Suffering Fools and Finding Grace

I’ve been burning with a bottomless rage for weeks now, the flames of which only intensify every time I read another news story or see another image of people without a moral core demanding their “freedom” to infect themselves and the rest of us with the virus that causes COVID-19. I’ve finally been able to put a name to what I’m witnessing, which is dehumanization. We’re being told that, if we are “true” Americans, we should be willing to die for $10/hour to prove our “patriotism.” We are disposable and our physical vulnerability is an inconvenience to the machine of capitalism.

Wrapped into this package of dehumanization is a concept of fairness that sickens me. People would rather a good portion of their fellow citizens die than risk anyone sitting “idle,” taking from others out of laziness. Undeserved generosity and kindness are viewed with more contempt than preventable suffering, disability and death. On these fools’ lips, “I helped someone who wasn’t as grateful or as invested as I believe they should have been” is a worse outcome than “I spread a deadly illness to others through my selfish desire for, let’s say, a haircut.” No, it isn’t “fair” when people take more than they need, but it sure as f*ck isn’t fair, right or moral when one’s actions kill others because of their own unquenchable want of “freedom.”

I feel no empathy for people whose craven stupidity endangers us all and I want karma to find them. I lack grace; I find myself in my mind’s eye at a moment of decision–would I swing fate their way if given the choice–and all I want is vengeance. They force me to confront my inner demons of hate and my inability to turn away from wanting payment for injustice. They are still human, they are still made of the same stuff of which I’m made and yet I cannot bear the thought of them existing anywhere in my daily life.

I believe that my lack of care is part of the legacy of unresolved trauma that I bear. Having been violated and having no justice served me for my childhood, my rage looks for new villains and finds them in every direction. I know grief is the answer; as I sit with this notion, what comes to my mind immediately are the innocent that are suffering and that will suffer because of the horrible choices people are making. The restaurant worker forced back because they will otherwise lose their unemployment, only to be exposed by a customer who just had to meet up with friends. The healthcare worker who may make it through the first wave only to bring the virus home to a loved one after exposure to a person who decided a vacation was in order. I feel so powerless because COVidiots do not listen to reason, but I can focus my energy on the people who are doing their best to protect and support others during this crisis and on those who are most vulnerable to its effects.

I ventured to a nature area today and witnessed dozens of people on my journey who were violating the mask-wearing and social distancing mandates in my state. My anger grew exponentially and I flipped off a sh*thead who drove his bike around my car despite a fire engine coming from the other direction with lights flashing. I’d about lost hope when, with a block from my house, I passed a young person wearing a flowing purple and blue bandanna around their face. The elegance of the mask-wear’s choice of garment brought to mind my bedrock belief: in the midst of our present suffering and our subjugation, there is more beauty than pain in the world.

Tell Me More–A Relationship Red Flag?

I’m very curious to learn what others think about this topic. Despite my extensive formal education in psychology, I cannot recall learning about this behavior as a sign of a personality disorder or other psychopathy, although I believe it has to fit in somewhere. It is, at the minimum, a defensive posture and, if deployed with malice, an astute way of assessing someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To what am I referring? Namely, asking personal questions without offering any emotional intimacy or depth in return.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon in two areas of my life. The first, the more benign but still infuriating of the two, happens when someone posts a question on social media but does not offer their own stance, opinion or response. I’m learning to stop myself from responding to first check whether the person “put themselves out there” and shared where they are coming from before responding. I think I’m beginning to formulate a flexible rule of “you go first” when someone asks for vulnerability. Obviously, in situations such as healthcare, I do not expect my medical doctor or therapist to tell me their problems before I share mine. There are some relationships that are meant to be one-sided. I keep having a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, though, that those posting certain types of questions on social media either have ulterior motives or are not brave enough to start from a place of showing up authentically. “Sure, I’ll share….., but you go first” feels right in some contexts.

The more ominous of the situations occurred in a face to face situation in which I found myself the past few years, in which someone I once counted a friend and now only consider in our professional capacity repeatedly asked me prying questions while sharing minimal vulnerabilities in exchange. He would sometimes be arrogant and unrelenting in his questioning, which led to a traumatic experience and a whole host of other fallouts for me. I realize now that a giant red flag should have been raised internally simply from him asking too many questions without opening up in a corresponding manner. I don’t want to over-simplify here–every question does not need a like exchange. A pattern, though, of asking highly-personal and emotionally-charged questions, coupled with very little openness by the questioner, is a concern that the person is gathering information not being a friend, and is not interested in and/or capable of developing emotional intimacy.

I’ve always been alert to potential scammers. If I answer the phone when I don’t recognize the phone number, I will not even give my name or acknowledge anything until the person tells me who they are. If there is a paranoid to gullible continuum, I am far on the paranoid side. Where I’ve been lax, however, is in treating emotional and personal queries as being asked out of kindness, since so much of my experience growing up was of being ignored. “They’re interested in me” tracks way too quickly into “maybe they care about me” when in fact there can be all sorts of motives as to why someone wants to know more about another person. In this case, there is a relatively clear-cut way to know whether to lower my guard–am I being entrusted with secrets or only asked to unearth my own. I felt violated in the former friendship I described above when I realized the person had succeeded (for a time) in hiding so much of what they really believed and who they really were from me. I am someone who typically only needs to experience something like that once to get it. At the same time, I don’t want to over-react in future situations and get lost in inventorying how many vulnerabilities have been traded. I think I’ve shared a good deal of my own perspective here, so I hope my readers will share theirs!

Accepting My Fate with Dignity

This week I’ve been contemplating the scope of the crisis people across the world and in my neighborhood are enduring, and I keep returning to one idea: the extent of the devastation that has, is and is likely to befall us, at least here in America, is too much to for my brain to digest. I don’t think that this means current events are inherently profoundly traumatizing to everyone who is experiencing them, but rather that the potential shifts and cracks that are forming are too wide and too deep to fully comprehend. Our society may be remade, for better or for worse, and I feel so small in bearing witness to it.

I’m putting some of my energy into staying present and into the practicalities of my own life and I’m also making space to listen to those who are most directly being impacted. These would include those in nursing homes, disabled people and PoC who are being disproportionately affected. I feel intense rage when I hear the “Karens” of the world b*tching about not being able to get their hair cut; being inconvenienced and being oppressed are fundamentally different experiences and I cannot with people who reject any suggestions that humble introspection and community effort might be necessary.

The future feels both bleak and uncertain. This is nothing new to me, but, in this instance, it is a collective outlook rather than an individual one. I’m returning every time my mind reaches a peak of anxiety to the idea that, when I reach the end of myself, acceptance is the only path left to trod. I will not deny my own reality and I will not fight a losing battle. I desire an embracing of grief that I do not know if I have in me, but the idea of remaining proud, dignified and whole no matter what I face or what I lose appeals to the core of who I am. This isn’t an avoidance of emotion but rather a “being with” myself in compassion at any cost.

I always thought autonomy was the most important and highest value I held, but I sense this is part of the shifting that is happening. Some of the events of our lives, our fate if you will, are outside of the scope of what we can predict, make sense of or affect. I do not yet know how to surrender control in situations in which I feel threatened by doing so, but I know acceptance of my fate, whatever it may be, is the most important commodity I can cultivate for these circumstances.

A Future-Oriented Identity

I’m a proactive person. That sentence right there has taken me about four decades to write and it is shattering the negative messages I’ve absorbed from others thus far in my life. Anxious, over-reactive and impatient are words I’ve used for myself after hearing them again and again in response to my proactive behaviors. I anticipate and respond and that’s a good thing! Now that I know who I am, I can make better choices in how I frame my own situation and how I interact with others.

A simple decision I made in the spur of the moment last year to not be proactive has now resulted in me finding myself facing a highly stressful situation this summer. I’m struggling to cope because my behavior was out of character for me; I hesitated where I would normally act and took the (at the time) easy way out. I’m offering myself grace in that there is no way to possibly anticipate every crisis that will come, but, wow, the feeling of relief I feel on a regular basis because I typically deal with the tough stuff first and avoid these types of outcomes is something I am deeply craving. I want to become someone who is capable of grace towards others in these moments; so often, my mind goes to “this could have been avoided if you’d only…”

What I’m visualizing in my mind is a bell-shaped curve of proactivity to procrastination, which the majority of people falling squarely between those two extremes–they act “just in time,” making deadlines but cutting it much closer than what is allowed for by my comfort level. I experience the most extreme stress when I find myself facing an unanticipated situation with time pressure. If I have time and warning, I’m much calmer, so I do everything humanly imaginable to hone those two resources.

Where I’ve made mistake after mistake is trying to move others onto my timeline, when they want to work at a much slower pace and tend to interpret my warnings as nagging or fear-mongering. I know now how to talk to someone when I see them headed 90 miles an hour towards a brick wall “I’m a really proactive person, so things tend to pop up on my radar before they would bother someone else, but, I see an potential issue here and can offer my thoughts if you are interested.” An invitation to consider rather than an a “WTF is wrong with you” when they don’t jump when I say danger is coming.

I’m a highly anxious and impatient person, but those characteristics are only born out when I’m missing the timely warning and feel trapped in needing to make a quick response. I was utterly confused as to my lack of panic when the pandemic was announced, but I had been paying attention and making arrangements for months beforehand, so my anxiety and impatience were not highly triggered. Owning my identity as a prepper and a proactive person helps me feel proud of who I am, rather than ashamed of it. It makes me incredibly curious as to the characteristics myself and others possess that may be equally misunderstood and mislabeled. Are there any you can identify in yourself?

Open Space for Transition

I’ve been almost confused at times in the past few weeks as to why my mood is suddenly so much better than it has been in months. I realized today that a good part of the calm I’m feeling is the fact that I am no longer being misgendered* countless times every day. The few times it’s happened in recent weeks, it has stung just as much as it did in the past, but having it occur once a week doesn’t deplete my mental resources the same way more frequent misgenderings do. In addition, I’ve been getting “he/him” pronouns in one of my social media groups, which, although inaccurate, is much less painful than the ones I’m used to getting.

I can simply be myself now, and don’t have to put much effort into my appearance or being “read” correctly. Every now and again, I remind myself that I’m on T and that it will continue to affect how I look, because I’m a little worried I’ll first take a good look at myself in August, which is when I anticipate having to return to in-person work, and not recognize myself anymore if I don’t attend to the subtle changes that are happening.

I absolutely love not having to contend with others’ views of me and not needing to absorb their judgments unless I want to (in that I can choose when and how I engage much more than I could in the past). I don’t want this way of life to end, but I don’t think I can maintain my income anywhere near its current level if I try to work from home on an ongoing basis after this crisis ends. It is important, though, to know that enjoying minimal in-person contact isn’t a false fantasy I’m conjuring, but a lived reality I’m appreciating.

I have to fully re-start working from home tomorrow, so it will be highly interesting to observe how much of my positive attitude relates to the decrease in transphobia I’m experiencing and how much relates to the PTSD triggers which will start to pick up once I have more online interaction. I have seven weeks to get through and then I will have a few months off this summer. At the minimum, doing everything I can to be able to take the summers off consistently is a top priority for me in order to meet my personal and mental health needs as much as I can.

*My heart goes out to trans people that are currently trapped in abusive and unwelcoming environments because of stay-in-place orders. Here are some resources specific to COVID-19 and the trans community.

  1. Trans Equality
  2. Trans Lifeline
  3. Trans Advocate

As a Matter of Fact…

We are moving into a time of year that feels expansive, active and dynamic. There is one aspect of how I approach people, though, that I feel still needs to be shed to allow me to open to the growth that awaits. I feel the need to prove my intelligence, knowledge and intellectual capacity to others and/or to educate them out of their ignorance. Were I a man rather than a non-binary person, I could see myself easily labeled as someone who “mansplains.” Gender aside, I am definitely a “know-it-all.”

I was raised by parents with little education; my mother did not attend college and my father did not go to high school. They were genuinely lacking some of the skills and information needed for the modern world. For example, I had to learn everything about colleges, scholarship and financial aid on my own. Being able to grasp information without any assistance was a requirement for me to be able to succeed; there was no hand to hold onto.

I then chose education as my career, a form of employment that is heavily focused on disseminating knowledge and helping others develop critical thinking skills. I am talented in altering how I explain a topic based on the abilities and capacity of my audience members. I am not nearly as good at guiding people in terms of de-emphasizing my own role in their intellectual gains, even though I try to encourage others as much as I can.

These intertwining factors have led me to need to precise and accurate in what I say, and to say it with conviction. Tentativeness tends to get read, especially for people who aren’t seen as men, as a lack of knowledge. I speak forcefully and with conviction.

Where things go awry is perfectly illustrated in gleaning information about the coming pandemic. I am anxious to my core about the potential fall-out of the situation and I cope with my anxiety by arming myself with a wall of research and facts. This information, though, simply bounces around in my head without direction or purpose, after I take all the logical steps for myself that it implies I should. I then struggle and fail to contain it to my own preparation, but instead attempt to inspire others to take reasonable steps to avert danger. All this ends up in me reciting information such as pandemic death rates to people who are overly optimistic, ill-informed, disinterested and/or secure that their unacknowledged privilege will shield them. I keep telling myself “they aren’t worth the effort” and “my energy is being wasted” but, at the same time, I have nowhere to channel what I’ve digested.

I want to be able to influence people. It feels unbelievably validating to hear someone tell me they thought about something I told them or that they took an action because of a message I shared. In all my years growing up, despite my knowledge base and capacity outweighing my parents’ education, I did not feel heard or seen. It felt like the energy I devoted to try to better the life of my family went into a black hole. When my current life touches that thread, I retreat to avoid getting pulled into a “help me; you’re useless” scenario.

I find two streams of thought emerging from this reflection. First, I need to find additional outlets for my abilities, and, second, I need those avenues to be fruitful. I would rather bite my tongue than be dismissed by someone unable to recognize that, in regards to most topics most days, I do indeed know what I’m talking about. Or, I at least want to stop the flow towards those unyielding shores as quickly as I can. I found myself drawn to playing online games like Sudoku and crosswords this past week, and I see now that the increase in my desire to do so is a direct result of both feeling like I am not being intellectually challenged enough and, at the same time, that there is no place for what I’ve absorbed.

As I sit with this a moment longer, I see that, even if I find ways to occupy my mind that I deem useful, I must work as well on my delivery. I know I come across in a graceless way at times. I want to inspire intellectual appetite and curiosity in others and I have a lot of personal growth I need to do in order to achieve that end-goal. Knowing things is one skill; leading others to want to know things benefits the greater good. What is your relationship with obtaining factual knowledge and sharing it with others? Are you more likely to call others “know-it-alls” or be labeled as one yourself? In what ways do you keep yourself intellectually engaged, and/or encourage others to learn?

Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

Appreciating Risk

Being on T has led to so much unexpected personal growth for me; I was unprepared for the mental effects I would experience. The best way I can describe it is having an internal slider that can shift from a fine-grained, nuanced painting to one with broad and bold strokes of color. When I need clarity and decision-making, the lines are clear and I can make a choice. When careful deliberation and a weighing of multiple competing needs is relevant, I can zoom in with great detail. I hope that the easy/simple option doesn’t start to outweigh the more nuanced one over time if I continue to use low-dose T.

A specific area of my life where this new experience of flexibility is showing up is in interpersonal relationships. I find myself speaking where before I would have suppressed my voice; my inner bravery in being honest with myself is being shared with others. Alongside my growing fondness for hearing my own voice (cringe!), I find myself feeling calmer in confronting others. The feeling of “this needs to be said” is taking precedence over “what harm might I experience if I say this.” It isn’t that my assessments of situations are necessarily changing, but my risk/reward balance is shifting. Almost bizarrely, people are starting to listen to me! I find myself being taken more seriously, although it is too soon to tell if it is in regard to a particular situation or a general shift. I do not know what will continue to change physically or cognitively, but I am here for it and am appreciative of being able to see the simple and complex at the same time. If you are on HRT as a trans and/or non-binary person, please feel free to share if anything I’ve described fits for you or if your experience has been different.

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

OUT AND LOUD

I have been out as a non-binary trans person for about ten months and on low-dose T about six months, so I thought it would be a good time to spend some time processing my experiences thus far. I want to consider both how I am relating to my body as well as how I am relating to others from this place of a deeper understanding of myself. Finally, I want to consider what I would like to focus on going forward.

PHysical Changes

I have had ambivalence about being on T ever since I started it. I want my voice to drop, a bit of fat redistribution, increased muscle mass and mental changes. I am a lot less interested in hair changes. Thus far, it has been a mixed bag. My body hair is darkening but is not extremely different than it was. I also find myself not caring about it at times and bothered by it more at other times. I have had some increases in feelings of depression since starting T, but I do not think they are all due to the physical effects of it. In general, I feel more alert and my body aches are so much better than they used to be. My voice has lowered slightly but not quite as much as I would like it to. Because my job involves speaking, it has been so nice to feel like I can project my voice with less effort. I keep waiting for an internal indication that I need to cut my dose or go off of T because I am being more affected than I am comfortable with, but so far, it hasn’t come.

Social Changes

I have lost a few friendships since coming out as a trans non-binary person. I think being true to myself has led me to be more willing to follow through on creating a safe environment for myself and less willing to tolerate people’s ridiculousness. I’ve always been a decisive person, but T has helped me back up my inner knowing with action.

As a trans person, I’ve come to understand what it means to center advocacy work around the people who are most affected by bias and discrimination in a particular social justice realm (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.). This understanding, coupled with the intensity with which I’ve always approached moral issues, had led me to have a “no shits given” response to cis people’s lack of understanding and/or concern for the needs of trans people, and has helped me to better understand why I need to step back, listen and elevate the voices of others in areas where I have privilege. It has made it harder for me to engage in close relationship with people who lack this insight, but also more appreciative of those who grasp it.

Future plans

I need more (any!) trans people in my everyday life! I am hoping to be more engaged in pride events and such this summer and will hopefully meet people with whom I can form a connection. I have been presented with several opportunities to talk with cis people in a formal training setting about the experiences of trans people as well as how to act in solidarity, but I would love to be able to find places to direct support trans people. Finally, I want to continue to be vocal at least in my state in regards to the rights and needs of trans people. Things are going badly on the legislative front for trans youth in several states and, in addition to advocating for their needs, I want to be vigilant to ensure similar discrimination doesn’t ensue where I live.

If you are a trans and/or a non-binary person, are there topics that you would like to read about and/or discuss? How has your experience been going this last year?