It’s like a mental stutter, the way my brain goes blank. It happens when I am asked a question that’s a bit too personal, or when I’m expected to hold an opinion, or when someone actually seems to care what I have to say. Suddenly the world around me goes dark and I feel myself shrinking into myself. I struggle to gather my thoughts together. And the harder I try to snap out of it, the deeper the blankness.
Writing doesn’t come easily to me – I care too much about words – but it’s a heck of a lot easier than speaking up. I can hide behind my keyboard, behind my computer screen. I can pretend that no one will read what I have to say. What I write is just something between me and a vague “public” out there far away. Here, in the safety of my home, they can’t touch me. Not really.
In person, though, it’s a different ball game. Eyes on you, where can you hide? And the vulnerability of it – no easy escape from awkwardness. I can feel their eyes burning judgements into my skin. Maybe it’s because deep down I still fear the things I was told were true when I was just a child in a foreign country – that everyone else is out to get you, don’t trust anyone, people want to hurt you, keep to yourself, be quiet, don’t rock the boat, behave, follow instructions. The lessons started young and became embedded in my psyche. I thought I could trust no one except my parents. I thought that if I tried to think for myself I would go astray. I actually believed that I was bad, evil in fact, and that I didn’t know what was best for me.
Talk about brainwashing.
It’s still hard for me to engage with others. I still struggle to believe that other people are not somehow looking for horrible ways to humiliate or hurt me. When I transitioned my sister burst out in tears. She worried that I would be ostracized by society, maybe become the victim of a violent hate crime. I suppose that’s still possible. But it wasn’t society that ostracized me. At least, not the big scary Society out there that I was taught to fear. No, it was my own flesh and blood; people who I believed were genetically programmed to love me, who turned out to be my harshest critics.
They are not bad people. They acted out of their own set of beliefs. It’s all any of us can do, really. I don’t hate them for not wanting to know me for the man that I am. It makes me sad, but I don’t feel angry anymore. I’m just glad that I am slowly getting to see that people who are not part of my flesh and blood family can have an important – and positive – role to play in my life. I never thought I would get a chance at building my own family. But that’s exactly what has happened for me. And it’s been such a valuable lesson in compassion.
Maybe one day I’ll trust people enough to believe that they actually want to hear what I have to say out loud. Maybe I’ll find my voice. And when I do, I want to sing. I want to sing so the universe can hear me. Because I belong.
Every one of us belongs.