Tuesday, 11 March 2014


So I want you to imagine something. It's going to be pretty awful, and it's probably going to be a trigger for some people. If that's a risk you don't feel up for, take care of yourself and stop now.

The first thing you need to understand is that masculinity, maleness, is inculcated and enforced with violence. It's either actual violence, or the threat of violence, or the implied threat of violence. Constantly. It's how men and boys are taught to train each other into maleness. This is true even at a very, very young age; go to a kindergarten playground, and you will see little boys shaping each others' masculinity, according to the rules they're taught by older boys and by grown men, with violence. It starts very early.

Take a little girl and throw her into that group of boys. Leave her with them and only the instruction, "Do whatever you want with her. Shape her into whatever you want to. Your scalpel is violence." Just sit with that for a minute. The image of handing a little girl who doesn't understand the world yet to a group of boys who are given carte blanche to use violence to shape her into whatever they think is appropriate.

It's a horrifying image. It's hideous and disturbing and wrong and it makes my flesh crawl thinking about it. And that's the way we, as a society, ought to react; if something like this scenario went public, there would be newspaper headlines.

It happens every day. Every hour. But while decent people automatically find this scenario a yawning, shocking evil when the little girl we envision is cissexual, this is considered the normal and proper way to treat a little girl who's trans. I knew I was a girl that early; I was kicked out of preschool for refusing to admit that I was a boy. And then they handed that little girl to the boys for the next fifteen years and said, "Do what you want with her. We will look the other way or cheer you on as you turn her into whatever you want to. Your scalpel is violence. It's only proper if she screams."

This is a horrifying story. This is the kind of story that, when you really look at it, represents the kind of abuse that the average person would respond to with, "Lock that sick bastard away and throw away the key." If it's a cissexual little girl. If she's trans, it's things running as they ought to be. There is no censure. There is applause.

This is one of the revealed, naked faces of oppression: if it were done to the privileged person, it would be considered abuse. If it's done to the marginalized person, it's the status quo. But it's not only that. It's not only about oppression; it's about how and why we internalize oppression.

This is a horrifying story. It's the kind of story that threatens to break your mind if it's your story. And you have to protect yourself somehow. You have to hold yourself together. You have to make it make sense. Because a world where that can be done to a little child who never did anything to anyone, who's not even old enough to understand why she's being hurt this way even by her parents until nowhere is ever safe, that's not an okay world. That's not a world I think a lot of us, including me, are strong enough to hold as true. So we defend ourselves by believing what it tells us.

I let the world tell me lies. I let myself believe that I was so bad and wrong and monstrous that I deserved what I got, that I even let someone rape me just because I was so desperately craving to be touched at all, because even abuse was more closeness than I felt I deserved. I let myself absorb the idea that I was completely delusional, and that all my knowledge about myself was false twitchings of a sick mind, because the alternative to that painful lie, the lie that I was a monster living in a fantasy world who was inherently freakish and unlovable? The alternative was worse. The alternative was that I didn't deserve it, I wasn't disgusting and unworthy of love, that I was a child put in an abusive situation and forced to stay there for no good reason. I wasn't strong enough to let that be true, as a child. I wasn't strong enough to let that be true as a teenager who couldn't sleep, who worked out on a punching bag every day after school until her hands bled, who spent every day thinking of newer, cleaner exits from living. I wasn't strong enough to let that be true as a college student who was fetishized and mocked and treated as a contaminated, essentially pornographic animate sex toy unworthy of any kind of closeness that didn't have the tinge of "dirty" and "perverted" seeping into it, who couldn't hug people or say "I love you" without fear that it would be considered creepy.

I wasn't strong enough to accept the truth of how strong I was. Acknowledging and owning my vast strength meant acknowledging that I was holding up something very heavy all the time, that I had been through hardship and not just normal life, the natural order of things. What I wasn't strong enough to accept was that I was a good kid, a strong kid, a brave kid, because that meant admitting that I was going through something that required virtue, strength, and courage, something that would make an inspiring TV movie about human resilience if it were happening to a person considered real by her society. Accepting that I was okay, that I was even beautiful, meant admitting that what I went through at school and at home, rather than being normal and good, was a horrorshow.

So I bought the lie instead. I let them convince me for a large swath of my adolescence that I was, really, a boy. The idea disgusted and horrified me, but not as much as the truth, that I was right, that I was trustworthy to myself, that it wasn't my fault. It was better to live in a world where I was a boy--or even a boy who wanted to be a woman someday--and had lived a normal life, than a world where I was a girl who was systematically stripped of her sense of self, subjective reality, and personhood, subjected to near-constant violence or its threat, and treated as a contaminated, dirty thing. The lie--even the lie of "boy who wants to be a girl" or "woman in a man's body," as though my body was someone else's--as skin-crawlingly painful as it was, was nowhere near as painful as the truth of being a girl trying to find her way to womanhood and living through this on the way.

This is how we internalize the lies. This is how we accept the yoke of oppression. By living in a world where the truth that we are beautiful and worthy and lovable is even more painful to accept than the lie that we are none of these things, because all sense of fairness or order vanishes when you look the truth in the eye. If we are beautiful, we are in a world that does not care about our beauty, and even grinds it in the mud. If we are strong, we are living in a world so heavy that it saps our strength until we are tired all the time. If we are ourselves, we are living in a world that systematically strips away our selfhood like roast chicken scraped from the bone.

Until we are strong enough to look this in the eye and fight it, to stand up and fight and make the part of the world we stand on more okay no matter how hard it is or what it takes--until we are so very strong that we remember we are strong, and beautiful, and true, worthy of no end of love, no matter what--it's just too much to bear. So we accept false stories instead, about how we're dirty and ugly and weak and unlovable. We have to. I had to.

I am writing this down because I know that in an hour, or a day, or a week, I will be listening to the lies again for a while. How else do you live? How do you go on in the world without accepting that the injustice is just, or not your problem, just a little, just for now? How can you walk in a world where the truth is true instead of breaking down and crying? So we internalize the lies for a while in order to let things make enough sense to get through the day. Gravity pulls comfortingly down. The alternative, the raw, vulnerable, pulsing truth can only be taken in doses, even if they're bigger doses every day. It's so hard to just let it be real. How can you let it be real? How can you really pull off the lid and look down into that darkness and let the truth--that you live in a world where you're not considered fully real, fully human, and that if you were considered real, what was done to you would be considered unacceptable, retch-inducing, but you're not and it isn't?

You have to tell yourself the stories. Just for now. Just until you're strong enough to bear the weight of the truth and see with clear eyes, if you ever get that strong. Just until you are so full of overwhelming bravery and power that you can finally insist that you are lovable and loved, that you deserve it in every cell of you, that beauty shines through you as a conflagration of glory. When you stand there, blazing in your awful wonder, you can move the whole world. You just have to get through the pain of knowing that you are true, that you know, that you are everything you will ever need to be.

It hurts to say this and it hurts to hear: you are lovable. So am I. The chasm between that truth and the world we allow ourselves to live in every day is deep and dark, but it is still the truth and always will be.

You are everything you ever hoped you would be, and I love you. When you are strong enough, please, shine.

Author / Source: Little Light at Taking Steps