First Things First

I had trouble naming this blog. I knew what I wanted to name it – I knew I wanted softness and space – but I resisted the softness. I resisted the softness because in my mind, softness has always been related to femininity, and femininity was something I never quite managed.

When I say “never quite managed” I mean it both objectively and subjectively. On the outside, I could never wear the clothes, the makeup, do the hair, walk a certain way, talk a certain way, pay attention right, do the right things, lean in at the proper times, step away at others. On the inside, I never wanted to. That was the real problem. That was what was always “wrong” with me.

So now with both bitterness and shame I resist the word “soft.” I resist it as part of something outside of myself, something alienating, something I have no right to because of what a failure I am at being a female human being.

But in 2013, after what I’d like to call a little nervous breakdown, I started listening to talks by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. And she kept talking about this “soft spot.” This place in the center of us that is not only the source of our love and compassion but also all of our vulnerability and pain. She said to sit with that soft spot, that tender place where all our hurt lies open and bare and unprotected. It sounds like madness. It can feel like torture. But with nothing else left to do, and hearing the compassion in her voice, I sat down with my soft spot, hoping to find healing.

It was there I found myself again, at first as a confused child and then through all the years after, the totality of little slights and large events that had brought me here. Discovering all this, of course, was no quick and easy answer. It was too much to bare. I searched for answers and was lead astray, hoping to patch things up. Patching things up, of course, implies applying protection, hardness. Another identity. Another person to be. Another way of living since this one was just too hard.

Of course I didn’t see it as covering up that soft spot at all. I thought I was finally being the person I was meant to be. It felt that good and right. It all made sense in my head. Even if the soft spot still hurt every day.

I tried on new names. I abandoned being female for a while. I decided maybe I should be male. I insisted, to myself, it would work. It would bring about the healing. Because if it didn’t, I didn’t know what else I would do. Nothing else had ever worked in my life before, so if not this, I might as well just die.

Because every day I would sit with the soft spot and feel so much pain.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about our pain as if it’s a crying baby in another room. I listened to him, too, speaking such slow, quiet, careful words. What do you do with a crying baby? Do you ignore it until it cries itself red and raw, contorting in greater and greater pain? Do you strike it, stifle it, cover it up? Or do you move yourself to pick the child up and give it comfort, give it softness, give it a place to feel safe and loved again?

In the end, all that worked for me was moving myself to hold that child within me with softness. To this day, I’m so often tempted to put up the hard defenses, to take on another personality, another identity, to protect and obscure the one that so often brings me bitterness and shame. I could name this blog a thousand other things that would feel so much better, so much easier, so much more comfortable. But it wouldn’t stop the pain, it wouldn’t be healing, and all of us, in this world, need so much healing.

So I’ll call it This Soft Space, for all of us, for every woman who has a history of pain, of bitterness, of shame, of guilt, of not being enough, of somehow being wrong. And I will do my best to write from that place of softness, even when it’s not easy, because it’s the only true thing in the end.

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6 thoughts on “First Things First

  1. Thank you for writing so beautifully about your experiences and your reconnection with that inner child that we all carry within us. Sometimes when life’s experiences rock us to the core and make us question ourselves and others, so that we find it hard to trust it is vital to cherish and nourish that child so that we can begin to move forward again.

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  2. I think there is a sense of self-loathing I have regarding the soft spot. I’m guessing the self-loathing comes from the life of humiliation I was born into for some reason — being a woman, being a lesbian. So many other issues emanate from there, like depression and anxiety. It takes so much compassion to dig beneath the layers of problems that feel so humiliating in order to take care of the crying baby. Thanks for this post.

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    • I wish I could remember the exact Pema Chodron books/audio where she talks about the soft spot – especially the talks, because she’s so kind but firm in her words. At some point she tells us how much it hurts to attend to our pain but at the same time ignoring it is literally killing us. Being kind of handicapped by anxiety at the time, it really rang true for me. Not easy, but it has been so very healing – just knowing we are deserving of that compassion, even if the world is so often unkind – maybe especially because the world is so often unkind.

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  3. Came across a post of yours via the Stop Trans Chauvinism FB page when I couldn’t sleep, and I’ve spent the past hour or so reading through all of your blog posts. A lot of what you’ve written resonates with me, though I’m a couple years younger than you and my life took a different path. I was a barefoot, creek-mucking, semi-rural kid from the northeast, too.

    I think in the 90s, being a lesbian was just such a declarative thing. It meant certitude, a whole person completely wrapped up in and defined by a clear identity; I wasn’t certain about anything, and ran away from limiting labels like they were plague-infested, so that meant “lesbian” couldn’t apply to me. I also think we were sold an idea of attraction which was so possessive, objectifying, and pornified – I didn’t want to do that to other girls and women. That wasn’t how I wanted to be in relation with them. If anything, I wanted to protect them from that.

    It was my table-top role-playing characters which helped me finally figure it out, so three cheers for D&D and its offshoots. I really needed to see my self, my hopes, and my desires from a completely different framework and world view for it to suddenly make sense to me.

    Thanks for writing your blog, and I hope you publish your book soon.

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