This piece is a preface to the piece Square Talisman.
I was at a conference recently where the staggering number of trans folk who have attempted or died by suicide was being discussed. Among these numbers are trans folk who seemingly had a number of “protective factors” in their favor. They were well connected and well known. Did not appear to be isolated. Likely had people to reach out to, but despite all of that, they died.
Amidst these workshops and private conversations, a good friend of mine and I shared our own struggles and how we have been impacted. As is often the case for me, I am having parallel conversations in many other parts of my life. I think the message getting through to me is loud and clear.
There is a profound isolation that I experience but can often feel like it is particular to me. Some of it is definitely personal to my struggle and trauma. I am more painfully introverted than I might appear by my social nature, for example. But I am realizing, through my own personal reflection and in deep conversation, that many people on similar journeys are having the similar experiences of judging their insides by other people’s outsides. My friend at the conference said he often feels uncool, awkward, disconnected, unworthy amidst the crowds of pretty, well-connected LGBTQ activists at this (and other) conferences. It is a painful internal conversation I am familiar with.
At the same time, I also realize the he and I are not viewed that way by other people. We appear incredibly well put together, grounded and living in our passion and purpose. Neither he nor I are terribly good at letting the reality of our brokenness be seen even in our closest relationships. For me, some of this is trauma-related. Being locked in a freeze response permanently. Some of it is both the real and imagined perception that to let our brokenness show would call into question our skills and our message. Oddly contradictory because my spiritual grounding and deep empathy flows directly from that same brokenness.
We make this seem easy because we do not show the struggle to get out of bed. We do not make visible the doubt and the questioning. We do not go public with the paralysis that takes herculean effort to dissolve. And in that invisibility we are harming ourselves while leaving those around us with the same false impression we labor under—that they are the only ones struggling with feeling unworthy and insecure. We become complicit in the notion that being of service, being valued, and making a difference can only come once we have fixed our brokenness. What struck me loud and clear is that he and I are as likely to become a statistic as we are a success story if we continue to live in the internal and external shadows of our own struggle and shame.
Square Talisman is a recent piece that I dictated after a series of doctor’s appointments that brought me to my edge and to my knees. This piece and Go Ahead Call Me Naive are about as raw as I get. The gentleness and groundedness you might experience if you meet me is very real, but it comes with intentional practice. I chose it over other options every morning and multiple times throughout my day. I don’t know if that dark isolation will ever truly fade forever, but I don’t want my friend to feel that his brokenness is his alone, so I am taking this conversation public.