to be myself. It is the human condition to be stuck between wanting to be onesself and wanting to fit in, and as we mature into middle-age we work that out better, work out a reasonable compromise, or ways round the most intrusive demands. And where I was, how I was, trapped in that fake masculinity, complete rejection was the only way to go.

It is not just, I am not a man like that, therefore I must be a woman. I fit cultural ideas of femininity. Or, I don’t know, that’s whistling in the dark, possibly I just tell myself that because transition is better than trying to man up by, say, joining the territorial army. Whatever. At least, it is not completely that I am Unmanly, Untermensch, less than a Man, but different, and Good, worthwhile; and I have some similarity to cultural understandings of a woman. And, I am Clare, rather than generic either.

At least transition has let me be more myself than I was before. There was the social pressure to fit this box marked Man, but the one marked Transsexual- including gender confirmation surgery- was more comfortable. It has been an essential part of my journey. It was what I wanted, more than anything else in the world.

This blog explains what transsexuality is for me. This page is the gateway to it.

Shame III

If I feel shame about everything, it ceases to be a useful emotion.

Man goes out jogging in the morning, gets chatting, and is much later home than normal. “Where have you been?” asks his wife. “Being myself” he tells us; working out the marvelousness that is He. Nothing wrong with chatting, of course, nothing wrong with being back a little later than expected, unless they had something particular to do together; not necessarily any criticism in the question, it could be entirely innocent…

Grief, yearning, guilt, shame- As I listened to this, past events popped into my mind which I feel shame about. I was not completely perfect. I did not know everything beforehand- well, we have the well-known, well-used term “Hindsight” to counteract use of that in blaming and shaming, and I can use the idea to forgive others.

If everything is black shameful, nothing is. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves. I have nothing I can think on for my improvement, to try and avoid, just a heavy burden. Christian the Pilgrim felt that burden fall from him through Repentance, but I have not even that, for I can’t see how I might improve, apart from being Perfect which I should be already.

I don’t know if weekly repentance in the Eucharist makes this bearable for anyone or dulls the impact through repetition.

It is a way of realising an uncomfortable feeling. I feel uncomfortable and an uncomfortable situation or a thing which shames me in the past pops into my head, then I resent and resist the discomfort. Learn to swim in my discomfort, not knowing or understanding anything, not being perfect, accepting the feeling and blundering on. I could cheer, jolly along, invigorate myself with affirmations.

Beating the Government

The Bedroom Tax. What did you argue? He argued that the “spare bedroom” was nothing of the kind, that it was a room to store his own equipment which he needed because of his disability. That a room is just a room, not a “bedroom” or “living room”; that it may be a store room. It had never been used as a bedroom, because even though he lived in a Housing Association house, he had paid for the extension himself. The council had opposed the appeal, yet when he went before the tribunal judge, the lawyer took on board everything he said.

Then the Government had wanted to appeal, to add itself as a party to the proceedings, to get the detailed reasons for the judgment, and there had been some delay in implementing it; they had decided in the event not to appeal, and he was disappointed because had he won in the upper tribunal he would have set a precedent.

As he tells me, his passion about the case begins to show. His voice gets harder, he speaks more quickly, he will brook no disagreement. It is time to go into Meeting.

The one who introduced me, said Abigail is also a lawyer.
-Solicitor?
-Yes, a very long time ago.
He had trained as a barrister.
And immediately my shame had started up. With all the advantages I have had, look where I am now! I am without my wig, because I have cycled here, am overheated, and the heating is on. I cannot bear to put on my jeans and am self-conscious in my shorts. I wished she had not said.

And I feel so vulnerable, and threatened.

A friend has made me a necklace, of chunky Unakite beads, said to bring grounding, gentleness and calm, and to balance emotions with spirituality. It is pretty, but at the centre is a disc, three circles of tiny hearts. At this I feel intense emotion. Really intense- what happened? I think-

she recognised, valued and celebrated my Softness, and my Softness answered, which is joyous; and I fear that softness and vulnerability because I need to be harder,

and as we leave I start to babble, because I have to justify myself- I have played my cards as best I could, we all have good and bad luck, character, choices- I have not “ended up” like this because there is always possibility- phrases I have come up with, trying to reassure myself

it is alright, really
I am alright, really

I honestly did not think until later- a barrister, pleading his own housing benefit case? I had said, “I can sort of understand prejudice against immigrants, or sexual minorities, but prejudice against disabled people, I just can’t get my head around that.”

He said, people think you’re worthless, they can look down on you. And Hindus judge you on how you must have been bad in some fictional past life in their own heads. How horrible, to see this wonderful man, and judge him on the one thing he can’t do!

Millais, Portia- Kate Dolan

Everything is beautiful II

I wrote on facebook,

Our mistakes, errors and failures
are beautiful

and Hazel wrote, “Mine aren’t.” Oh, Hazel!

Right now, consumed with shame, I wonder whether anyone has wasted her life and talents as badly as I. I have no job, house, children, savings, pension- prospects- I maunder away my life, bored and resentful, watching TV, dozing off, writing here.

(Attentive readers will notice the word “partner” is missing from that oft-repeated list. I have gone out a few times with someone. I would love to say “I am going out with” her, and only avoid that from fear of being presumptuous.)

Onywye. I reason myself out of my shame, and I feel my way out of it. I have always done my best. I could almost say, they are not mistakes, errors and failures, but attempts. They have been my best shot given my knowledge, understanding, levels of energy and motivation at the time. And if there is so much that I am not attempting, now-

my hurt is real. It is not, just, that I am weak, and should pull myself together. “I get on with life” said Neil, and I said, “Well, so did I, until I stopped”. That stopping, that Moment-

I thought I should cycle on the ball of my foot, rather than the instep, so put up my bicycle seat. Cycling felt wonderful. I noted that sometimes I was slipping my arse from side to side, and it felt like it could hurt my back- Dean later told me the seat too high can hurt the back, not necessarily for this reason. My metal pedals have a side with a bit of grip, so it will grip my toe rather than sliding down to the instep. Next day I climbed to the top of St Pauls, and that evening felt something go in the back of my ankle- I was frightened my ligament was damaged. The day after that, exuberantly I started pas de basque, and felt something go in my ankle again.

I watched other people cycling- not races on telly but people in the park, and the South Bank of the Thames, and ruefully saw that they all cycle on the instep. Though Dean says the power should come from the calf muscle.

Friday night I tried cycling. My ankle feels alright. I decided to leave the seat up, and do that nine mile run. I was monitoring my back, thighs, knees, legs, taking care, taking reasonable risk.

I showed courage. When my inner critic denies this- I know enough not to project her denial onto you-  I say I had experienced pain, and feared I had damaged myself, and doing the same thing scares me, quite reasonably. Yet I did it, safely enough. I am proud of myself.

How wonderful to learn to value myself and take care of myself! I am not just listening to the voice saying “Fucking get on with it you useless prick, there should be nothing to it for anyone not as worthless as you…”

How wonderful to achieve what I have, when I did not know this! That stopping, that Moment

It was the best thing I have ever done!

Topmost niche

Desire, action, achievement

I discover what I want, when I observe what I do. That is, the desires I actually act upon are opaque to me until I look back and see what I have done, where I have gone.

For example, either two and a half years ago I went from almost complete inadequacy, applying for a few jobs, doing voluntary work badly, to utter complete inadequacy, moping round the house all the time; or, alternatively, I withdrew from the World in order to have time and space for my psycho-spiritual healing. I would rather believe the latter, and it makes some sort of sense. I have healed, having greater acceptance and less pain.

There was certainly no conscious intention behind it. It felt like a failure, being unable to go on any more. Yet I could say that my whole organism, unconscious as well as conscious, has benefited, and perhaps moved towards what she knew would benefit her. On one view, I have Failed, on the other I have Acted, for my own good. Which would you rather believe?

I would rather believe the truth: but belief in failure makes me despair; and belief in my action is at least arguable.

I shared on facebook the mystic cryptic phrase I learn what I want when I see what I do and Lena misinterpreted it, thinking I wrote about what I chose to learn, rather than learning as a matter of observing what was in front of me. Derek got it: his Psychosexual Somatics Therapy course was very much about shadow motivations.

I used to think that I thought things through, made a rational decision, then carried it out. However what I did for that rational decision often had no real motivation behind it, and I did not follow through. Rather, I achieve worthwhile goals; but I start pursuing them before I realise, consciously, what the goal is. This thought comes from Serra considering a particular incident. I wanted that, but did not consciously understand it immediately.

It was a shadow desire, to heal, not one I could consciously admit. Consciously, I imagined I needed to get a job, and could do it. I want to allow my desires to be conscious, like my emotions become. It is hard for me to kick against the goads, hard for me to have conscious and unconscious at war, mutually despising.

It is strange, taking pride in what shamed me so deeply: the old pain of that shame washes over me, and as I delight in the pride, joy weeps.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes II