Updated: Oct 25, 2021
What We Can Learn from the Trans Experience of Shame
At nine years old, my nose was rubbed into a foundational experience of shame. I was in Music Class, and our teacher, Mr. Matzek, had a learn-by-listening period (which meant a study hall while he played music of his choice). I was drawing because I'd finished my homework. Terry Hair (yeah, that was really his name) said, "Beeler, betcha can't draw a naked lady!" This, of course, roused the interest of every boy within earshot, so I took the bait and drew a nude woman, in a kneeling pose, showing only her back side. I had it down in roughly five minutes, at which time, the enterprising and unscrupulous Terry snatched the tablet from my desk and shouted, "Mr. Matzek, Beeler drew a naked lady!"
Mr. Matzek, a devout Catholic, took one look at my efforts, yanked me up, and dragged me down the hall to Principal Pritt's office. As he pulled me along, Mr. Matzek threw back a look of utter disgust that became for me the dictionary picture of shame. I felt like the lowest form of pond slime in the fetid sewers of the hell to which Matzek's gaze damned me.
That experience was foundational not because it was my first shaming but because of what it showed me. Since then, those lessons have evolved with me.
I Scare People
First, it taught me that I scare people. Not because I'm pond scum from hell, but because people are terrified of what they can't fit into the box their lives have shaped for them. I have no idea of Mr. Matzek's past encounters with nudity or sexuality, but his look expressed a horror that I've since realized had everything to do with him, not me. My ability to draw and turning it to the female form simply burst the limits of where he could go.
At nine years of age, I was scarred, and Mr. Matzek's reaction bonfired any future mercy on myself.
Hating the Female Form
Second, it taught me that our culture is obsessed with the female form and teaches us to hate that fascination. It therein impels women to hate themselves. The immediate data I gathered from Mr. Matzek's pulling my arm out-of-socket was, as a presenting nine-year-old boy, I was to regard as loathsome the curves and lines of a nude woman's body. Shroud it in shame. Righteously despise your attraction to it. Suppress, suppress, suppress. Which I'd already been doing and would continue for the next 40+ years.
A Baptism in Compassion
Third, it taught me compassion. For myself. For Mr. Matzek. For everybody. That lesson didn't come until recently. At nine years of age, I was scarred, and Mr. Matzek's reaction bonfired any future mercy on myself when it came to my affinity for all things woman.
Since coming out as the trans woman I've always been, I've hugged that reaction and the behaviors and attitudes it instilled in me. I was heroically surviving that one of many traumas. So was Mr. Matzek. So do all of us.
Living is done in soft places and hard, ravaged, gritty neighborhoods of the soul, all of which beg care from you and me.
Handle with Care
Be gentle to your little self. It's trying to tell you something that you have to feel and live, long before you can know it. That living is done in soft places and hard, ravaged, gritty neighborhoods of the soul, all of which beg care from you and me.
Shame is the fear of being merciful to ourselves. What I did in drawing that lady was never a sin. Perhaps naivete at the scurrilous intentions of Terry Hair. Maybe not being street-wise as a nine-year-old about the effects of nude art on other persons' psyches. Mostly just being who I am, which is a gift.
The trans experience explodes people's finely crafted boxes.
The Gift We Are
That's the trans experience of coming out—to open the gift we are. The gift cloaked in horror, shame, and disgust—not because of us. But because we explode people's finely crafted boxes. How dare we!
Then again, how do we not dare be who we are?
I'm glad I took Terry Hair's dare. I'm glad he fooled me. I regret fooling myself for the next 40 years.
But here I am.
And there you are.