I shall hold you as an egg
admire the colours of your fragility
for eggs should only be broken
from the inside
I shall hold you as an egg
OK, so there’s a lot going on in my life still. My partner and I are stepping into another phase of not so much coming out, as realising that disclosure is a complicated package. Disclosure in this case is unwrapping the fact that we are a same-sex couple from two different countries and back-cultures, of very different age, where one of us is transsexual, a matter requiring explanation in its own right. That’s difficult when I am unfamiliar with German websites that tell a clear and factual account of what trans anything or everything means. I wouldn’t want to introduce any confusion over cross-dressing and drag and how I am. I even need still to explain to people in English that half the trans spectrum is what you do and half is what you are.
My crash course in learning German from the rudiments of 30 years ago will not equip me in time to hold that meaningful sensitive conversation with the other family …
The bigger problem may actually be our age difference. We have to acknowledge our own anxieties about the distant future, because the raw numbers are unavoidable, and temper them with ‘now’, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’. It is an interesting perspective in its own right, because I suspect we both eschew the standard expectation of ‘meet in your twenties, marry and live happily ever after’. We both start from base-points different from this, we both look at our pasts and wonder why it took so long to get where we are, and want to do or achieve so much more. What we have now in each other is much more than falling in love, and we want to do something with it, not have to worry about decades ahead, nor have to explain our unusual combination as partners. We must use our time well, and make these the best years of our lives, because they are dynamic and good.
Whatever parts of our unusual partnership cause others concern (lesbian, intellectual, mixed-age, mixed-nationality, transsexual etc.) we should have no requirement to make anyone else feel comfortable with it. This theme has run through a lot of my blog narrative from the start. I have been very open in order to avoid misunderstanding, to inform, and to head off opinionated gossip. I have been an education, and now together, we are being an education. Bugger ‘what’ we are in any aspect – we have a deep respect and love for each other, and a great ease in living together. That in itself is more than many have. But whether it’s my ‘Midas touch’ description, or last week’s disingenuous interjection in the theatre, we are always among people who would prefer us to conform to their ideals, even if they say we are not problematic.
Which brings me back to the ‘think abut the children’ phrase that gets trotted out as some kind of moral protectionism, when all it is in fact is a human shield against adult prejudice and fixity. Whether the concern is about gender or sexuality, it matters for all those transgender and transsexual children whose status is at last being understood, and all those children who are educated and informed enough to know that being born non-heterosexual is not immoral. Gender and sexuality are not acquired and are non-contagious. People who are non-cis-heteronormative are not a movement or a lobby and we do not undermine society. And yet we are compared to nuclear weapons, blamed for earthquakes, and for violence in society through undermining the moral fabric. We are not actually liked for being the way we were born, because we challenge cultural ideals.
We are not the children our parents thought we were, so often. They, who were once children too, acquired an idea of what would make them ‘successful’ and applauded parents, and we may disappoint them. If we are very young, we place them in an awkward position with other parents and with their own parents and friends. If we are adult, we challenge their expectations of being proud parents, or perhaps grandparents. The core message to all of us is that we must listen to children and not assume we are right and they are too young to know. Further, that by impressing our negative views on them about sexuality and gender being a lifestyle choice, we are suppressing the truth and risk making them repressed as individuals. Children need no protection against same-sex couples, nor against transgender people. They need to know, so that they don’t repeat the same prejudice and fear, and are free to find their authentic selves. Only by doing so can they grow up as whole people, without the struggles that I and my partner are still facing as mature adults in family, peer circles and society at large.
It is cold. February is an uncertain time, not least because we always forget that despite lengthening days, it can bring the worst of winter. February is not Spring. This morning the sun is shining because the sky is clear, not because it doesn’t always shine, even night as well as day. And I am feeling regret, because my lover flies to the other side of the world in less than two days, for over two weeks. This will be the longest we have lived apart since we found each other and began this exploration of something new and wonderful.
I feel regret; perhaps some envy? I am thinking though, that she will return with a head full of new things that I shall never see and therefore never be able to share the ‘do you remember when …’ moments. It will be a long enough time for each of us to reflect on our first two months together, how it has impacted our lives and changed us. Whether there are things we might have done together better, ways we have interacted that might have been more thoughtful, and how we then feel about moving forward together. I think we are simply wanting to be mindful about our relationship, rather than planned or aspirational, and this feels good.
I wrote a long time ago that I knew my next romantic / love / intimate relationship would be very different from anything I had previously known, and it is. I am not, however, going to write about it in any detail! It is very personal, and whilst I have been very open in blogging my transition, my lost love, marriage and family, I have always made a point not to draw anyone else into the narrative. What I can do is say a bit about why, for me, this is so different, because I feel I have learned some important lessons through all this grief and turmoil of finding my true self and living authentically.
I think the biggest thing is that when I began marriage all those years ago, I held the concept of it being part of the big picture of ‘how things are’. Life, in any normal sense had a pattern of marry, build career, buy a home, have children, buy a bigger home, increase the cars and/or pets, see the kids through education to adulthood (and repeat your own path), and then retire to grandchildren (who would grow and repeat the path …), in comfort and continue to ignore one’s mortality until it became inevitable.
Of course, this isn’t the way it goes for most people any more, though the dream remains. I know so many people who have lost and gained partners, children, futures, careers – found new sexualities even. And mortality? That is the one we still ignore or shy away from. So what are relationships for? Mutual support, understanding, sharing. A place to trust and a place to be honest.
And most of the time, they are conditional. There is a time when we just give up, because we feel we cannot, or should not, continue giving or loving. It happens in most relationships, including between family members, and this is the reality. There can come a time when you realise love was a deal, and that the conditions have changed.
How frightening. Which is why we don’t think of relationships this way. The result? We do not know how to meet and part with real love, because we do not learn this rhythm. I know that my former wife tried to end our marriage kindly. It was no longer what she wanted, whilst I felt she was all I could ever have, because I was so committed to her. And so I went through extraordinary hurt. A large part of my hurt was my singular belief in love, in my love, and that I had found the only one I could ever have. Yes, I still feel that the love she held for me was completely contingent on my gender, not my person. It was a relationship that required me to exhibit a male gender, and therefore I knew it was less than I had thought it was. And this was the love and the relationship upon which I hung my whole life, and which inevitably made constraints on both of us in terms of whether we really made the most of our own lives, and of each other’s lives.
And so I am learning about relationships and about love.
Dancing yesterday was again a thing I go to on my own, as yet something we don’t share. It gave me space to think and express something of what I was feeling about my lover going away. Why my sadness? Why so much regret of parting? What was I afraid of? The future? Of our relationship being so young, possibly fragile? I don’t think it is. Instead I began to feel strong. It was the realisation that I have come through a very significant event in life, and done more than just survive. I am rejuvenated in every part and experiencing life in so many new ways, that I can hardly say any more that being born trans was a disaster! I feel authentic, knowing myself and with this great sense of belonging in the web of all life. I feel greater and stronger as a person than ever before, and with a clearer vision of what it means to love and be loved. I am no longer holding that old, repeated concept of how life goes. No; life is what you create each day anew, in the application of love and kindness and preparedness to learn it better.
So now I imagine the possibilities of two people creating each new day, with their love not for the relationship, not for their own expectations, but for each other. This is new, because it is renewing, rather than rote. I love, and I am loved and it is a gift. The gift is not a thing, it is just a present. A present moment, a present opportunity. Not a constant but a constant opportunity to realise love, to make it real. I returned again to what I have written about before: love as the extremely difficult realisation that someone else is real. As I danced, I began to understand my authenticity, my reality, my sense of belonging. And in that sense of belonging, a security. And in that security, the understanding that the one I now love has her own reality which is quite other than mine, and to be given to, nurtured, upheld, freed; never possessed or drawn into myself as someone or something I need in order to complete myself.
This is a time when all I have written and thought about love over the years of this blog is being tested and tried for real. Do I mean what I said and wrote of as theory? I think I am coming to understand far better what it means to love another. It is in one sense less ‘secure’ that the old concept of a process of growing together, staying together, ending life together, but in another far more definite in being what it is. Love is. You can receive it, give it, but never own it, because it is alive, never runs short and makes relationships all they can humanly be. It is this constant exchange that gives love meaning, and understanding this meaning is what encourages more love.
The gift is the present: love is now.
And now …
… and now …
We shall know grief—
which is a funny thing to say
while we laugh, pause at anxieties,
only to smile them away.
We befriend joy—
which is to say not just fun
as our smiles drift from serious eyes
because love has begun.
We feel this rain—
not as birds on a lake unwet
but soaking into our consciousness
threads of how we met.
We shall each grow—
breaking husk and ground, with stems
thoughtless of seasons, and wear both
dew-drops and frost-gems.
We become whole—
in grief, joy, sun, frost as equal food
knowing somehow nothing less is true
nothing else as good.
2015 © Andie Davidson
Looking back, two words feature more on my blog than any to do with transition, and they are ‘love’ and ‘understanding’. I’m beginning to know why. Being trans forces you to dig deeper than most people ever have to, into what it means to be alone, or isolated, misunderstood – or loved. And until you understand what it is to be loved, loving another never quite feels verified. How do I know I am really loving another person, not just being there, being kind, doing what might help them to like me, stay near me? Maybe you can’t.
And me? What about the business of loving myself? I was told in no uncertain terms at an early age that to love oneself was arrogant and hubristic. Humility requires no love, and is correct. Humility gets you to heaven. How does that compare with Pride? Or indeed with being out and proud as different? Perhaps there is a big lesson in loving yourself, if you have to come out as anything marginal in society. Certainly you must dispense with any imposed ideas of shame for being as you were born.
At the core of Buddhist philosophy is the very practical idea that loving-kindness (metta) starts right in your own heart: ‘may I be happy; may I be well’. I practised another meditation recently that added ’may I be peaceful; may I be loved’. I like that. How can you love another and radiate that out, if it has no home in your own heart? I wonder if you even learn what it is to love yourself, until you have confronted what it means not to. I believe I needed to have my years alone, during which to not just grieve, but come to understand more of what makes love real, beyond liking, security, deep friendliness, affection. I missed these last four things enormously, because they are so important in making us feel included and belonging. We really do need them. I find them amongst writers and dancers, but never take them home, knowing they are there tomorrow, tonight. But they will be there next time we meet, and I shall feel reassured as a result. But loved? Do I deserve it? Have I earned it? What and how must I be in order to be lovable?
And suddenly my thinking is in quite the wrong direction again. You never earn love. You are never good enough. You never deserve it. Like dark energy, it is simply there. All that matters is how you choose to interact with it. You can let it pass through you, or be the attractor that draws it, or by not being something around which the energy must flow. Love does not wrap you up, it permeates you.
Falling in love is a strange thing, and as an adult you know that it is a muddle of chemistry, and that some features of this phase will pass. What then? Was being in love, love? Was it just the rocket booster getting you into love orbit? What is the love bit inside the being in love? What does love feel like, and how do you know that you love another at all? I have tried to analyse love many times in the three years this blog has been going, and I still feel that if your idea of love is simply that the other person completes you, makes you what you want to be, then yes, this is loving. But it is fragile and dependent and conditional. Most of the time it will make do for most of us. It makes us feel safe, secure and cared about – while it lasts. If we lean wholeheartedly into the other, and they step away, we fall. Sometimes we fall very hard, muddied with bitterness and resentment. If we don’t lean, we live with a degree of mistrust, a reserve of balance, a slight distance. Are we not then fully trusted, and do we not fully trust? Some will say that you never can really trust another person, and you must preserve yourself against betrayal for your own safety.
I read an article recently that reported research saying that the three words a relationship partner most wants to hear are not ‘I love you’, but ‘I trust you’. And another than said the two things that hold any stable relationship together are not sex or money, but kindness and generosity. How can you say ‘love’ without these things? It isn’t the whole thing, of course, but these things reveal a bit about the nature of love between people.
I still like Iris Murdoch’s statement, that love is the extremely difficult realisation that someone other than oneself is real, still very meaningful and probing. Look at the person you say you love, or wish you could say you love. Are they as real – as a person, an individual, a being – as you are to yourself? It’s a good test, a good checkpoint, when you are growing love for another. Are you looking to receive, be excited, comforted, secure? Or are you looking for what you can open up in the other, by being yourself, and giving?
And I think that is really where I am at the moment, understanding that love is something that grows and develops and can be nurtured. Jump in with a lofty definition of love, and it can seem very daunting to think of it as attainable. You’re full of feelings and emotions, searching for words that express them, and somehow afraid of saying either too much or too little. Does ‘I love you’ sound like an aspiration? Or too high an achievement in the early stages? Are you afraid of diminishing the meaning in case you want to mean more as the relationship develops? There is no ‘Instant love: just add oxytocin’. There is only a belief and trust in the other, within which you can choose either to import a preconceived idea of love – or go organic, and take care to grow something that might be quite unique, that can keep thriving, developing, deepening and giving.
I like ‘organic’, it sounds fresh and anticipatory, full of surprises, free of labels and definitions. Maybe it is time to stop analysing love and simply let it develop, mindfully, carefully, generously. All I know right now is that something mysterious is going on in and between my new lover and me, that is begging description but without borrowing any existing labels. They would all be a poor approximation.
I think we are both learning about love.