Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Cowardice

So the last few posts have been upbeat & positive about my prospects for coming out to my family. Especially after having such a great experience at Butch Voices and feeling the validation of my peers, I’ve been feeling increased internal pressure to do it right away. And I really have been thinking a lot about how to do that. But the high from the conference and meeting butch friends is beginning to fade in the day to day grind of life, and my courage seems to be waning along with it.

My problem seems to be good ol’ fashioned cowardice.

Now, to my delight, I’ve been blessed with loving, clear-thinking friends, especially Special Femme, who have reminded me of the courage I employ daily in my gender nonconforming appearance. And, on most other general topics and challenges I don’t have a courage problem (not including spiders because, eeww). Deep down, I know that I am not a coward fundamentally. But on this, I’m certainly acting like one.

I’m afraid.

Simple as that. I fear so much surrounding this that I’m paralyzed. I am rational enough  to recognize the problem, yet I don’t know for sure how to solve for it.

But there’s a trick I’ve used forever that gets my brain working whenever I’m stuck: I inventory my tools to see what is the best one for the job.  By “tools”, I mean any asset (tangible or esoteric) that I can apply to a challenge to resolve it. Sometimes that’s actual tools (hammers and the like) sometimes its skills or knowledge or connections or experience or money or prayer…it is anything I can access that might be helpful for resolving a problem.

In this case, my problem is paralysis due to unreasoning fear. It has occurred to me that maybe naming the fears could highlight possible solutions.  Much like my Call To The Universe post, where I made my wish-list real by putting it in writing, perhaps listing what I dread can free me from the trap enough that I can put my brain back to work.

So, here’s what I’m afraid of happening if I come out to my family:

Plausible:
– Angry disappointment leading to cold, perfunctory relations
– Righteous indignation and denunciation as a hellbound sinner with a soul in immortal jeopardy
– Complete emotional shutdown and the silent treatment, being excluded from family events
– Being vilified to mutual friends and acquaintances
– Verbal abuse directed at me or my beloved
– Pointed suggestions about “cures” available for my “affliction”
– Efforts to fix me, the broken confused spinster who clearly needs looking after

Unlikely But Possible:
– Disgust and derision leading to shaming and public humiliation
– Shock severe enough to cause a heart attack in certain family members
– Permanent estrangement from some family members, being shunned
– Violent language or physical behavior directed at me or my beloved
– Vandalism of my property or personal effects
– Libel or slander about me delivered to my employer

That’s the bulk of the types of things I’m afraid may happen in response to my coming out. My problem is that they’re all fortuitous events beyond my influence. Folks will react however they react. What I  fear is actually the pain that will result from receiving these reactions from my dearest loved ones.

So if I can’t control or influence the reactions, is there anything I can do to head-off the pain or mitigate how badly the reactions will hurt?

I don’t have any answers to any of it. But now that I’ve named my nemesis, perhaps my brain can get to work figuring out how to defeat it.

Any suggestions?

Valuing Validation

I’m still riding the emotional high of an absolutely phenomenal weekend, so this one may be a bit of a ramble…

———-

“I don’t need anyone to agree with me.”
“Your validation is not required.”
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

All true and empowering sentiments, when used in the right circumstances. But I’m throwing the B.S. flag on myself and on every time they’ve been used to justify and perpetuate the fear that isolates us from our communities, from each other.

See, here’s the thing: saying you don’t need others’ good opinion is a great way to shield your heart from disappointment when you don’t get it, and a great way to become smug when you do. But if you allow that shield to harden, it can easily become a prison, trapping you in isolation from those whose opinions do matter, despite your protests to the contrary.

I’ve spent the best part of my youth and adulthood doing this very thing. Through a mix of courage and fear, I’ve built an impressive wall around myself that has kept the world at arms-length, protecting my fragile self esteem and ego from the slings and arrows of a disapproving world. I say mixed fear and courage, because it does take a certain amount of guts to be true to an identity that requires you to be constantly gender non-conforming in appearance and demeanor. But also fear, in using that outward toughness less as a shield against hurt, and more as a barrier to contact of any kind with other people.

But this past weekend went a long way toward helping me realize that not only do I need validation from certain quarters, but also that I’ve found it (and, in my fear, almost missed it).

I’ve just come back from the Butch Voices 2013 conference in Oakland, California, a gathering of butch, stud, andro, ag, trans and otherwise masculine-identified women from all walks of life, plus their allies (including femmes). The conversations were many, varied, deep, light, serious, humorous, tragic and joyous, and covered topics on a broad range of discourse relevant to masculine women and their allies. It was a celebration of *us*, of anyone who identifies under that large, inclusive umbrella of identity and being. The conference was an opportunity for me to meet people of my own ilk, my “tribe” as it were (not meaning to be appropriative in any way).

For the first time in my life, at this conference I was surrounded by people like me: similar presentation, similar identity, similar struggles, challenges and preferences. Though I’ve had camaraderie with school chums, teammates, fellow church members and co-workers, I’ve never before felt as thoroughly expected, as if I belonged there and was a natural part of the ecosystem. It was a powerful feeling and a transformative experience.

I think what brought it home to me, what really made it click in my head, was being stopped with a couple of friends, away from the conference venue and free of any conference-related markers (name tags, etc.), and nevertheless correctly identified as part of that world by a couple of towns people. It was as if the non-conference world recognized in us those specific details that identified us as part of the butch species, rather than as poor, misguided girls confused about what clothes to buy. It was subtle, unsought, spontaneous validation of an identity that is both as natural as breathing and chosen, at least in the sense of presentation.

And then there was the welcome from people I’ve only ever met online. Open-armed and smiling, these kindred spirits welcomed me into their community and conversation as if I belonged there from the start. That assumed belonging among people who, to me, epitomize my idea of “butch”, did more to calm my nerves than any sedative ever could.

Being welcomed, expected, accepted and respected for myself alone cleared away a ton of obstacles to my enjoyment of the conference and to my building of community with others similar to myself. When freed from the burden of guarding my pride and personal dignity from anticipated disgust or derision, my mind and spirit concentrated on the messages right in front of me. When I realized I had nothing to fear from these folks on the basis of my personal identity and gender expression, I felt lighter, more alive than at almost every other time of my life. What’s more, I discovered that even these butch icons had some of the same fears and reservations as I did. The universality of insecurity really surprised me, but also it was a bit comforting.

So, even though I was there to hear about things related to butch lesbian life, like class, privilege, misogyny, visibility, the intersection of butch fashion and presentation, even strength training, the most valuable take-away from the weekend wasn’t in any seminar, but in the interstices, the hanging out and meeting and greeting. For me the most valuable thing was seeing first hand that there is, indeed, a community to which I belong, that I am “butch enough”, that I fit, have a place. What I took away from this weekend is that I am not alone…I have a tribe of fellow butches and we are an amazing and varied species to which I proudly belong .

And, even though I am whole and sufficient without it, that validation feels damn good.

A Call To The Universe

So, I’ve been preoccupied lately with the knotty puzzle of just how, where and when to come out to my family. And though, as i said in my last post, I think I now have the opening I need to start that conversation, I still haven’t hit on just how to go about it. Chewing on this has eaten up a lot of brain power and peace of mind. Enough so that it has affected my precious few minutes of daily Skype time with Special Femme.

But Special Femme is special for many reasons, one of which is her incisive mind. She suggested that, having witnessed together the amazing and wonderful results of others’ actions to “put into the Universe” what they desired, that it couldn’t hurt to give it a go on this, too.

So, here’s me asking the Universe to make my coming out to my family phenomenally great. I think the odds of it going this way are pretty slim and I’m not expecting perfection. Also, my inexperience may be working against me in knowing just what to ask for. But if the Universe can provide, then this is what I want my coming out to my family to be like (in no particular order):

I want the experience to include simple, unadorned words of unconditional love and acceptance from all of them.

The initial and continuing experience will be free of shaming, humiliation, derision and judgement.

I want them to ask tactful questions from a place of care and a desire to understand, without judgement or rancor.

I don’t want them to pry into the ultra personal, asking grossly explicit questions that they’d never think to ask of a straight person.

They’ll acknowledge me and my identity without cringing, flinching or denial.

Reassurance of their steadfast love and unshakable support will be their first reaction, before any fear or doubt for my spiritual well-being.

They will recognize that my love for them is the same today as it was yesterday, strong and steady and without reserve.

They’ll understand and support the coming changes in my life and living arrangements as a necessary evolution of my emerging independence.

They won’t treat me as the broken spinster whom they need to fix.

They’ll acknowledge the courage it takes to own with pride an identity they’ve ignored, mislabeled or dismissed in the past.

They’ll be kind, welcoming, generous and open with Special Femme, treating her with respect as a person and as my girlfriend.

They will not cite past events of my life as the regrettable cause of my “choosing” this hard and difficult “lifestyle”.

They will not shout at, make demands of, berate or humiliate me or Special Femme.

They will not disown or shun me or Special Femme.

They will look for ways to build community with me and Special Femme and respond to our efforts to do so with each of them.

They will recognize the unconscious homophobic comments that sometimes lace their discourse and will correct it.

They will seek to understand my gender identity and expression in context of my sexuality.

Privilege…Reprised

Last post I talked about a conversation about privilege that my brother and I had last Saturday. Because it was at a table full of people, we didn’t really get in-depth, but I said some things that really stirred thoughts & emotions for both of us.

So, during dinner with just my bro and sis-in-law last night, we revisited the conversation. Bro actually brought it up, which surprised me. Long story short, we each took the time to listen to each other and actively try to understand the other’s point of view. It was the most adult conversation I’ve had with him since I was an 18 year old college freshman, believe it or not.

We certainly didn’t solve the world’s problems and I still have a lot to think about before I’ll feel ready to come out to him. But last night’s chat gave me the critical key, the opening I needed to broach the topic. And, importantly, it gave me hope about my greatest fear in coming out to him: losing his love and companionship.

Here’s what happened:

During the course of the discussion we covered all sorts of issues related to the general topic of privilege. But the best bit came from him spontaneously. He brought up homosexuality as an example of a point he was making about being “forced” into a community. I turned it around, and used it to make my own point on privilege, by discussing marriage equality. He took the opening, as I’d hoped, and posed a hypothetical about his own kids. He boldly declared that if one of his kids came out to him, it wouldn’t change his love for them, because he is their dad regardless. He stated that he believes that homosexuality is an issue “between the person and their maker” and it’s not for him to judge any person right or wrong on that basis.

!!!

Now, admittedly, there’s still HUGE room for improvement in that attitude, and despite his assertion, there’s judgement inherent in the statement. But, taking the tiny victories as and where I find them, I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that he’s even willing to entertain the discussion and the possibility of a gay person in our immediate family.

As I said, it’s a good opening for a talk and gives me hope I won’t be immediately shunned and disavowed.

Now…to work on banking some courage to have that talk.

Contemplating Privilege

I nearly fell face first out of the closet with a painful crunch and bang Saturday night at dinner with my brother, his wife and a group of our mutual art friends. I didn’t actually come out, but it was a close shave. In the process, I had a bit of a personal epiphany.

For a long time I’ve been hearing and reading about privilege, its existence, its benefits and detriments, and how it manifests in real life. I thought I understood this concept fairly well; I thought being a gender non-conforming, Hispanic, gay, female in a nearly all white, predominantly straight community in the American Midwest gave me at least four separate checks in the non-privileged boxes. Regardless, I realized during the dinner conversation Saturday night that there is definitely a real, tangible, if invisible, bar raised by privileged thinking…for both the privileged and non-privileged, alike.

Surmounting that bar to reach a minimum level of equality with those who hold privilege is a Herculean task for those without that status. Seeing past the entitlement to acknowledge (let alone, correct) the plight of inequality, is a huge challenge for those who enjoy that status. Effectively eliminating privilege on every plain while maintaining freedom for all groups (even the currently privileged)…mind-bendingly daunting.

Here’s a high-level of what happened:

A group of us went out to dinner, as we do about once a month. We had a pleasant catch-up chat, boisterous and fun with everyone chatting all at once. But then the conversation suddenly seemed to focus on a discussion going on between my brother and one of the older women in the group…and, reluctantly, me.

Someone commented during a story about someone’s grand kid, who is deaf, that getting the child into “the deaf community” early is important. My brother responded that mainstream education and the benefits from fitting into the mainstream society should outweigh considerations of community and, his tone implied, all the touchy-feely-preachy things that go along with it.

The discussion devolved quickly and soon the inevitable “I don’t care” comment was made, attempting to at once minimize and appropriate the sentiment: “They [the unprivileged] can care about their community or cause, but the rest of the world shouldn’t be forced to care or listen to it.”

At this point my mouth got ahead of my brain and I interjected that there is a distinction between “forcing” an issue on someone and vigorous advocacy for a belief or cause. I also pointed out that it is easy to say from a position of privilege that the disaffected should “just be proud of who they are and not make the rest of us miserable listening to it”, but those that don’t have that privilege have to advocate for their cause just to reach the basic level of benefit that the privileged enjoy.

It was clear by the looks on everyone’s faces that I’d said a lot more than the words they heard and that I wasn’t just talking about the hearing-impaired. The look my brother gave me was a mixture of offense, thoughtfulness and trepidation. I think he was afraid I might launch into a full-on lecture.

I didn’t, mainly because I realized after saying that much that (1) I don’t know enough to speak intelligently on this topic without compromising myself; (2) it wasn’t the time or place for that discussion; and (3) an issue so fundamental deserves more thought and preparation to be persuasive. And I didn’t come out because the venue wasn’t right and that discussion with my family deserves more delicacy than a diatribe at a group dinner can afford.

The conversation moved on to something else after that. I think everyone sighed with relief, too.

Though the evening was actually quite fun, that discussion left me a bit shaken and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I haven’t come to any conclusions about privilege or about coming out to my family. But I have discovered another area of personal growth that needs some attention. Great, just what I needed, right? Lol!

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