Shrugging it off

Again back to that tolerance/ acceptance/ questioning thing.

Naive questions are a bit of a pain. “Being transsexual- what is it like?” “Have you always known you were a girl?” “Have you had the operation yet?” Tolerance- “I’m such a liberal sort of person that I can even tolerate people like you” is worse. Acceptance is alright, though I would prefer that it just happened, rather than needed to be¬†a conscious process. My reaction depends upon my mood: yes I want people to understand my kind, for understanding promotes acceptance, but sometimes I am just too tired to engage.

I do not want you to work through your stuff with me. Round about transition, “Are you really sure you are doing the right thing?” was a bearable question, but not if repeated. Take yes for an answer. Yes, I have thought about this. For years. Yes, I know all sorts of ways in which it could go wrong. I have considered all the options, and this is the one I choose. And I choose how to work it out for myself- offers of a listening ear are welcome, but I have to choose when and whether to take that offer up.

My response to judgment¬†may be¬†short and rude. “I find you particularly masculine”. “Fuck off”. Actually, at the moment this is an aspiration. I have not got there yet. I get upset, or I withdraw. It is possible for me to improve my sense of self-worth and entitlement, to make it more appropriate. I am entitled that you keep your judgment to yourself, and use the correct name and pronouns. And, in one case when the woman later revealed her own vulnerability, I could open and relate.

That might be it. “I find you particularly masculine.” That is reaching out and touching my vulnerability, one I have perhaps not chosen to bring up, in a way which is not on my terms. I am still healing, this still gets to me, though not as much as before.

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In childhood it got to me completely. However feminine I am innately, I learned early that my feelings and my spontaneous reactions were wrong, and that if I did not pretend to be normal masculine I was in trouble. So I observed male, seeking to copy it.

When I started going out female, a chance insult in the street meant more to me than all the acceptance of my Quaker meeting and work colleagues. It could crush me for days.

Now, it still gets to me, though far less. I have the idea that I may in future shrug it off, that it genuinely will not matter, that I can see the other clearly and feel compassion for his struggles. Not quite yet.

SHYNATT

Or, Spiritual, Hippy, Yoga, New Age Therapist Types. Possibly getting it wrong. As Newton was right about all motion which could be observed for centuries after he lived, and Einstein corrects him in marginal cases, my Shynatt thinking needs a thorough underpinning of rational thought.

Here is the Mayor of Christchurch responding to a question from Prospect magazine about what it is like to be a mayor. No link, it is for subscribers only:

The best part is that you have the most inspirational connection to the best of the human spirit. You are always exposed to positive, energised thought. But the role also becomes the focus for all that is wrong.¬†The mayor is often a therapist for¬†dissatisfied people, who may be stressed or unhappy with their¬†own life. People face many pressures in their everyday life and they can get obsessed with the negative. But one thing about the mayor’s job that doesn’t change, is that it is never dull!

It would be unfair¬†to judge Bob Parker on that one quote. I do not know how he performs as mayor. Also, it could be a politician’s answer, saying nothing. Remember the Earthquake: now is the time to pull together and build, not the time to criticize. But at worst, it is a way to ignore all opposition completely: if they do not like what I want to do, they are speaking out of stress and negativity. The first question should be, does my opponent have a good argument, not what aspect of his difficult childhood makes him oppose me.¬†Of course seeing opportunities is more important than seeing problems, if the opportunity is a way round the problem…

Image from Christchurch website.

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There I am in my Karl Lagerfeld suit (go to the charity shops in the nicer areas) going to the Bridgewater Hall, carefully made up, toe in the water, trying out going among the Normal people. Park in the gay village, and as soon as I turn into Princess St a man shouts, “It’s a fucking bloke!”

Years later, walking back to the office through the mall, someone as I pass him hisses “fucking nonce”, and I wonder, how did he spot me? Why sex offender? Why that level of hatred for a stranger?

These and other incidents are burned into me. I think I am no longer ashamed of being TS, even of being a lesbian trans woman (not a “primary transsexual”, not a real TS, different and less, some still say, though they are careful that the “less” is implied rather than overt). I have carried that burden of shame so long, and the real fear of ordinary people- I knew that if I let out my vulnerable bit I will be squished.

And the masks are too painful. So it really is worth taking them off. And the moments when I need defences are rare. And defending is paradoxically easier from a relaxed mode than a defended mode: like blocking a punch when you know that is the only thing needing blocked, rather than trying to defend the whole body from imaginary kicks.

And going Authentic is unaccustomed, and needs practice.

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I hate being flat chested. Should I go around with falsies? Should I get implants? Should I go flat-chested, and have an even more mannish figure than I need to? I hate all the options. What I actually experience myself doing, separately from all the arguments and the question of whether I am being positive or negative, and the fact of how many women are terrified of going out without makeup, is going braless, falsieless, flat.

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From the same Prospect article:

The electoral commission has approved the following question on the ballot: ‚ÄúHow would you like Birmingham to be run? By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors? This is how the council is run now. Or by a mayor who is elected by voters? This would be a change from how the council is run now.‚ÄĚ

This is because the Yes option in a referendum has an advantage over the No option, so how the question is drafted affects the result, a bit of gen I picked up from an earlier Prospect article. So complex, so many considerations…

Vulnerability and-

Many times I have seen Bren√© Brown’s first TED video circulated, on Facebook and email lists, and I am endebted to the ever-wonderful¬†Judy¬†“Twoblogs” Wall¬†for her second. I also recommend Dr. Brown’s blog.¬†Vulnerability is a good thing. Vulnerability is the bravery which speaks to people, which elicits the Yes, the Yay, the true connection. What other words apply?

Strangeness. I get the feeling of being more alive, more real, and this is a strange, heightened experience. A good one, I want more of it, I want to play in it, get to know it, get to trust it, and that needs time. (Not necessarily effort. Let go the effort. Let the experience bed in in its own way, I tell myself.) And “strange” may be a better word than “good”, because I still name some emotions unpleasant, or difficult, and I can find those there too. This does not make it “wrong” or “difficult”.

Authenticity. I link these experiences¬†to¬†my first sense of the Real Me. This is a word Dr Brown uses at least once in her videos, and I prefer it to “vulnerability”- because how vulnerable are we? We are not being Defensive when we are being Authentic, but how many people want to attack us anyway? And if someone does, perhaps it is easier to block an attack¬†in a state of¬†relaxed aware authenticity than of fearful, clenched defensiveness. Or the block may be proportionate to the attack, whereas an attack out of the defensiveness may be too violent.

Bravery. Dr Brown also says this is brave. Trans women habitually deny bravery- I transitioned, we say, as a matter of survival, not because of great courage. I feel like that here. My masks are just too constricting. I cannot live like that any more. And yet, OK. Why should I deny a good quality in myself? Yes, it is difficult. Yes, it is brave. Moving forward in unknowing, where I may feel even illusory fear, is brave.

Openness. This vulnerability makes us open to others and to experience, which looks beautiful and inspiring, and invites connection.

Receptivity. Not monitoring so much in myself in order to hide it, I am more able to see what is around me: opportunity and beauty, and human beings more as they really are.

The word “vulnerability” is scary. It may be a way in to the state I crave. The rewards I may get from it encourage me to seek that state out.

I love this photograph, public domain via Wikipedia, because I do not see foundation or other makeup on it. If there is, it is subtle. That is a vulnerability many women find testing.

Vulnerabilities

I meet people, and a few I feel privileged to get to know. I see first a mask for a new acquaintance, a cocktail-party or professional¬†persona, pleasant enough,¬†then perhaps strength of will and a fierce questing intelligence. (Some say I am intelligent, though not intelligent enough for my liking- too often my “Oh, Right” moment is also, Oh, bugger.)

And then, as I see more, I hope to see playfulness. I find it hard to like someone in whom I see no sign of playfulness- it is a core characteristic in me as deep as seeking out community and connection, which I understand is a species characteristic- I was going to say characteristic of the Order, but I understand there are some solitary primate species.

And, sometimes, I see vulnerabilities, and this feels like a great privilege to me, a sign of trust. They are¬†real¬†even if¬†about nothing: “No, it is beautiful, genuinely. I see nothing wrong there.” In other groups, swapping vulnerabilities is a good way of bonding. A common one is Does my bum look big in this? If you tell me yes, you will make me very happy.

All this is very different from the benefits tribunal, where people say what they cannot do, and are judged, and may be found more capable- how horrible, to reveal your difficulties and be disbelieved! In my interviewing, I¬†am careful to show respect to¬†people so that they will open up and tell me their difficulties.¬†Sarah Breach, horrid chairman in Manchester, leans forward with an expression on her face like a visitor to the zoo who hates animals, and says, “Do you wet yourself?” The mental health ones, with the poor cripple surrounded by articulate middle-class people and with no paid representation, are nastier.

This is the same subject as last week’s Masks, though addressed from the opposite side. We soldier on, hiding our vulnerabilities, until in my case I could no longer, and I stopped, and have to find some other way of dealing with them. What I am trying is to realise that those things I am shy about are nothing to fear.

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Lovely comment- “your identity honours us all as women. xx”. Thank you. I am tempted in my old pattern of discounting such a compliment, and I will not. But my existence does raise stuff for people. That woman the other day really needed to assert that I was a man, did not like admitting that I am a woman, and apologised as ungraciously as possible. This brings forth dark echoes in me, of my own shame, which I work to reduce. But unless the bigot physically attacks me, his strongly or subtly expressed contempt or derision can only hurt me insofar as it is echoed within me. If I accept myself then it is actually true that “names will never hurt me”.

And my vulnerability is my shame projected onto other people. If I am ashamed of an aspect of myself I imagine that others will judge me for it. Very often they will not. Understanding that takes away that vulnerability.

My facebook friend unfriended me, because she said there was too much tranny stuff on my news feed. She does not wish to be associated with it. She does not object if the subject comes up, but she wants no cause for it to come up. She has left all that behind. She calls it a “birth defect”, I call it “natural human diversity”. I think this is sad: such thoughts stop us from associating with each other, isolate TS folk, and deprive us of the support our kind can give. A lot of us say, “I am a woman, I am not transsexual because I am not crossing anything, I have done that”. I still hang between.

The blue pill

Using male pronouns to refer to me is as disrespectful, uncivilised, and wrong, as calling a black person a N*****.

This is who I am. To express myself female is what I wanted, against all common sense or rationality, against the evidence of my own senses, looking at my own body. Plunging into the nature of my being, that I am female is deeper than anything else, utterly impervious to change. Actually, the pill question: “If you could take a pill and be a normal male without these feelings, would you?”- well, I come out with the “right” answer, “No, because then I would not be me”, but sometimes it is a close run thing. Being transsexual has given me such intense pain that sometimes I do not know how I have borne it. I have been suicidal, just wanting to die, for months at a time, and twice I have undertaken preparatory acts, though not any actual self-harming physical act- I have formed the decision, then backed off.

To refer to me as “she” rather than “he” is a basic level of courtesy which I am entitled to, and fortunately receive from most people I meet. However, where I do not, I will not be sympathetic or understanding, and nor should you be, whoever you are. I so resent still having to work through these issues aged 45, ten years after getting the courage to express myself female at work.

It is the same for people with body integrity identity disorder. If someone is complaining about how difficult it is to get a wheelchair on a bus, “Well you could walk” is an answer just as disrespectful as using male pronouns for me.

It seems to me that humanity, now, is working through issues of otherness and respect, issues of living together, issues of accepting the full range of human diversity and the discomfort that currently engenders. I think we can get these things right, and that free, diverse humanity has far more access to blessing and gift than regulated, regimented humanity. For my own self-respect, I will assert my right to respect from others. I have been at the fulcrum of this issue, and have survived.

If I can assert my right without anger or fear, then I am giving an invitation, though one some people will be unable to hear: an invitation to see humanity in the full beauty and richness of our diversity, and to accept all those bits of yourself which you have falsely been told are unacceptable.

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It really matters to me to see humanity as progressing. Things are not as I might wish, but I do think they are getting better. A little group of Quakers, frightened of Peak Oil, climate change, and the Global Financial Crisis had a conversation where I asserted this, and people brought forward the Bosnian war and the Rwandan genocide, child labour in India, even female genital mutilation, forsooth, as evidence against. I could play the game: I have a good level of articulacy and rhetorical skills. I am interested in current affairs and history- and Life, in all its fulness and variety, even if more as an observer than a participant, so far- so I can come up with apposite examples and elegant argument. Instead, I disengaged.

Heaven is Here. I see it. That anyone does not see it is not evidence against its existence. So, I do not need to win the argument and convince anyone, I am satisfied in my own mind.

I can say to anyone, look around yourself. See the abundance and the beauty and the wonder and the Blessing. Look, at this, or this, or this. And if they cannot take this in, I may give up on them.

Gosh, that is pretty mature of me. Saintly, even. Or, since I am doing teenage at the moment: the argument going against me, I went into a sulk. Words….

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Am I boring you? Am I just repeating myself? I have been¬†thinking about¬†that last Pronouns conversation, three weeks ago. There are times when it is the other’s own stuff coming out, or they are just ignorant, and there are times when they¬†want to push¬†my buttons. Those two, they know, they have the intelligence, maturity and experience¬†to understand completely. That particular time, it was deliberate. As if I have a big, red button, as big as my torso, and all you have to do is tap it gently and watch me implode.

I HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

Ah. Breathe it in. I am getting there.

I have nothing to be ashamed of.

You will not hurt me with this.

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I visited Belfast in 1988. There were soldiers with guns, and armoured vans with low skirts on, so no-one could roll a grenade underneath, and barbed wire protecting the pubs. I was pushing my bicycle through the station. That army officer will not walk in front of me- so I hurried, walking in front of him, making him pause. And- I felt his Love reach out and envelop me. That is the only way I can put it.

Rather than suppressing it, I am feeling the intense pain of decades of feeling that I am an outsider, that I am less, and I see a way through this.

TED, in praise of vulnerability.