Welcome to the corner of Power and Gender
Trans man Wes Austin takes time to look at the moment when power met gender in his life.
Whenever I hear the word power, some small part of me cringes. This government has taken power; those folks have lost the power to…on and on it goes. The concept of power has gotten a bad rap in our society and I’d like to take some time to look at what happens when power met gender in my life.
When I was much younger than I am now, someone in my life stole my sense of power from me with violence and fear. They did this repeatedly over the course of about 4 years. When I finally extricated myself from that situation, I found myself afraid and unable to go out at night, unable to relax in roomfuls of people and suspicious of everyone I met. I was certain that everyone I knew was trying to get power over me. It didn’t matter if they were using kind words and expressing their desire to support and encourage me on my journey, I assumed they had an ulterior motive and were just waiting for me to let my guard down. It has been a very lonely existence.
As I grew older, I went to therapy and talked ad nauseum about those events in my past that left me with so much fear and self-loathing. I came to a place where no longer did I feel my stomach recoil with revulsion at having allowed myself to accept what had happened to me. In fact, I came to realize and accept that at the tender age of 13, I couldn’t have expected myself to react any differently than I did. I realized and internalized that I had done the best I could with the skills I had at the time. All was well, or so I thought.
The culture and society I live in taught me that women talk things out. That my talking about what happened would help me heal and move on. I learned that by talking, I could reclaim my power and move on from the hate and self-loathing. To talk about something, I internalized, was to own the experience and be able to re-frame, de-sensitize and internalize the experience in a good and positive way. Last night, I discovered that all the talking I had done had only served to convince me that I was ok.
I chalked up my lingering unease with people as just a by-product of a very traumatic childhood, something I couldn’t change but could learn to adapt and work to overcome. My skittishness around *women was simply my age-old complaint that I never fit in anyways. In discussions about power and systems I wanted to either walk away or I would go off on an unstable tangent fuelled by something I didn’t even realize was still there.
Last night, a connection was made for me. One so mind blowing and profound that I felt like falling down on my knees and thanking everyone present for their unwitting assistance in helping me realize what was missing. What’s missing is my power. Not my power over people, or my power with people, but my own internal power rising from my inner strength and authenticity, tempered and constrained by my weaknesses and supported by people who are working toward or have claimed their own inner power.
I made this connection in a group of *men. I have the honour of being part of a men’s circle. I’m out as trans and accepted as male by these guys. These men welcome my views on gender, my experiences growing up as an inculcated female and my journey from those places. In turn, they offer me pieces of their own experiences growing up as *boys and in those stories I see and reclaim pieces of myself. Last night the group tackled an issue around language and as I shared my contribution, I was encouraged to explore that and go deeper to try to find the root of my discomfort and fear. I talked about, clarified my position and my actions, and thought that was that. Then the group went downstairs to work with some energy and that’s when all hell broke loose for me in the best of ways.
The men that needed to do their work did so and I stood to the side to support them. As I stood there, I was hit full force with a wave of tension so strong that I immediately felt all the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten up to the point of pain. I tried to breathe and stretch my way through it, realizing that if I didn’t do something quickly, I would end up with a migraine as I could already feel it beginning. As the work continued and I continued to try to coax my muscles into peace, something fell into place with such suddenness that I swear I felt a thud.
I had spoken earlier about my fear of physical assault in my day-to-day life; about how language often magnifies that fear. I chalked it up to being small in stature, being new to the intricacies of male culture and to the harm, I knew other had come to in crossing physical barriers. Someone asked if I’d ever been a recipient of physical assault and I had said no. I realized in that moment that I had been physically (and sexually) assaulted; and that sudden and violent loss of power was something I’d never really grappled with. I knew that I had to find a way to reclaim and become comfortable with my own power. Power that I’d learned was unacceptable in women. Power that was assertive, strong, grounded and able to keep me anchored to who I am without imposing on others.
It’s a concept that is new to me, in this form, and something I am going to explore repeatedly as I uncover who I truly am. One of the things I realize is that I can’t have any power with another person, until I have power from my own inner self. I can’t have that power until I go and get it, and bring it home. I’m looking forward to learning how to do just that.
When you see * beside the word men or women, I’m speaking here about gender congruent people. I will only use the asterisk