Here’s an idea so friggin’ radical you just may dismiss it out of hand. Well, that’s one possible narrative. I’m open to others.
Narrative sharing. It’s about opening up to one another’s life stories, regardless of political outlook or life experiences. We are all living our stories, are we not? But who really knows these stories if we speak mostly in general terms of political discourse? How can I get to know you, and you me, beyond politically shaped categories?
Narrative sharing. It’s about pushing back at being told what to think, and given space to fully experience oneself beyond our categories. What if available categories miss who you really are? Politically available categories tend to fit me like a tight pair of shoes, inhibiting me from strolling freely in public spaces. I’m transgender with a spiritual dimension, or so I am told. More authentically, I am a ‘transspirit’ with a transgender dimension. I am compelled to connect to deeper potentiality, prompting me to transgress the more divisive constructed norms. But without a narrative for others to follow, this notion tends to get lost in political terms. I am much more than can be captured in generalized terms of political rhetoric. I am fully human.
Narrative sharing. It’s about transgressing the norms for idea sharing, to get to the depths of emotional sharing. Anyone can disagree with my liberal, conservative, anarchist or libertarian views, or my lack thereof. But who dares disagree with my anguished feelings about being a Native American in colonized spaces? Who dares dispute my emotions about being asexual amongst a sea of sexual privilege? Can anyone argue with my visceral reactions to being trapped within the American gulag? I mean, really, is it ever wrong to feel a certain way?
Are not emotions merely messengers, to the message of beliefs? And what point is there in shooting the messenger? Or in following the dominant culture notion that all feelings must be subordinated to rational thought, as if my thoughts and feelings should not be integrated with equal value? Narrative shares the emotions and the beliefs; political discourse tends to skip the wealth of vulnerable emotions and goes straight for defending beliefs. How engaging is that for others we seek to reach?
By sharing my narrative I expose the feelings that indicate my beliefs. I neither defend nor reject them, I simply acknowledge their existence and expose their level of importance to me. Since I don’t have to qualify my beliefs I feel free to share how I arrived at such beliefs. It’s a vulnerable space I protect from premature repudiation, to preserve intimate awareness. In the process I naturally invite others to more deeply feel their beliefs, to repudiate their own thinking norms, and find their own truth.
Narrative sharing tends to be more inviting and potentially more engaging than our typical Western styled didactic approaches. It invites others to relate in their own terms. Narrative sharing doesn’t ask for agreement, rather it asks for sharing the journey to those experiences shaping our beliefs. Political generalizations have an insidious way of overemphasizing our differences. Narratives potentially spark awareness of our common humanity, where it transcends all divisions and disharmony.
Transcending political differences
Not to say there is no place for political discourse. Can we do a little of both? Is there some way to integrate the two? Is there some way to invite understanding without relying so narrowly upon political rhetoric? Raw discourse is great when appealing to a mindset ready to share our beliefs, but can easily alienate a broader audience ready to empathize with our cause if expressed through a relatable character and plot driven narrative. The privileged white liberal has some experiences in common with the anarchist person of color, but if they start with their political differences, trying to convince one another of the rightness of their views, they will tend to keep invisible this potential for empathetic connection.
Understandably, sharing opinions feels safer in mixed company than exposing our feelings. The more diverse we find ourselves, the more we tend to depend upon the common ground of shared generalizations. Like traditional gender and sexuality norms getting in the way of our full potential, I find other interpersonal norms limiting our optimal possibilities. That includes imposed political divisions, as well as the constructed divide between rational thought sharing and emotional narrative sharing.
Narrative sharing challenges these norms of privileged alienation. By privileged alienation I mean the normalization of social spaces with others we barely know and accords advantages to those who function well with little if any intimate awareness of one another. It is a privilege skewed toward those with recognizable identities and against those with emergent identities. Who can know me as a transspirit if they have never heard of this potentiality?
Narrative sharing empowers us to transcend those political differences presumed in the norms of what Max Weber called rational-legal authority. Instead of constantly negotiating fluid social spaces, legal-rational authority allows us to settle for policies and norms established by our supposed cultural and political leaders who lay down the norms for us all to follow. That allows someone’s behavior on the West Coast to be readily predictable for someone on the East Coast. This mitigates stranger anxiety; otherwise the unpredictability of others would potentially make strangers of us all.
But such normative familiarity tends to stifle the diversity of human potential. Through narrative sharing we may find ways to explore such diverse human potential, as it finds expression in our unique experiences of gender and sexuality. I suspect nature counters this stifling of wholeness through organically atypical sexualities and gender modes. By being compelled to integrate my inner feminine and masculine ascribed energies I am naturally propelled toward communion of what is normatively alienated. This could create subject matter for a compelling, attention grabbing narrative.
Meanwhile, our unique experiences tend to be shared exclusively among group members and remain poorly understood outside of our social circles. In-group diversity tends to challenge any one-size-fits-all narrative, but is it not possible to craft a narrative with enough ambiguity to be more inclusive? Is it not possible to craft a narrative that starts to open vistas to welcome others’ insight into our uniquely shared experiences and needs? Or is it possible to craft a politics that allows others to understand me well enough to enter my space?
For me, politics make good windows, but poor doors. They’re great for looking into my world and getting a sense about what is inside, but no one may enter simply by approaching me with some trusted sociopolitical category. As a transspirit, I tend to defy just about every constructed category put upon me, and even scapegoated for not easily fitting in where expected. This definitely includes any political categories. As a transspirit I am not only transgender, I am also trans-political. Pulled toward connecting to all potential, I naturally transgress the political divide. I naturally yearn to connect to all across the political spectrum.
As I listen to the narrative of my conservative friends I hear them expressing their ego needs as more pressing than their social needs. Their sense of belonging tends to be richly met in their close-knit circles. But who they are individually, with unsettling erotic desires or anxieties toward a larger impersonal world crashing in on their smaller tightly-knit circles, appears painfully exposed and wanting. To fill that void, I see them gravitating toward ideals of individualism, as an ideological or even pragmatic hope to ease the pains of unmet ego needs. If by some chance they can actually ease their strained ego needs, I see them becoming less dogmatically conservative.
Likewise, as I listen to the narrative of my liberal friends I hear them expressing their social needs as more pressing than their ego needs. Their sense of identity tends to be richly met with a strong sense of who they are in any social environment. But who they are socially, negotiating where and how their unique selves may fit into their many social environments, appears painfully exposed and wanting. To fill that void, I see them gravitating toward ideals of collectivism, as an ideological or even pragmatic hope to ease the pains of unmet social needs. If by some chance they can actually ease their strained social needs, I see them becoming less dogmatically liberal.
When attempting to critique their political views they tend to react as if it was an attack. They circle the wagons, only to reinforce the very views I invited them to question. Often, all I am doing is attempting to share some wisdom to perchance open a dialogue to their life stories. It is not my intent to impress them with my words of wisdom, as if I could ever change their political views. As long as their needs swing toward imbalance (and who of us doesn’t by at least some degree?), I don’t see any amount of convincible rhetoric will ever sway them.
Narrative sharing isn’t about demanding a change in one’s beliefs. But it can begin an exploration to uncover the experiences and their interpretations leading to our hardened beliefs. Instead of my ideas asking them to see what’s inside my head, my narrative invites them to come and see what’s in my heart. And it’s mutual. I’d rather relate to what they honestly feel than sort through what they think. Yeah, it goes both ways. Like most of them, I’m open to any opinion, except those being crammed down my throat.
Steph Turner served as editor to a zine for and by trans/GNC prisoners (2005-2008) till the money ran out, and was a regular contributor to Fort Wayne’s (IN) Reality Magazine (2009-2010) till the money ran out and it folded too. After earning a master’s in public admin with a nonprofit emphasis and serving as a strategic planning consultant to a statewide trans org, Steph is currently working on a second master’s degree, in counseling, at least till the money runs out.