Each Tuesday night we have an open house at The Tiffany Club of New England. For well over 30 years the club has been an open and safe support group welcoming members and newcomers who seek support in exploring, expressing or questioning their feelings of gender variance. The club may well be unique in that it has a "brick and mortar" facility that is open year round. The club itself is a 501(c)(3) registered charity that has evolved over its lifetime as people come and go according to their own journeys, which I am quick to point out are always unique. I encourage people to share their own stories and journeys, but try to refrain from telling others how to travel their own unique paths. I think this is good advice for all of us, whether trans or not, in all our relationships. Sometimes I joke about this as "Grace's Rule" -- as I advise newcomers with:
When someone tells you what you should do, run as fast and as far as you can. Listen to each person's story and then after careful thought, write you own story and choose your own path.
TCNE has been such an important part of my own journey (which I share in my book), that I have found that the present path I am on includes getting to the club on most Tuesdays to give back and provide support to others just as support was provided to me when I was in need of it. Since every person's journey is so unique, mine included, sometimes I am able to provide support for others and sometimes I will say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and not provide the support I hoped to. I have learned to own my mistakes and will apologize -- which in itself has been a challenging lesson for me. I have learned that these are lessons about all relationships; sometimes we do not seem to know where the words that have come out of us originated, and what their impact on others may be. Good intention or bad intention, sometimes it just comes out wrong! I have learned to be gentle with and to myself, and now know that every moment has an opportunity to learn something new about myself.
Over the past few months the Tuesday night open house has had great attendance with anywhere from 10-15 people often showing up. We advertise that we are open from 7-9 PM but often times a good size group hangs in the living room for various deep and personal discussions and support on their journeys, for a few more hours.
This past Tuesday was no exception. To borrow a term from Billy Joel's Piano Man, by around 7:30, "the regular crowd shuffled in" and there was at least one first timer, who was nervous and excited at the same time; desperately seeking support and most probably wondering what universe they just walked in to. Many voices telling their stories, once again, and asking questions of the newcomer and of course, offering advice from their own viewpoint. We are all human and that is just the way it is, right!
Later in the evening there was a good group getting into the deep. The sharing of weekly challenges and successes of each of their journeys. The offering of support and experiences that sometimes were hitting the mark and sometimes missing by a wide margin. The insight and the triggering were all part of the weekly conversations.
Sometimes I hear from others the next day in private conversation whether my comments hit the mark or not. I am happy to receive the feedback whether good or bad, as that is the only way I can learn. This past week I received both types of feedback, and that is not uncommon. I did apologize for what I could have done better. I did receive a note form one of the girls who was there that I want to share with you all. Pearl is relatively new to the club and early on her journey. She has just starting to take some writing classes and I thought the note I received was so elegant and eloquent she has allowed me to share it here.
I thought your comment to Britney last night about how we are all on our own journeys.... a good reminder. Of course, I feel my journey right now is pulled over at a comfortable rest stop with a scenic view. But I think what comes out is everyone's fragility in their journey. To change metaphors, anyone of us could be a circus to themselves. Magician (make things appear/disappear), juggler, tightrope walker, strongman, lion tamer (spouses), clown and, of course, the person who comes around after to clean up the mess that dropped. And for some you could add being the person shot out of a cannon. Sounds strong, but we are still fragile. The reminder is we are lucky to have TCNE.
I think Pearl has summed it up about all our journeys and how important it is to be able to share these in a safe environment. Yes I am pretty sure each of us is fragile no matter what façade we show to the world. It is often hard to admit this to not only others but to ourselves.
Sometimes we just need to sit and listen to others who have some of the same -- but not all the same -- types of experiences that we do. When we do, then I will go back to Billy Joel and think he also described some of the Tuesday night conversations at TCNE, as we share and support each other...
Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright
Piano Man - Billy Joel
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .