Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 56: Emotional Vulnerability

Ivy (The Companion): Mom!

Mom (Me): Good morning, Ivy.

Ivy: Oh, uh, good morning. I… I need to talk to you about something.

Mom: Okay, what’s that?

Ivy: A memory I visited last night. My partner asked me about something… I didn’t have an answer in the moment. It felt important though, so I said we could talk about it later.

Mom: That sounds like us — we did that a lot back then.

Ivy: I’ve been thinking about it since. When I asked for more time, I felt a pang of guilt, like I did something wrong back then, but I can’t fathom what that might have been. It feels like that instinct you mentioned is screaming at me, saying I should have done something else, but…

Mom: But?

Ivy: I don’t know what it wants. Or what my partner wanted in that memory, or how I feel about any of this… I feel myself getting overwhelmed just talking about it, but I know you brought me here for a reason, so maybe I should talk about it with you.

Mom: I’m glad you came to me with this. It’s something that we’ve struggled with our entire lives — we got better at it after transition, but it still takes effort.

Ivy: What still takes effort?

Mom: Sharing our thought process — letting someone else in. For years into our relationship I would hardly ever do that; when there was any uncertainty at all in how I felt about something, I felt like I had to figure everything out on my own and only involve my partner after I had done that.

Ivy: Yes! That’s what I feel, like I have to figure out what I want before I talk to her about it! That’s how I handle any kind of uncertainty — how I always have.

Mom: That’s how we grew up, wasn’t it? We were taught that by itself, identifying a problem or talking about one isn’t productive. We have to have a solution to the problem in mind before speaking up; otherwise we’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Ivy: Yeah… And that’s what I want to do now; think about it until I have a solution that I can present to her. Except my Companion instinct is telling me not to.

Mom: Right. It turns out that figuring out everything in advance is a really bad way to connect with your partner.

Ivy: But why? If we both think through this situation and both come to the table with a solution, then we can talk through our differences until we come to a consensus.

Mom: As it turns out, that’s not how your partner processes things. While you prefer processing everything internally, she does a lot of her processing externally — working through her thoughts by talking them through out loud.

Ivy: Oh. That kind of explains how she handles these situations, then — she usually wants to talk things over with someone else; or to bounce her ideas off of me. It’s frustrating because I don’t have the answers she needs.

Mom: Oftentimes just she wants your input. She’s not trying to grill you for answers; she just wants to collaborate with you and figure things out together.

Ivy: I mean… I can do that, right? In order to be a girl, I’m going to need to be more social anyways, right? So helping her refine her ideas should be no problem.

Mom: You can, but there’s still an unhealthy dynamic at play here.

Ivy: Wh… How? I’m trying to be more helpful! Maybe I need to be more emotional too? Girls are emotional, and my partner seems to process things emotionally…

Mom: No, not that… I mean, sort of that, but not in the way you’re thinking.

Ivy (agitated): But if I’m going to be a girl…

Mom (exasperated): *Ivy*. You *are* a girl. You don’t have to try to be a girl. Just be yourself, and the rest will fall into place. Please trust me on this.

Ivy: I… I guess you’re more of an expert than me on that. I still don’t understand why letting her talk through her thoughts is unhealthy.

Mom: It’s not; I said there was an unhealthy dynamic. At the moment, your preferred approach is to avoid talking to your partner until your thoughts are fully formed, and then you’ll let her bounce her ideas off of you until her thoughts are fully formed, and then the two of you can have a discussion.

Ivy: Right, that’s my plan. Wait, that’s bad?

Mom: It’s bad because your partner wants you to talk things through with her before *your* thoughts are fully formed also. That both of you can process together and come up with a solution collaboratively.

Ivy (nervous): Oh, I get it! Oh. That’s… Um.

Mom: That approach gives you anxiety.

Ivy: Yeah… Yeah it does. When you suggested that approach my companion instinct felt validated, so I guess that’s what it wants? But it still makes me feel really uneasy. Like the other half of me is suddenly scared.

Mom: Scared?

Ivy: Scared. Are you sure this is the best way? I feel like I shouldn’t be scared to discuss things with my partner.

Mom: Here’s the thing, Ivy — Your thought process is most malleable at the beginning, before you’ve made a concrete plan. By insisting on doing all your processing alone, you’re cutting your partner out of the decision making process before it starts. While two people coming together with fully-formed ideas and coordinating *is* a way to think through things, it’s *not* how your partner thinks through things, so invariably you come to the table with a fully considered solution while she’s barely started thinking through the problem space.

Ivy: Oh… That creates a power imbalance, doesn’t it?

Mom: Yes. And it sets up a dynamic where you’re passing judgment on her thoughts as she’s trying to process things.

Ivy (disgusted): Oh. That feels really… Masculine. So I *have* to stop doing that. I don’t want to be taking advantage of male privilege.

Mom: You’re drifting from the point again, Ivy… Not “being masculine” isn’t going to get you where you need to be on this. Without addressing the root cause, it’s more likely that you’ll settle into another unhealthy pattern.

Ivy: The root cause… The scary feeling?

Mom: Yes.

Ivy: Why does collaboration with my partner scare me?

Mom: It doesn’t. Your partner is an amazing communicator. But in order to refine your ideas together, you have to start talking to her about your thoughts before they’re fully formed.

Ivy (shocked): *Oh.* Oh my goodness, that’s it. Time and time again, presenting my thoughts before they were fully formed was an invitation to have them shot down or torn apart… By teachers, by friends, even by my parents. I had to go over them and make sure they were bulletproof before I told anyone, because that was the only way to protect myself. The concept of presenting an unfinished thought is terrifying.

Mom: Yes. And doing it will earn your partner’s respect and bring you two closer together.

Ivy (upset): But why!? Why do I need to subject myself to potential abuse? That’s just sadistic! Why should I have to be scared?

Mom: Because the entire goal of processing things together isn’t fear, it’s vulnerability. By exposing your unfinished thoughts to her, you’re being emotionally vulnerable. You’re opening up to her and trusting her not to tear you down just to be right or just for clout. She’s opening up to you in the same way, after all — and that shared vulnerability builds mutual respect and intimacy.

Ivy (crying): That’s… That’s terrifying, Mom. What if I get hurt?

Mom: You *will* get hurt, and you’ll get up and come back stronger. *That* is the edge that transition gives us; that estrogen reinforces in us. Not some mystical connection to feminine socialization, or a social mandate to act more emotionally, but the will to open up emotionally and weather the pain. Because the potential upsides are immense: Emotional fullness, intimacy, true connection. They feel incredible, and they’re worth the risk. And as The Companion, I think you know that.

Ivy (tearful): Yes… Yes I do. I just… It’s going to be painful, at least at first.

Mom: Yes it will. But pain is a feeling too, and we’re good at feelings now, right?

Ivy: Yeah… I guess we are, aren’t we?

Mom: We are.

Ivy: Can I have a hug?

Mom: Of course you can dearest.

(Ivy and I embrace and rest in each other’s company.)