I have taken a couple of days to consider Bil Browning's recent post titled "Let's rewind and start over". I really wasn't quite sure how to take it so I had to reread it several times. This is a complicated, deep topic that's not nearly so simple as it might at first appear so I appreciate the fact that Bil put it out there. Needless to say, I have some observations and opinions.
Anger is everywhere. In a book titled "A Bee In the Mouth: Anger in America Now" author Peter Wood observes that "Today's anger is a coping device for everyday life. It also is the defining attribute of an increasingly common personality type: the person who unless he is angry, feels he is nothing at all. That type, infatuated with anger, uses it to express identity. Anger as an expression of selfhood is its own vindication." Sound familiar?
It should come to no surprise to anyone that there is a tremendous amount of anger and frustration still bubbling throughout the broader community but certainly in the transgender community right now. It's festering. It's raw. It's simmering, and without any specific direction it simply spills over and goes everywhere. It has exposed raw nerves and fracture points that have perhaps always been there but are now more sensitive than ever. That's not an excuse for it. It's just a fact.
If there's anger then someone or something must be to blame for it. There has got to be a villain, and we've got a host of people and groups that fit that bill nicely. Blame is infectious so anyone perceived as connected to these "villains" becomes open to attack. Those who are not indignant enough or angry enough can be targeted, too. In a word, it's a mess.
Nobody is immune from anger. It's how we deal with it that's important. I have come to consider my anger over last fall's events as part of a natural grieving process. You may remember from Psych101 that there are various stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance - that people often go through when dealing with situations that cause a significant sense of loss. My mom went through the stages when I transitioned and I'm still slowly working through them one by one. I'm relieved to share with anyone who cares that I'm finally looking forward more than I'm looking back.
There was an Op/Ed piece by George Will last year that I cut out and saved and is usually here on my desk somewhere. It's titled "Anger is all the Rage" and the sub-title explains: "Once upon a time Americans admired models of self-control. Today, however, proclaiming anger - the more vituperative the better - is regarded as a sign of good character and emotional vitality." A passage from it:
No wonder Americans are infatuated with anger: It is democratic. Anyone can express it, and it is one of the seven deadly sins, which means it is a universal susceptibility. So in this age that is proud of having achieved 'the repeal of reticence,' anger exhibitionism is pandemic.
There are the tantrums -- sometimes both theatrical and perfunctory -- of talking heads on television or commentators writing in vitriol (Paul Krugman's incessant contempt, Ann Coulter's equally constant loathing). There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses). The blogosphere often is, as one blogger joyfully says, 'an electronic primal scream.' And everywhere there is the histrionic fury of ordinary people venting in everyday conversations.
There is such a thing as "positive anger". Any powerful emotion can be a very powerful motivator and anger certainly fits that bill. As does love, and hate, and fear. But being angry isn't something you can turn on and turn off like a faucet or a light.
Still, I have made a conscious effort to set aside what remains of my anger. Perhaps more accurately, I have chosen to turn it into positive anger and to channel it in more productive ways. I feels good to finally let it go as I feel as though I have been living under a dark cloud for quite a while.
Case in point: I recently received an email from Congressman Barney Frank's office to set the record straight on some things I said in my personal blog. Barney is not a delicate man and he certainly had some choice things to say to me and about me. However strong the initial impulse may have been to lash back at him, that is not the healthy response. In fact, I appreciate the fact that he took time to do some outreach and it is a gesture that deserves respect, not attack.
In my own personal "Rewind and start over" I choose to start with a clean slate. As such I choose to live in the present and in the future, and not to argue about the past. Congressman Frank's personal support for legislation in his home state of MA to support transgender discrimination protections there (HB1722) has been wonderful. And, his work to arrange upcoming historic transgender hearings in front of Congress needs to be recognized and applauded. To get into a debate about the events of last fall is self-defeating at this point, although I sincerely hope we have all learned something from it.
It may not be popular to say nice things about people who are perceived to be the cause of anger. I have come to peace with being unpopular and, in fact, my father used to tell me that when too many people started to agree with his position on something he started to worry that he might be wrong. But popular or not, it's the right thing to do and the right time to do it.
There is a time and a place for everything and the time to move forward to a more healthy space is now. At least, that is the path that I have chosen. To do otherwise is to allow important and historic opportunities to pass. It is to choose to live in a past that cannot be changed. I am not advocating that people forgive or forget real or perceived trespasses. I am advocating that people find constructive ways to channel their emotion. As far as I'm concerned, to choose to allow the opportunities at hand to pass simply because you can't get past your emotion would truly something to be angry about.
Back to the issue at hand. I suggest a simple rule. If you're commenting on something and you wonder whether or not you should press send to say what your fingers have typed just know this: If you hesitate for more than a second, the answer is probably no.