“You have to give up your hatred.”
The words exploded into my brain—all those months of meditation practice to try and figure out why I couldn’t directly relate to my patients, followed by the loss of my own denial, the explosion of my life, and the chaos of high-speed medical and social transition as we knew it in the 90’s. Now, here I was, lying in bed, reading a fantasy-fiction novel by (I suspect) another trans woman, where the main character, whose life had been magically transformed by elves, had screamed aloud to her martial-arts mentor, imploring him to tell her why she was unable to progress to the level where she could take on the man who had raped her—and this was his answer: “You have to give up your hatred.”
I screamed in my own anger, frustration, and helplessness; threw the book across the room; and burst into tears. I finally knew the truth. I couldn’t bring myself into the presence of my patients for one simple reason: I hated them.
I hated that I felt destined to serve a human race that I felt no part of. Hated that they didn’t grow up getting bullied every day. Hated that even the meanest among them could feel themselves superior to people like me, deny us housing or employment, assault or seemingly even kill us without any penalty.
Many of us carried a letter-of-passage for the cops from a therapist or some other authority figure, explaining that we wore women’s (or men’s) clothing due to our “mental illness,” not as disguise for illegal activities. We knew full well that the protection of that piece of paper was more due to our confidence in it than any real legal value.
But it was summer, the school where I worked was out of session, and I was lying in bed reading because I was sore from sitting in counseling class all day. Why I thought taking a summer-school class a few weeks after bottom surgery was such a hot idea, I’m not sure, except that years of contact with those “helping professionals” had given me the desire to understand more of the theory behind their actions, along with some thought about possibly changing my career path. . . not to mention gaining some tools to help dismantle the Standards of Care that still held such a grip on our population all those years ago. At any rate, here I was, spending hours in the classroom, sitting on an inflatable rubber donut, listening to the instructors expound on empathy, and totally peeing myself every time I walked into the bathroom down the hall.
See, using the boy’s rooms back in high school was a chancy affair, and I used to get beat up pretty often. Peeing quickly and getting out before getting cornered was the best strategy, so learning to relax those bladder muscles walking in the door was the key. That served well for decades of men’s rooms—but after surgery (and the catheter), it was a bit of a disaster before I figured out what was happening. Of course, I’d been using the ladies’ for years by this time, but, old survival habits—especially the ones we’re no longer conscious of- can persist long after they’re no longer helpful.
Empathy. The instructors held fast to their profession’s accepted definition: to stand in the stream if another’s consciousness as if it were your own, and that this was always for good. I held that this ability—like fire, like any super power—had equal, or even greater, potential to harm than help. Even though the stifling heat of a July afternoon was more conducive to napping than lively discussion—no one had thought about summer school when designing classroom buildings for a college in northern New England—some of the interactions meandered far past the civil discourse of a group of colleagues. After class was over for the day, online discussion could continue far into the night, and since it was a pretty new medium back then, we often got taken by surprise when subtleties were misunderstood. Around midnight one night, when someone made a clueless but still rather innocent comment about the LGBT community I came out to the group rather… er, explosively….
That ended the discussion pretty effectively, we all went to bed, and continued the conversation somewhat differently the next day. That evening, I lay in bed happily with a lurid paperback gleaned from the used racks down at The Toadstool… and… cue scream….
Now there was no escape. I felt like I’d come out to myself a second time, horribly, and I had no idea how to deal with this one. I had an interview with my instructors a few days later, and as I explained it to them, they became more and more horrified.What was I going to do with this? They asked.
I wasn’t sure.
And, you know, I never really did deal with it. It just sort of faded. The course ended; I did well, except that I never gave in to their definition of empathy, and I had some ‘splainin’ to do about using gender-neutral pronouns (zie and hir) in the papers I wrote for them. The school year started again, and I wound up leaving mid-year for a case management position, where I perfected my denim-skirts-and-bulky-sweaters non-profit look. I got to change the gender marker on my driver’s license, which at the time, was reserved for those privileged few who’d had bottom surgery.
Oh, I was out, for sure, but comfortable. I passed, I was even considered pretty for a time (which did lead to a lot of other unexpected learning experiences, I must admit). Things were getting better. There was more awareness, better acceptance. Public forums, panels at the med school, summer camps for trans kids. We saw the average age of transition drop precipitously. The old Harry Benjamin crowd were pushed out and WPATH came in. Families were fighting for their kids’ rights in schools and winning. Insurance. Passports. Better and better and better.
Until yesterday. The ink on Judge K’s lifetime contract is barely dry, and they’re already coming for us. By US, I mean everybody that’s different. Transfolk are just the softest available target (plus, there’s the additional benefit that we can provide some smokescreen for the administration giving Russia a free hand to re-develop their nuclear arsenal, which is what pulling out of the nuclear treaty really means).
And where I am in all of this? I still haven’t given up my hatred. It shows up at the worst times, like when my best friend playfully asks what it was like to have a beard, and I say something vicious. With my patients, the wall is still there, but retirement is looming. Really, if it all blows up, my backup plan would still be to run for the northern border and figure it out after that. There’s plenty of places in the world where even a modest Social Security check would go a long way. Time to go back to carrying my passport, and not just my passport card. For now, I’ll go back to school and finish up my massage therapy certification. I’m planning on specializing in freaks, queers, and weirdos that aren’t comfortable taking their clothes off for mainstream providers. Tired of being judged? Parts don’t match your presentation? Look me up.
HammerWoman. One day long ago, our heroine began her day putting in fence posts, then worked on a motorcycle, fixed the chicken coop, hung up a picture, and finished up a pair of silver earrings. . . and she realized that she had used five different hammers in the course of the day. Stuck for a screen name on a website, she christened herself HammerWoman, and the name has served her well since.