I just moved to a new place where I have to go outside to smoke (this is a good thing – it will help me cut down). The other night, every time I went outside, I accidentally tore down a web that a spider was building right across the door. I would tear it just by opening the door. He would start to build it again. I would tear it. He would start to build it.
Something similar obviously happens to a lot of people, because writers love to use this spider-web thing as a metaphor for perseverance – the spider never gives up. Every time his web gets ruined, he just starts it back up again.
Sure, that’s inspirational and all, but actually, I was not particularly impressed by this spider. In fact, I thought he was being kinda stupid – or at least exhibiting a form of learned helplessness. When it’s obvious that what you’re building is being destroyed, when do you stop trying to build it in the same place over and over again and move on to a better, safer, or more comfortable place? When does a perseverance metaphor give way to a self-preservation metaphor?
Almost everyone – trans and non-trans – has a habit of staying too long, trying too hard, putting up with too much, going along to get along. But I think that trans people can sometimes be at higher risk of sacrificing our self-interests because we might not know where else to go or what else to do.
Obviously, not all of us are in a position to leave a toxic town, job, or family situation. But we often are in a position to stop trying to build our self-worth, self-esteem, and very identity in a tear-down zone. For example:
Relationships: We know the relationship is dysfunctional – even destructive – but we stay, often out of fear that we will never find another. “Who else will love me?” we wonder. I was guilty of exactly this kind of thinking when I first started to transition. I met a trans woman who was frustrated because she couldn’t find a relationship. She actually had two men in pursuit of her, but when she came out as trans to one, he couldn’t handle it and left. The other didn’t care at all – she actually left him because he didn’t share any of her important interests and hobbies.
At the time, I thought, “Wow, you had a guy you liked, who liked you and didn’t care that you’re trans, and you dumped him because he didn’t share your interests?” I’m embarrassed now to admit that I ever thought like that – as if being trans meant having to compromise your own wants and needs just because someone wanted you.
Friendships: You gotta have friends – but unsupportive friends are sometimes worse than no friends at all. Friends who refuse to accept your transition, who misgender you, or who don’t take you seriously are a huge threat to your sense of self. When I first started transition, I told my very first trans contact, “I’m afraid that I’ll lose all my friends.” She said, “You won’t. But even if you do, you’ll make many more wonderful new friends.” She was right on both counts. There are many great people out there who just aren’t your friends yet.
Support Groups: I plan to write more about support groups in a later post, but unless they are run well, these groups can be anything but supportive. Whether it’s a face-to-face weekly meeting, an e-mail list, or an online chat group, if you feel ignored, attacked, belittled, or devalued, this is not the group for you. Support groups are intended to build you up – not tear you down. Find another group or even start one yourself. If your current group isn’t working, as the leader of a new group, you’ll already know what not to do.
Being trans isn’t always easy, and it definitely presents some unique challenges. There is no question that the ability to persevere through the worst of it all is a strength and an asset. But so is acknowledging when it’s time to move on and rebuild your web in a better place.
(Ask Matt Monday will return when I get more questions – I don’t make them up. I had a flood for a while and wanted to get to them all within a reasonable time period. Now I have a drought!)