I looked across at my friend on Christmas Day. ‘I don’t really do groups any more’, she said. ‘No, nor do I’, I replied. We agreed that we would help any trans* person needing support, but we just didn’t need to belong to anything trans* any more. We are who we are, we find our acceptance, and we get on with life. Out and about, no-one really notices us, and we have no need to be noticed or avoid being noticed. Neither of us is an activist, though well-known and visible in online groups, still commenting and observing with similar…
This blog is more an emergence from cloud than an incisive argument. I feel many thoughts converging, which may or may not cross in the middle, or perhaps only obliquely. But I like ‘thinking the opposite and seeing what happens’. I like ideas thrown into the air, where everyone seems to know how they fall – and then they don’t.
I am interested in why we are so afraid of our lives, why we make plans expecting them to work, why we are disappointed so often, and why we even think we have to measure up to some constructed ideal in order to feel life is correct or successful. Why did I live in fear, for example, for so many years, afraid of losing the only love that life would ever have to offer? I never thought of myself as possessive until now.
In the beginning
We think of life as starting with simplicity and innocence, followed by the accrual of many skills, emotions and abilities, by growth and strength, maturing to a point of complex fulfilment. I wonder whether it is really the other way round, like entropy, tending to maximum disorder, to basic simplicity.
The baby begins with great certainty, rooted entirely in fixed instincts, with few structured points of awareness, no muddled concepts in their head, no mistakes, nothing mis-structured, just aware of being alive and needing to be alive in every sense. Everything is connected to what it needs, in order to get life right. It’s like Lego out of the box with clear instructions and diagrams. It’s designed to go together from little pieces into a beautiful whole. A pirate ship or a castle, maybe. And yet it may never be that again.
Imagination, mistakes and lost pieces intervene, pieces that belong elsewhere come in, until the original set of pieces is part of a muddle in a common box.
Do we really move towards a better design, a clearer purpose, a more completely ‘correct’ idea of who we are and can be?
Too often we end with broken ideas, false certainties, failed hopes, lost direction and a sense of being alone, being deserted by life itself. Like an idealistic housing project in which no-one has lived because it was a great idea that did not reflect the reality of living. Don’t you wish you could find the original plans again? The older person fixed in ideas and failures, unrepeatable successes, dragged down with fears and grief, struggling to believe in themselves – is the one without fulfilment in being alive today, and today, and today. How then, are we to preserve the joy and meaning of life, to grow younger as we grow older?
Grief is a remarkable teacher, if you let it be
Let me take your hopes and aspirations, your ambitions and goals, your images of what life is all about and which give you your basis, as of now. Let me take those forward agendas, those lists and prescriptions, those expectations and wish-lists, and let me tear them slowly into small pieces before your eyes. Let me cast them into the air between us, openly. Let’s watch the fluttering fragments descend to the dirty floor. How will they fall? In chaos? Certainly any pattern will be a measure of your psychological response, not of orderedness.
Now stand with me and take this in. How do you feel?
There lie all your future loves. There are your future rewards and achievements. None of them are real, all are based in everything you have learned, embedded in yourself, or to which you have anchored yourself. Do you feel freedom – or fear? Which do you most feel like doing: fitting the fragments together with shaking hands? Or blowing gently on them and taking a fresh, clean, rather smaller piece of paper, on which to rest not a pen but your ever-changing thoughts.
Yes, the sense of loss is unbearable, isn’t it?
You are thinking: such a waste! But is it? Where is this fear coming from, and of what is its substance? What are those pieces on the floor, what do they represent, and why this profound grief? I want to try this idea: what you have lost is possession. Everything in pieces is what you felt secure with, that you owned, that was yours, that maybe even was a part of you. And yet you were born with not one letter of one word on one fragment of this agenda, this list, this future you.
Possession and fear are inextricable
The moment we have anything in our lives – from a realisation that we can do something, to a material thing like a shoe, a coin, or even a home, to job or responsibility, or a friendship, to a deep love for another – we enter the fringes of fear. Grief stands waiting from that first moment, hand outstretched for the dawning of doubt, the fragility of hope, the impossibility of anything good lasting, or of being good enough to deserve this thing at all. We are terrified of our aloneness. We are terrified of ever being that baby again, one hundred percent potential, surrounded by grown people balanced on their uncertainties and fears, ready for grief.
Not much of a Christmas/Seasonal message is it (apart from the Lego bit)! I want to know why, though, because I feel that it is true, and yet avoidable. What must we learn about life in order to regain its potential, and let go the fear of losing everything, the moment we find something valuable in our lives? I want to learn something here in a new way, because this is where I am. I have known loss, I have known grief, I have stared into the gaping pit of becoming nothing, of life becoming completely not worth continuing, or preferring to be dead than to being alive. And I know I am a ‘mild case’ of this so I don’t take it lightly at all.
If nothing else, we must let grief teach us honesty. We must take in the pieces on the floor and know they mean nothing.
To belong is not to possess; to be possessed is not to belong
I belong to no-one. No-one belongs to me. I ‘owe’ nothing, and I am ‘owed’ nothing. I have nothing to give, I have only myself to be, and to choose how to be. If my being alongside another helps that person to be, then I have done what every particle in the universe, dark or bright, does. I have created a resonance that makes a bond that creates something new, that influences the next, even at the most fantastical relative distances.
And yet I see this so easily as being vulnerable, as feeling intensely alone. Is this actually where we find real strength? If the ability to belong wherever we find ourselves is the most real we can be, then we can begin truly to live only when we realise we shall always belong. Perhaps in different ways or places, but always belong, simply because everything belongs – simply because that’s how things are. How can you dance through life if you can’t hold hands, let go, and hold hands again? (With anything or anyone, not in a romantic sense.) How can you receive if your hands are full with not giving? And why is this so frightening? Why does everything new have to immediately feel permanent and safe, when we know nothing about us is permanent?
The baby simply belongs, the adult fears. The adult sees the baby as insecure. The baby does not yet know how insecure the adult is. The baby possesses nothing, the adult fears losing their possessions. The baby is all life and potential. The adult is too often trapped in their own misunderstanding.
Lego, just let go
Sometimes I think we learn life like accruing Lego bricks. We get one, we place it, another and it clicks on top. We keep going, with occasional adjustments and rearrangements, building our idea of a house (or pirate ship or castle), hoping to finish it and explain the pieces by means of our construction. At worst we fear the bricks falling apart (the early ones did!) and apply our glue. This, we say, is how life is.
But maybe we are building false complexity, mistaking order for availability to live. Maybe the simplicity of simply belonging as we are, rather than possessing some whole construction, is what this life is all about.
Lego does not mean ‘let go’. It actually means ‘play well’. So let’s go and play, not possess. And lose our fear of life.
‘I am not a lesbian …’, she said, as she lay in my arms, aglow.
‘No’, I replied, ‘I don’t make you anything. You are a lover.’
Midas sulked. We had found gold, because we had touched each other without enchantments, neither to gain nor to grasp, not to enrich ourselves nor possess, but to share what we had to give. We did not turn each other into anything; only lovers.
From the beginning of this blog, I have known that for very many people, simply to know me is almost too much. I evoke a response by being present. I disturb expectations with my confidence, with my presumption that I belong wherever I go. I confuse by not enacting that I am different. I am who I am, not changed, but released; but I am also an influence, a provoker of response, simply by being there.
Just over three years ago I would walk on the side of the street in the same direction as traffic, so that no-one driving would have time to look at me and decide I was not a woman after all. Once, when I didn’t, I was shouted at from a car. The story is Hey, Mr Transvestite, where I learned that people’s responses said more about them than about me. Always. Even my then wife, who would no longer undress fully in front of me, because of the implication of having a woman in her bedroom, even if I did not look like one, at the end of each day.
And so I learned to think of Midas, of the awful truth, that anyone who touched me would be changed, would be afraid to touch.
Over the years I have missed touch more than anything else, but yes, I have changed people. Those who have said that at first it was hard to be with me, but who came to see that I was real and honest. Those who decided that I am unacceptable, and in whom something of themselves has fossilised. And those I have met for the first time with my subsequent complete confidence in being alive, who may have been surprised that I dare be ‘normal’. Or who did not, or do not, know my past, and then come to find out, with a realisation that I am authentic, not acting, trustworthy.
Yes, I change people, but none of this is about me.
This last week, I and a woman I really like and trust, fell in love. Without expectation or condition, we could never have matched up in online dating, only in meeting minds and finding that unspoken connection. Guided? I feel so. But the most wonderful part of it all has been having no need to explain in order to be touched and experienced. We left the labels on the floor by the door. She is. I am. We are. And together we experience togetherness in a way I feel I have never known. Maybe because I have never been so honest and uncomplicated. Maybe because I ask nothing but honesty in return. Mostly, because there is no strength in anything without honesty and complete vulnerability, and I would rather give of myself out of this, than make deals on anything less.
The advantage? Well, maybe hundreds of pages of this blog, in which I have bared my soul, and at times my body, almost. I can have no pretence, and I no longer can bear to. So I have few secrets from my lover, who has read so much.
And yet we still face the shadow of Midas, sulking, disenchanted. Am I a woman? Or am I just forever trans, suspect, ambiguous? Which, if either, of us is lesbian to other people? What does this mean to friends and family? The chain reaction goes on, because to us we are simply what we are together, and only when we part and move with others does any of this matter. Midas’s shadow is out there, with all the wrong values, whilst we have found something far beyond gold.
Dieses Blog ist für dich, mein Herz … Midas ist tod.
Last night in a feeling of sheer gratitude as I drove home from a concert, I thought through all the people who have most helped me over my transition years. I began with one or two, and then remembered more. Someone who spent hours, helping me explore and express, unselfconsciously being out in the city with me, protective. One who had been very close, being a friend who stuck with me. Another who became a best friend for some time and made me believe I could go it alone. And another, and another, until the number grew and grew. People who were there when I needed it. And I thought too of how I have been brought to others, who I in turn have befriended, supported, helped. And so with immense gratitude I have become who I am and where I am today.
One of these I may have spoken of before as leading me in a guided meditation, long before I became visible. I was redundant and looking for a bit of vision as to my future. It was a skill swap: I would give some business marketing advice in return. It was a beautiful meditation, and at least, it was nice to know someone was helping at a difficult time in my career. Something was stirring, and I needed to understand. As many, this meditation began in a meadow, on a sunny day under blue skies, birds in the high air, insects buzzing peacefully, a breeze gentle on my skin. I was there. And so we went on a journey, and the rest was very useful. At the end she asked about how I was in that meadow. I replied that I was a woman in a long white summer dress with my hair moving in the breeze. This was before I even had a dress at all.
This week I had another meaningful guided meditation. I don’t think these things are supernatural, or divine, or necessarily spiritual, but what they do is release parts of your mind, your self-awareness and intuition, from the restrictions of what we think possible today, tied down to what others, or even we, expect or feel safe. Here we can move into a safe place where we can become free to find our deepest understanding, wisdom and authenticity.
And yet … and yet I do speak as if an angel, a helper, some connected other being, however you describe it: has been standing at my shoulder all this while. Asserting nothing, just helping me to see the step ahead, even when the step beyond that is unknown. So many times I have not known, worrying about three steps ahead, fearing I shall miss the next or be left stranded, unable to move back or forward, or sideways. I now feel it is as much as anything about readiness to understand, or make that step with complete freedom rather than sticky doubt from past experience. I can say no more than that. Deep inside me is an appreciation of trust.
I have met the philosophical difficulty with this, of course. It is easy for me, living in this country, society and era, where my basic needs are fairly secure. Would I speak of guiding angels, connection with the universe and so on, if I had no money, no food, and no home? I won’t try to unwrap that one now; too many arguments provide too many get-outs from harsh reality. All I can say, is that I have this awareness, and maybe it is all within me. Either way, it is about trust, not fear.
This week the meditation was about meeting your Powerful Self. Imagine, this powerful you has attained that empowerment, which will help you reach real fulfilment in life, in living. Maybe ten years from now? The meditation places you in a beautiful and relaxing place; a meadow, the smells, sensations, sounds of a blissful and free summer day. You follow a small river and round a bend see someone, who turns and welcomes you. You see that it is your Powerful Self. The rest (not to spoil it if you should do this properly) is about how they seem to you, the guidance they offer, the resources they say you will need, what you need to release and let go, what you need in order to really find and be yourself. What do you want to ask them, and what are their answers? She gives you a gift: what is it, what does it signify? And as she leaves, what is her message to you, and how do you feel?
As I say, I don’t believe this is a voice from outside; this is from within. Sometimes deep within. For someone who writes at length, my experience was very succinct! My Powerful Self was younger, very strong, radiating joy, and very complete in herself. She was serene. Her message to me was simply: trust. What do I need to do next? Allow. Allow things to happen naturally, like the river to take its course; not to ‘go with the flow’, but to be the flow. And what to release? Again, a very short list: everything. All my precious hopes, all my fears and doubts, my preconceptions of how things were going to be. And what would I need in order to become her? She just laughed, for me, not at me: ‘it’s all there! It’s in you; just be you.’
One question came to my mind, to this self, ten years from now and younger: ‘Did you love?’
Her answer, equally short: ‘Always.’
‘And were you loved?’ She smiled lovingly back, and said; ‘that’s not the point.’
Her gift in this meditation, or vision, or intuition, was a ring. To me it signified continuity, strength, connectedness, bonding and being unbroken.
Even if this is all already inside me, I do find it profoundly liberating. I have spent too much time in fear, in looking back, in regretting, seeing change as loss, doubting I can ever be loved again, or find really meaningful work, fearing loneliness, or simply being too afraid to make changes and welcome new things or people in. And too clear, often, of how things are going to happen. As if I knew. And quite coincidentally, this is just the moment I feel completely free to move on.
The ship, the harbour, that I wrote of two blogs ago? I am ready and sailing. But feeling strangely guided.
As ever, my week gathers things in the plug hole as it drains away ready for another. Friends who are getting their Gender Recognition Certificates with some awe, others getting dates for appointments or surgery with relief. A youngster riding mountainous waves of gender dysphoria, facing a long journey and the knowledge that some things will never be completely right.
Four Christmases ago I learned for the first time that I was not alone, and now everywhere I look there are people learning they are not alone, but together. It isn’t any easier for all that, because the real journeys are not to and from gender clinics, psychiatrists, facing misunderstanding, rejection, or even love that tries but cannot understand. The real journeys are within ourselves, undoing teachings, received wisdom, self-perceptions, recognising colours in a world given to us as black and white.
No-one can do this for you, your journey is uniquely yours
There is is no carrying, no little scooter, no comfortable paladin, no shoulders to ride on. This journey is entirely under your own steam. Get used to it, because this is how life actually is. As a sheep in a dense flock, you can rest your feet and be carried along, chased by a dog to the same field or pen as last time. On this trip you may find help, support, even love. But you are, in the end, on your own. You began at your conception, you were born uniquely you, your mind is only yours, and your self-understanding entirely within yourself. You will die. Between now and then you can only live your own life, and discriminate between how much advice you receive is sensible and appropriate, and how much isn’t, and when there isn’t any, choose what to do by yourself. That simply means accepting complete responsibility for the way your life goes. Did I say simply? Most of us don’t do this terribly well. It is the greatest lesson you can learn, treasure it.
You cannot set the conditions
Much as you would like to customise this journey on your own terms, you cannot. This is not a journey through jungle with a machete, this is a journey where you weave your way through and may leave no path behind. Sometimes bent stems will help others see where you’ve been, and parts may become beaten tracks, but there are parts of your journey that are almost secret, because they are yours alone. You cannot ask for a journey of a particular kind, or a scenic route, or avoiding things you don’t like, and you can’t choose what you can take with you. Most trans people will be very firm that this journey itself is not a choice, it is a given, an imperative. Tough, that you can’t choose from a series of options like a package tour. Get used to the excitement.
You cannot choose the length of your journey
When you start a journey of transition, you might want it to be a manageable length, but the fingerboard saying ‘this way’ says just that. No miles or kilometres or years, just ‘this way’. If you want to see the end you must commit. Just that. You can turn back, or start again, whatever and whenever you choose, but only go forward with commitment and trust. If you do turn around, there isn’t a gate right behind you, only jungle, but you can get back where you started, more or less, if that’s what you decide. This is your journey, however many people are doing something similar, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Ask only: ‘What if I don’t?’ and get your boots on. Life is an extreme sport, if you really want to live it.
This journey is not really about getting somewhere, it’s about finding yourself
In a way we are seeking approval too much. Approval by psychiatrists, a diagnosis, clinical support, family, friends, society. The truth is, we are finding ways to be more acceptable, to speak, walk, talk, dress, gesture, even think, in ways that others will find easier. We work hard for them. But it is equally true, that what emerges is a deeper understanding of what we naturally are. Some trans women start off by going ultra-feminine as a counterbalance, and then gradually settle into jeans and sneakers, going largely without make-up – like most other women. And even being confident about the male aspects of their identities (we are all of us a balance of both). Our femininity is found inside, not in what we present to others through externals. The feminine comes out naturally in the end, released rather than imposed. We may think that clinical remedy in hormones and/or surgery is our destination, but it isn’t. It is important, even vital to our inner sense of authenticity, but it isn’t what gives us our gender. Gender is what we find when freed to live it. By making this journey your own, by understanding that, you can be freed into your authenticity. When you don’t need acceptance any more you will find it, because you found yourself behind what others told you you were, and then found people who like it.
The map we have been given was wrong
In Hereford Cathedral (UK) hangs Mappa Mundi, a unique 13th century map of the known world. It is really curious to us, and has very quaint ideas of the relative sizes and distances, with whole parts missing and some made up to fill the gaps: the draughtsperson (or committee!) must have thought ‘It must be like this’. Brilliant for its day, and ambitious, but it is not properly representative, and wholly inadequate for finding your way around the real world. We have social maps representing the way things are too, and some are way out of date, however many people are still using them. There are no automatic updates like with in-car sat-navs, and we who journey struggle with people who say the jungle is not just impenetrable, but should not be penetrated. Perhaps ‘there be dragons’. Within moments, minutes, or hours of our birth, we are given tags that place us on a social map. We are designated an outer identity and told that this is our inner identity because the two must be the same. This social Mappa Mundi has a part on gender that was filled in with inadequate understanding, and this waypoint is a big one. It takes a foundation away from you, and from almost everyone you know. But it is the map, not you, that held a wrong interpretation.
You will never see your world the same way again
Say goodbye to your ideas about the world. Whether it is your spiritual development and direction, your emotional response to things, your psychological understanding, your social interactions, your prejudices, beliefs, and even your abilities. Everything must become mobile. Those of you with smart phones, tablets and touch screens of all kinds, may be familiar with the method: if you want to move an icon, hold your finger on it until it wobbles, then drag it to where it belongs, reordering your tools to better represent your life. Unlike the smart phone technology, you will actually see life differently. Some wobbly things will disappear altogether, others will be things you never thought before. You will see other people completely differently, some with more colours, some with rather less than before. Ideas of acceptability, normality, creativity and stuckness will be transformed. You will be like an astronaut seeing the world from outside for the first time, its preciousness and its vulnerabilities, its size and its wholeness, its context and its loneliness. You will compare it with your own Mappa Mundi and begin to understand.
And if you grasp these waypoints, and doubtless many more, you will be filled with gratitude for a life of learning, however tough the jungle, and however much people call you back. And above all, you will find yourself. It may be very different from when you started.