This morning I dreamed that my mother, alive again, had just survived an attack of acute appendicitis. My sister and brother and I flew to the hospital to see her. (In this dream I was a man again, as I still often am in dreams.) We found her in a wheelchair - in the gift shop, oddly - looking old and frail and grim. My sister greeted her, and my brother stood and was seen, but it was only when I knelt and she embraced me that she cried, and I knew it was because now that her eldest son was there to be strong for her, she could let go.
In this dream I again inhabited a specific psychological/emotional state which I used to experience all the time. In this state my shoulders, lower back, and jaw all clench slightly, not with anxiety, but readiness, and I feel tall and solid. Any sense of my own vulnerability or need goes away. I take a stoic breath and hold it, bracing to receive the impact of whatever hurt, my own or others’, I am about to absorb. And, I take a lofty detached pleasure in my own ability to endure. I feel noble.
I have always thought of this state as my personal version of the essence of maleness.
I think now it was this feeling I was referring to when, in the same journal entry back in November of ‘08 in which I first wrote “I just want to be a girl,” I also wrote “I am so sick of being strong.” I now read “sick of” not only as “weary of,” but also as “ailing on account of”, which provides another entry on the ever-growing list of possible answers to the question: why break free now, after so many years? How about, because I had played the selfless noble man role for so long that I was starting to die inside?
Yes. So, for the past three years I’ve rejected this noble man feeling as a part of an old bad way of living which was killing me.
But, I’ve also missed it. It was one of a small number of things I really liked, and which I thought was valuable, about being a man. Also, I have been struggling to find a definition of femininity which doesn't involve some form of weakness; but still, consumed as I have been by the crucial business of figuring out who I am as a woman, I had to push the man-feeling away.
Just recently, though, I have started to feel safe turning back toward that old male time and selectively reclaiming parts of it, and in that spirit I have been experimenting with reclaiming some form at least of that old sense of male strength. it’s more complicated, though, than just saying, OK, I’m calling that old mode "womanly" now. It’s not. Besides, there are aspects of who I have been becoming I definitely want to include in my revamped definition of strength: my impulse to nurture, my sense of resonating to the feelings of others like a sympathetic string, the way I’ve been able to let go into life as an emotional being...the power of flirting, even. These are forms of femininity which feel natural and good to me and which I plan to keep, thank you very much.
So, can one do both?
Well, the other day I was having a meeting with a volunteer at work, and for whatever reason she had a small emotional meltdown. Her lip began to tremble and the tears came. In response I felt that old noble tension come into my shoulders, that impulse to squelch my being and take her pain onto myself, whatever it was. I took the accustomed stoic breath...but then I let it out again. I’ve been practicing not holding my breath, and unclenching all those old male muscle groups too. “It’s OK, honey, I know how it is,” I said, which, by golly, I do. I melt down routinely now, every couple of weeks - usually in decorous private, but not always. I fetched her some tissues and then sat with her, breathing and relaxed, until she felt ready to go on.
I found a hybrid strength and helped someone - yay! And, it didn’t cost me my soul. Does that sound melodramatic? Yeah, maybe...but if you can’t feel the truth behind it, you don’t understand trans. Change or die, literally or figuratively, my friend Dar said recently. Yeah, that’s right. Change or die.
But, maybe, you don’t have to discard everything from that old life. Both-and, darling. These days I’m all about both-and.