Defining the Undefinable in Ourselves

October 12, 2012

Defining Ourselves.  Defying Others.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” –Audre Lorde

So true, Audre.  And defining one’s self is no easy task.  First, this task requires us to know who we are and where we have come from.  That can be a challenge.

But the second part of defining ourselves can be even harder.  To fully define who we are, we must also be aware that parts of ourselves are still becoming, growing, shifting, changing, and existing outside of the world of things that can be adequately described by words (words!  Oh – rough instruments that you are!).  Ideally we are trees in Spring time.  Most of the self is sturdy and has been around for a while, but parts of our identity are just starting to shoot and bud.  Some of this new growth will become another branch of us, eventually easy to label, easy to see in ourselves.  Some of this new growth won’t become much at all.  But we can’t know the future.  We can’t know where all this growth will end up.

Our identities are a mix of solid and evolving parts of self.

Why We Must Know Of Our Inchoate Edges

When I first read this Lorde quote, I thought these were wise words to help protect me from people who aren’t looking out for my interests and needs.  Now I read a new layer in this quote.  It is sometimes the most well-meaning, supportive people in our lives who can accidentally squash us in their need to understand us.  This truth becomes most visible for me in the stories that I hear from people who are transitioning.

It is understandable that when a person decides to transition, supportive people will have questions.   These well-meaning people with their well-intended questions can be VERY insistent.

“Did you always know?”

“WHEN did you know?”

“You don’t look like….  “

“Won’t you miss….”

I recently read a great post about how other people’s insistence for a clean narrative about transitioning can block someone from understanding the often richer, deeper complexity of their story. Here is a sample from this super post (I highly recommend you read the whole thing!):

But it’s true that, before I said it, I carefully mined my personal history for examples of how I was never really a girl. And when I presented my decision to transition to my friends and family, it was with the “always knew” narrative well rehearsed. In that, I’m like almost every other trans* person I’ve ever talked to about the coming out process.

Why is “I always knew” the common narrative? Why do so many of us tell some version of that story even if it isn’t true?

There are several reasons that come to mind, and I think they all play a part.

These words make my heart heavy. Sweet Lorde, I wouldn’t be able to neatly answer many of the common questions people get when they are transitioning, and I’m in a relatively stable spot in my life!

So this post has two endings.


I love my fuzzy edges. I look forward to seeing what I become. I embrace the journey.  Parts of me are easy to explain to others.  Other parts of me are hard to even explain to myself.  And when I think about it,  it’s the fuzzy parts of me which are hard to pin down with words that are my very favorite parts of me.


Psychologists can get a pretty bad rap in trans communities.  If you are in the process of transitioning and looking for a psychologist, I want you to know that we psychologists aren’t all the same.  Good psychologists don’t see themselves as gatekeepers.  We don’t need to hear the “Right Story.”  In fact, I’ve never heard the same story twice.  I know my profession has created a problematic structure with “Gender Identity Disorder.”  But hey – I like to think of my profession as being a big ol’ dysfunctional family.  PLEASE don’t assume I share the views of my kooky relatives.

I largely see my role as helping keep you safe from being “crunched into other people’s fantasies and eaten alive.”  I largely see my role as helping you embrace your own story – including learning about the fuzzy, wonderful edges of your being.


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