With everything that has been going on this week I have been reflecting on how I am affected by transphobia as there is a seemly constant rise and permissibility in TERF rhetoric which is truly scaring me. Although, in my own reflection I was most saddened to realise just how much I permit and grant allowances for a particularly intimate form of transphobia and the fact I will probably carry on making these allowances in the way I do. This is nothing but another ramble, and a brief ramble for me at that. It was not intended to be a blog post and there is also simplification of certain things here, but I just needed to get this ramble out of me.
CW: discussion of transphobia
What does it mean to be social? Most people would associate the word with being outgoing and extraverted, kindly and somewhat boldly enjoying the company of others. But most people would forget that there are as many ways to be social as there are interactions to be had. The neuroendocrinology researcher and author of countless articles and books, Robert Sapolsky, speaks of categorical classifications and perspectives in research as these metaphorical “buckets” when giving his incredibly popular lecture series on human behavioural biology at Stanford University. How Sapolsky navigates these buckets throughout his lecture series and throughout much of his popular writing ultimately problematises viewing an individual’s behaviour in terms of just one perspective, rather we behave, we act, and react due to a multitude of social, environmental, and biological factors. This is common knowledge really, but most people often forget it. For example, I am trans and you would expect me to go on to write about the nature and nurture and neuroqueerness of my gender development, and I will no doubt revisit this, but no, I will demonstrate these buckets elsewhere, where the pain is.
I am my mother’s unwelcomed daughter and unrelinquished son. I am the child that wounds her by existing as she made them to be. Living as they are. The child whose name sears her mouth shut and turns her stomach so that only a displaced memory of who they were escapes her lips. She loves and supports me so much, and I am beyond grateful, but who she loves and supports, he isn’t me.
I have been out now for years and yet her face still scrunches in odd and twisted ways at the slightest mention of this. She is visibly pained by my name. If it weren’t for the explosions and tears when I first came out, I don’t know if I would be able to see it, but the hollowness carried on: angered by a set of pronouns, hurt by who I am and who I cannot help but be. What an awful thing it is to cause so much damage by simply existing. An implosion of suffering replacing motherly joy with grief. What a painful thing it is to hurt you with my name.
But back to Sapolsky’s buckets, this is not just that she doesn’t like trans people, no. There is a terrible awareness we have on hatred in neuroscience which adds a layer of nuance beyond the buckets of mere transphobia. It makes the kind of sickness she feels at my name almost redoubled and recemented in her biology. So, it is almost instinctual, that it is some intractable urge of disgust she simply caves too again and again until I have to forcibly become diminished. Small enough. Palatable. Less enough of me in front of her so that it is okay for her to love and support this version of me because this, whatever version of me it is I am performing, this is what is palatable to her. This me removes enough of her pain which I am ultimately left to bear for her instead, as we carry on a fiction that leaves us both a little emptier in each exchange but allows her to feel as though she can carry on. She will always be a mother to a son, and although it breaks me to never know the joys of daughterhood, it would break me more to be without a mother.
This me I present doesn’t decentre her into tears and grief and disgust, rather it meets my mother in waves; it holds her in protracted moments of presence before that bitter churning ambiguous loss swells and stops her motion.
From neuroscience we have this explanation of human behaviour linked to what has been dubbed the brain’s hate circuit. To simplify one component of the circuit, the same part of the brain that feels disgust, the insula, is also active when we see something we disagree with emotionally, when we see someone we hate; this may be why one might feel sick with rage or hate, and it is one of the many reasons why my mother still turns her lip and sadly scrunches her face when she sees my name or hears me say I am not a son or a brother or a man and proceeds to warp me into just that. Hate is not solely social, it is a modifiable state residing in many buckets, with social, psychological, biological, and environmental components all playing a role. There are many reasons one can hate, but one is not reduced to these buckets, despite bucketed categorical research suggesting we are, humans seldom fit neatly into a rhyme or reason, and just as there are many reasons one may hate, there are also many reasons to resist hate, to love, to show compassion, to accept, to tolerate. And yet quietly and violently, as if she is wading into pools of grief and disgust, my mother denies me my womanhood again and again.
She is not just her reaction to stimuli, she can think, she can question her beliefs, her disgust. She is a loving and compassionate human; I do firmly believe this. Yet she holds this disgust, disallowance, and ultimately denial for me. She lets herself collapse into it and, in so doing, pulls me in the gravity of her motion until she no longer has to bear that which she simply cannot go on bearing anymore. Until I am the son. The brother. That unrelinquishable, unchangeable, and ungrievable boy. Forever fixed in masculinity, I am forever warped into what she wants me to be, queered and dequeered into the ghost I used to be.
It has been years and she hasn’t yet managed to come to terms with the me that I am. That unbounded her. That strong woman I am. That beautiful name she cannot bring herself to say, and yet I sink further into letting her cross that boundary of quietly and violently speaking ghosts because… because, well, I need her. I am both done and undone by crossings of maternal love and violence. I am caught up in her and she is caught up in who she thinks I used to be. I will forever remain that unwelcomed daughter and unrelinquished son, always loved and supported and always known in ways I will never be.
It is odd, I would love to say I do not care, that I do not need my parents’ authentic love or validation, but all I really want is just that, their love, and to have it authentically so. For them to love me as me. They would say I have it, but we know they love a figment, a ghost, a man from the air of the past. I just want them to see me. I just want them to be happy I exist as I do; I quietly dream in the same unrelinquished way they loudly love their fiction, both knowing it will never come true.
Live Long & Prosper