Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Power, vulnerability, and getting read

I got read this morning.

The circumstances aren’t really relevant beyond setting the context. I had just come up out of the Metro and was walking the couple of blocks to my office when a man stopped me to ask a question. My answer didn’t satisfy him and he became angry and closed in on me, close enough to pick up some subtle cue that caused him to suspect I was transgender. He yelled an accusation to that end loudly as I was walking away, and I felt my cheeks flush with anger and embarrassment.

I feel blessed that this has happened to me very rarely since I transitioned, but when it has it’s left me reeling with self-doubt. As I walked to the office today, that’s where my thoughts went. I was obviously doing something wrong. Was my make-up or my hair unsuitable this morning? Maybe it was the clothes I was wearing, or my posture or gait. Or perhaps something deeper or more abstruse. Is my jawline too square (“Maybe I need some plastic surgery”), are my hands too big (“I wish I had some pockets to stuff them in”), is my voice shifting to a lower range (“Need to start concentrating on that again”)?

And then I noticed that I was walking more quickly than usual, with my head down and my shoulders slouched, fearful of meeting anyone’s eyes as I passed them on the street, wanting only to get to my office and shut the door. I was in that old, familiar place, I realized — the place of fear — and I was experiencing that old, familiar tension, the one between the deep desire to live openly and with integrity and the frantic impulse to safety and security.

In her book Woman Awake: Women Practicing Buddhism, Christina Feldman has a great chapter on power and the ways women experience and practice it in our culture. She writes,

In a patriarchal culture, power is equated with the capacity to have power over something: it is the capacity to control, to alter, to manipulate, or to influence the world. This capacity to control builds a sense of strength, an illusion of invincibility. Cloaking ourselves in power, we can manipulate and control our world while protecting ourselves from the effects of power.

This is the power that was employed against me this morning, but it is also the power I employed in response. Just as the man who accosted me sought to control and manipulate me to bolster his sense of strength in the world, I sought to control and manipulate myself so that I might feel less weak and vulnerable. Our instruments of power–debasement and humiliation–were the same, and we even chose the same target, my deepest sense of personhood.

These ways of being and relating are conditioned by our culture and deeply ingrained in all of us, but Feldman reminds us that such violent exercises of power do not come without cost:

In developing power or mastery over anything, we set ourselves against that which we wish to control: we set ourselves against people, against events, against nature, or even against our own nature. With the desire for mastery comes a distancing from that which we seek to control. The distance is essential to create and preserve: it serves to prevent us from being overwhelmed by the power of others and to protect ourselves from fear.

The results are predictable and inevitable: isolation, competition, destruction, the hallmarks of our modern society. Feldman urges women to break free from their cultural conditioning, to “appreciate the invaluable contribution that their disposition and yearning for interconnectedness can offer to the dissolution and transformation of destructive systems that are based on the notion of mastery over others.” The first step in this process of integration and liberation, for me at least, is getting comfortable with my own vulnerability.

I need to warm up to the fact that invincibility is a myth and reject the notion that self-respect is a zero sum game. I need to reaffirm my commitment to live according to what I know to be true, not according to what feels safe, and set aside identities and roles rooted in defensiveness. I need to refuse to give my assent (and thereby surrender my true power) to social systems and relational structures that deny our mutual dependency as human beings, a truth Feldman calls “nature’s first law” and the fundamental principle of our survival, both as a race and as individuals.

As these become my practice, I will grow in awareness and acquire a deeper wholeness. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

(Cross-posted at Trans Group Blog.)

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10 Comments»

  Katie Starlets wrote @

Sweetheart! There’s an alternative perspective to what power and control over our demons (internal and external) can look like and the resultant consequences. Choose for JOY. It really is a choice. It’s a remembering to reach for it in every minute. It’s making JOY one’s priority. (“Nothing is more important than that I feel good!”)

Forgiveness is as simple as a statement to myself. “I forgive [fill in the blank].” Not for any wrong in particular, but in general. I forgive, I forgive, I forgive. (I forgive that odd man on the street. I forgive my father. I forgive myself.) Maybe I only feel the relief of forgiveness for a minute, or a few seconds. So I forgive again. A few minutes later I forgive again. That sense of well-being grows longer and longer with each thought of forgiveness until well-being becomes my steady state for the day. And I never forget to forgive myself as well. Not for any wrong in particular do I forgive but just in general. (To forgive for this-or-that “injustice” brings judgment into the equation, and judgment has no place in Holy Forgiveness.)

And turn the mind to thoughts that elicit a sense of gratitude. “I feel grateful for my beautiful children” for instance. Align the mind, but what every means, with a movement constantly towards JOY. This is a power and control without emotional calories (so to speak.) This is power and control, not through pitting ourselves against anyone or anything, but rather by the power of aligning ourselves with the power that creates worlds. Joy is very powerful. Gratitude is very powerful. Forgiveness is the most powerful ladder of all (more like an escalator really) directly into God’s loving, protective arms. (Is there any greater power and control?) This kind of power is real, more real than the fingers on my hands and toes on my feet; and it’s readily accessible simply for the asking (remembering.) There is no distancing from in this kind of power and control. There is an aligning, the beginnings of Union, one to another and all to God. And it begins with one person at a time. That person is me (and you.) We are the people who train ourselves to automatically reach for active forgiveness whenever we feel we’ve been dissed or threatened. And we train ourselves to always keep reaching for that thought of gratitude, ever looking for the good in all situations and in all people, places and things.

Do you believe it’s possible that God himself sent me with this message for you this morning?

Love you!
Katie

I’ve written a haiku for you:

Ellegance and grace,

Soft hair, skin, beautiful face;

God’s own creation.

  Allyson wrote @

Katie, every word you write is poetry.

Forgiveness *is* so crucial; it’s the key that unlocks the door to our sacred vulnerability. It lets down the barriers and lowers my guard, leading me to greater awareness of our mutual dependency and interconnectedness. I know all this…and yet…it hadn’t yet occurred to me to think intentionally forgiving thoughts to the man I met this morning.

Yes, I *do* believe it’s possible God sent you to me with this message. I receive it with much love and gratitude for you and those you love.

  Lindsey wrote @

Safety and security, in a real sense, are impossible to possess on this earth. Instead find safety and security in the knowledge that you are passionately loved by your Creator, and in learning to see yourself the way you are seen by Him and those who love Him. And, in case you’ve forgotten, you are a beautiful and beloved daughter.

Never, ever let go of that fact, or let some idiot on the street make you doubt it. In your core, your very essence, you know who you are and who you were created to be. Doubt can be so insidious, can’t it? Just release it.

  Katie Starlets wrote @

Hi Lindsey,

I hate to contradict, but I beg to differ…. Safety and security are all we have in this world; they are our birth-right, freely given by our Creator. And a birth-right which, through free will, we may choose to decline. And through free will we may just as readily reclaim this birth-right. Our Creator is patiently holding it on our behalf.

XO, K

  Allyson wrote @

Interestingly, I think Christina Feldman would agree with both of you. I heartily commend to you (and to all my readers) her book, to which I linked in the original post. It is brief but incredibly concise, the kind of book I’ll have to read several times to absorb and which I hope will become a major part of my Practice of Faith.

If the three of us could sit together over coffee and have a conversation about what safety and security mean to us, and how we find them, I know I’d learn a lot.

  Abby wrote @

I know exactly of what you speak, Allyson, having been there many times myself, that place of doubting the truth of who I am. The greatest tool I know of to deal with this or any other fear comes from my favorite lesson (Lesson 153) in the Workbook for Students that is part of A Course in Miracles. It says:

In my defenseless, my safety lies.

In that lesson, two secrets lie: first, that I am as God created me to be and that no one and no thing — not the man on the street, not my own doubts and fears — can ever change that; and, second, that by defending myself, I only reinforce my fear and confirm my separation from God and from you and every other Child of God. It is a scary thing to open myself up to whatever the Universe has to offer, knowing that whatever happens will be a lesson in the truth of who I am: a loving Child of God, at peace forever in the Heart of God. But doing so is essential to the peace I have found in my life.

  ~Fiona~ wrote @

As I was reading this an idea began to form in my mind seemed to be related to “Aikido”. Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. …

It was in reading the writer’s comments about “power” and “setting ourselves against” that I began to realize that the most powerful response may lay not in opposing, but in “going with”. It has been my experience that many woman do not attempt to “set themselves against” anything, but rather to take the momentum and move in that direction along with a question of clarification.

The non opposition may in fact divert the blow of such an attack while moving it in a direction which can be mutually edifying for both members. In essense both contenders in such an encounter maintain a sense of personal integrity while defusing the force of a direct onslaught.

Just a thought…

  Allyson wrote @

Thank you Abby, Fiona, and all…your perspectives are really helping me get integrated around this experience and these ideas.

  Abby wrote @

Fiona,

The analogy to Aikido is exactly correct, except, rather than using an “attacker’s” energy against her, for me, it’s a matter of simply stepping aside and letting that energy flow past and through me, secure in the knowledge that, because I am a Loving Child of Goddess, I cannot be harmful. And, because I cannot be harmed, there is no need to defend myself. As it says elsewhere in A Course in Miracles, “It is not danger that comes when defenses are laid down. It is safety. It is peace. It is joy. And it is God.”

It also teaches that people’s actions represent only two things: they are either expressions of love or calls for love. In either case, the only appropriate response is love. And also gratitude because, either way, we are given the opportunity to express and extend the love that we are.

Blessings to all,
Abby

  Sarah wrote @

Expressing gratitude – I found your blog while contemplating shame and searching for the Rumi quote “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I’m teaching non-violent communication at a women’s prison tomorrow and I’m thinking about shame and power and that whenever we think we’re right we’re in shame turned inside out and we’re separating ourselves from others and we are deeply in need of empathy ourselves.

So I’m appreciating the self turned inside out experience of having received this man’s shaming response, and the clarity about sharing in the attack by attacking self and trying to shrink. I don’t have as much time to be as thoughtful as I’d like with all this, but I’m celebrating the return to self and the holding of self with compassion as revealed in your blog.


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