Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 14: Preemptive Failure

Lark (20s me): Hey Mom… I’ve been thinking about what you said.

Mom (Present me): Oh?

Lark: I think I understand how fighting the social role assigned to me has gotten in the way of my career development. I’m willing to agree with your point of view on work, but what about my personal projects? I wasn’t fighting against a corporate structure, trying to get ahead. I wasn’t fighting a social role. I just wanted to make cool stuff for myself. So why couldn’t I finish my projects?

Mom: First of all, you were still fighting a social role. “I just wanted to make cool stuff for myself” isn’t exactly the whole truth, is it? Didn’t you have bigger goals in mind?

Lark: I… Well yeah, I wanted to make something that I would be able to sell. Or create a company and not have to work anymore.

Mom: So you’re starting with those expectations piled onto yourself. Even before engaging with your project, you’re spending emotional energy holding onto those goals.

Lark: That was just idle dreaming! I wasn’t spending emotional energy on them!

Mom: Not yet.

Lark (annoyed): Not… What’s that supposed to mean!? Let me guess, there’s some trans nonsense holding me back here too?

Mom (firm): So here’s a thing you definitely don’t understand yet. Your gender is a core part of your being. It goes far deeper than you can possibly imagine. It touches literally everything you do whether you realize it or not, and it’s why reconciling with your past as a closeted trans girl is becoming this epic saga.

Lark (snarky): Okay, okay! Then if you would, Mother, please enlighten me on what specific trans nonsense applies in this situation.

Mom: In this situation it’s the male-coded urge to be the provider. To monetize your skill so you can support yourself independently and support your future family.

Lark: That’s not transness, that’s just capitalism! This is ridiculous! It’s like you’re trying to convince me I’ve failed before I even started!

Mom: Hold that thought. Let’s assume you’re right and none of that matters. So you launch into a project — you have a great idea and you’re driven to see it through. What then?

Lark: Then I work on it! At least while my drive holds out.

Mom: Except your drive can’t hold out forever. Projects are long hard work and your initial drive is a short-lived thing. Then what?

Lark: I mean, I can usually keep up my work after the initial drive wears off. As long as I keep going it’ll be fine.

Mom: Which it is for a bit, but you inevitably hit some sort of roadblock because there are always hard parts.

Lark: Well sure, I hit a roadblock eventually… But then I just have to push myself through it.

Mom: Except that you use your drive to push through roadblocks, and that drive is already gone. So it doesn’t happen, does it?

Lark (embarrassed): No, it doesn’t. I can’t bring myself to do it, and then I feel like I have to bring myself to do it, and then I feel like a failure for not doing it and my anxiety just gets worse and worse…

Mom: And that anxiety just continues building until it’s unbearable to even think about the project. Because hey, that’s not what a provider would do, right? How are you going to support your future family if you can’t even push through this one roadblock? And suddenly the background hum of those expectations from earlier are weighing you down.

Lark (exasperated): Yes okay, I’m a failure! But you told me that things have changed; that you can sustain your effort on projects like this one now. So what’s the secret trans alternative?

Mom: First, you are not a failure. Second, you’re looking at this backwards again. It’s not that being trans gives you some magical ability to do things. It’s that summoning the will to push through those roadblocks is an emotional task. You would always approach them as intellectual tasks, treating emotional roadblocks as puzzles and trying to “solve” your way out of dealing with your anxiety.

Lark: I don’t understand.

Mom: Imagine you want to ask someone on a date, but you’re too timid. You can approach this problem analytically – Maybe you learn a social script for asking someone out, or maybe you divide the encounter up into smaller tasks so you only have to focus on one step at a time. Those approaches try to sidestep the emotional reality of the issue, hopefully allowing you to ignore your emotions long enough to ask her out. They work occasionally, but people are unpredictable. Maybe your potential date goes off script, or a step doesn’t go as you expect, and suddenly you’re drifting in the limbo of not knowing what to do next, soon to buckle under the emotional weight of the anxiety you were hoping to avoid.

Lark: I see you’re familiar with my dating experience.

Mom: Well duh, I’m you, remember? But there’s another way: The emotional approach. You immerse yourself in your anxiety, really sit with it, until it feels bearable. Or you imagine the worst that can happen, and feel that until it feels manageable. Often that involves cultivating positive emotions and bringing them with you into that anxious space so positive and negative feelings can balance each other out. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can ask your potential date out with confidence. No matter how it goes, you’ll be able to weather how it makes you feel, and you won’t end up in a place where anxiety shuts you down entirely.

Lark: I presume you’re advocating the emotional approach then. One problem: I don’t exactly have a lot of emotional capacity for sitting with my anxiety. You told me that too, remember? I’ve lost entire days of productivity because something random made me upset in the morning.

Mom: And why is that? Could it be your gender performance consuming nearly all of your emotional energy? It’s not like we consciously experimented with gender to see what made us feel comfortable or anything. We just carried our gender friction with us everywhere all of the time.

Lark (exasperated): Yes, fine, gender expectations crippled my emotional capacity! What am I supposed to do about that?

Mom: Be a girl, Lark! Be yourself! Once we allow ourselves to just be the woman we are, the emotional burden of maintaining a certain social role just slides off of us. We get to reclaim the emotional energy that required for ourselves.

Lark (tearful): And… I never could. I could never find a way to just be myself. I told myself I had to be the provider; the stable rock that others could depend on. I was always carrying that friction. It’s like… It’s like I failed before I’ve even started.

Mom (relieved): Yes. And it’s okay, Lark. I need you to know what being a girl does for us, but I also need you to know that it’s not your fault you couldn’t transition. You aren’t a failure for not figuring it out. I want to understand what was holding us back, but before I can explore that with you I need you to understand that we’re trans.

Lark (overwhelmed): This is a lot, Mom. Can… Can I think about it for a while?

Mom: As long as you need, dearest.