Lessons from a journey

  • Posted on December 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm

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.

Waypoint 1

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.

Waypoint 2

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.

Waypoint 3

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.

Waypoint 4

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.

Waypoint 5

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.

Waypoint 6

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.


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