Shut Them Up or Learn To Put Up?

Subject: Shut Them Up or Learn To Put Up?
From: TheCallan (
Date: Sat 25 Apr 1998 - 15:42:21 BST

Shut Them Up or Learn To Put Up?

"I don't really care what other people observe about transgendered
people. Their observations are just politically motivated, designed
to disempower us. I want to hear transgendered people talk about
the good things we are, not the reflections of others about what they
see the problems are with transgender."

People have been pretty clear. They are sick of hearing the
problems people have with transgender and want to hear about
successes, wins, advantages instead.

This makes perfect sense. After all, every transgendered child is
faced with a wall of stigma, people telling them how wrong, bizarre,
unsociable and hurtful expressing their transgendered nature is. "It's
OK, if you want to feel that stuff, but how can you offend and hurt us
by actually showing it in the world? Don't you understand that it looks
awful, will make you a failure and a target, and will embarrass and
hurt the people who love you? You will be a freak outcast."

For me, when I look at transgendered people, one of the first things I
try to figure out is what their defense strategy to stand up to those
nasty words, to that blanket of stigma. How do they tolerate and
survive the barrage of stigma that transgendered people face

We all have different strategies. Some of us grow a thick skin, not
caring what other people think. Some of us deny our transgender,
being only crossdressers or ex-transsexuals who are now cured.
Some of us rationalize and explain. Some of us become the clown.
Some of us nurture our rage at people who say negative things.
Some of us internalize that rage and become the martyr. Some of
us see ourselves as being on a mission from God. Some of us
compartmentalize heavily, learning to dissociate.

There are advantages and costs to every one of these techniques. I
have spent the last 10 years trying to understand what my technique
should be. I knew that I didn't want to go though life in a Lucite
bubble, shutting out the pain and shutting out everything that other
people think. I knew I didn't want to become the martyr, either
internalized & bleeding or externalized & raging. I knew that I
couldn't just be the clown, and that rationalizations weren't useful. I
didn't want to have to lie about my history or my biology.

For me, it was crucial that whatever solution I found to handle the
stigma (and I don't think I have a perfect one yet) not involve me
being isolated from other people, just not listening to them because I
didn't want to hear what they had to say. I knew that to build a wall to
shut me off from the criticism of others was also to build a wall that
would cut me off from the love of others. That criticism is so many
things wrapped up together, messages about what others fear and
what I need to be sensitive to, messages about what I could do
better and how I can improve communication, and even messages
about how much people love me to try to help me get away from a
place they see as dangerous and painful.

To actually use the comments of others, be they transgendered or
not, because often transgendered people have their own agenda
and are playing out their own fears in criticizing us even more
strongly than non-trannies, I had to learn not to react to the negative
words of others, but to respond to them in a considered way. I had
to explore my own buttons of shame and fear, to know how they
worked and to unwire them so they wouldn't go off and force the fight
or flight reflex whenever someone glanced at me funny. I had to
learn to stand and listen and process, not just play out the powerful
shame based fears that drove me into the closet for so long. It was
like forcing myself to sit under live bullets so I could learn to
consciously respond in the best way I could think of rather than just
unconsciously react in old patterns that cause the problem, learning
to take my own freedom of choice, which only comes in the moment
between stimulus and response.

No matter how much it uses the tools of theory, this process, which
feels like standing in the fire and burning away the layers of social
acculturation that taught me to be ashamed when I hear the negative
words from others, isn't pretty. People who have watched me go
though it, reaching down and feeling my feelings, going though all
those layers of scar tissue I have built up that trap in the pain and
shame to try and recover the voice of my spirit, recover trust in my
heart, have often felt very uncomfortable. Some want to help me by
just trying to get me to scab over again, not leave the wounds open
to drain, others run away because the smell is too intense, bringing
back memories of their own pain, and some just decided that I
wasn't fit company, which makes sense to me. This focus didn't
make me very good as a social animal.

This process was the process where I had to learn how to love
myself, to become centered in secure in what and who I am. To be
able to open to others comments requires that you be so sure of
yourself that you can take people noting where you are less than
perfect not as a hit, a failure, but rather as a note you can learn from.
For me, now, most times I have considered what they are saying and
made a conscious decision to trade off what they consider important,
their priority, for something that I consider more important. This is
the challenge of living in a finite world, decisions must be made and
perfection is unattainable -- we will always be at least somewhat
wrong. When we know the tradeoffs we make though, embrace
them, we can listen and find ways we can sharpen our game, polish
our act, make better choices, without running away or fighting every
word said that does not totally affirm us. There is power when we
can just smile and let someone prove what an idiot they are -- or,
especially for novices, newbies and young people, how much they
still need to learn, and still need to heal. People heal in their own
time, and granting goddess that time -- having the serenity to accept
things I cannot change -- requires that I be confident and
comfortable that I am doing the best to change what I can change,
which is changing me and my choices.

It's really hard to do all this, or at least it is for me, especially
because those layers of scar and blisters of pain created so much of
my identity and my relationship with other people. My fear and pain
became part of me, even if they were a part of me that kept me
small, kept me from taking the risks involved in opening up to other
people and honestly hearing what they had to say. I was easier to
believe that I was unlovable, so no words of love were true, and that I
was freaky, so every word that put me down and predicted failure
must be true. I was invested in the identity that was built on that fear,
rage and pain, so moving past it was hard, because I had to take
responsibility for my own choices. As P. J. O'Rourke said "One of
the annoying things about believing in free will and individual
responsibility is the difficulty in finding someone to blame your
troubles on. And when you do find someone, it's remarkable how
often their picture turns up on your driver's license."

I really believe that It is finding my center, being able to listen to what
others have to say with an open mind and an open heart, is the only
way to come to peace with the world, peace with my God and peace
with myself. If I can do the hard work of listening with compassion to
people who challenge me, then I can rise to those challenges, even
if that means just walking away from them knowing that I what they
say tells me more about their issues than about mine.

After all is said and done, I believe it is how TG people choose to
handle the words of others than defines their lives. How do we both
protect ourselves from being hurt and shamed, and open ourselves
to good feedback and positive, loving messages? How do we both
feel the emotions and ideas of others, yet not get overwhelmed and
crushed by them? How do we swim though the mud of stigma and
not get bogged down, or get too tired to bloom?

To me, there is no more important issue in trans-theory than to
identify the techniques we use to protect ourselves from being
destroyed by stigma and fear projected by others and still open
ourselves enough to grow, connect and thrive? This is the line
between strategies and tactics that allow us to survive by building
strong, fortress like defenses that cut us off from the world
(otherwise known as closets, even if we wear them like Lucite eggs)
and those that allow us to thrive by letting in the sunlight, nutrients
and love and letting out our own unique gifts.

I understand why many people here just don't want to hear all this
negative stuff that others say about transgender, why I have heard
from a number of you that some of my writing is negative, just
repeating the stereotypes of people who don't know what it is like to
live as trans in this culture, to face this blanket of stigma.

I do believe, though, that if we don't open to the words and ideas of
other humans, find ways to use them, we won't connect with others,
and will be stuck in our own walled off space forever. For me,
opening up the wells of pain, letting it out and finally realizing that my
pain isn't special or unique, that it doesn't entitle me to anything
special -- including the right to silence others saying what I don't want
to hear -- is the only way I can claim to the joy and connection of
being human.

(who, after writing this piece, saw a sign outside the florists that said
"You are only as big as the things that annoy you." The answers
are out there, if we can hear, see and feel them.)


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