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Manage the Mirror

by Duointherain 2 years ago in recovery
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Worth, Power, & Metaphor

Power, Worth, and Metaphor

My cat had a fight with the mirror yesterday. She stood there and arched her back with righteous indignation and much to her dismay, the cat in the mirror did the same. The cat in them mirror was quite rude, really. One might think that’s a very silly experience. After all, a person will always know themselves in the mirror, always see right through such things.

The idea of ‘The Looking Glass Self’ came into human vocabulary in 1902 when Charles Horton Cooley came up with the idea. It’s a pretty obvious idea like all really cool and probably true things are after you understand them. The idea is that we form our sense of identity, what we’re able to do, what’s right to do, even what we want to from the feedback we get from people and institutions outside of ourselves. That’s especially true when we’re children and our basket full of vocabulary words is smaller than my cat’s basket of toys.

They say, sometimes quite intensely with threats of bad grades, that the thesis should be the last sentence of the first paragraph, but I don’t really agree with that. I want to show you how I got to where what I’m getting at came from. So the day my cat had a fight with the mirror, I wrote a short story called ‘Promises to Emily’. It’s not a big story, but it’s set in the world of my big story. If ‘The Moon’s Permission’ ever gets to sit next to Hemingway in merit or not, I don’t know, but for me it’s this kind of pasta maker that takes my life experience and makes something someone else might find tasty. Emily’s a side story. A bit of warm bread to wake up the appetite, except sweet baby olives, her story kind of broke open my very soul.

‘Promises to Emily’ is set in 1919, when she’s seven and boy does she want a bicycle and a pocket watch, and her big brother. I think she’s still having some separation anxiety from when Gael went to WWI. She’s being raised by Gael, his lover Jack, and the staff that lives on the plantation that Jack’s mother bought him as a graduate from medical school present. Every one of the adults in her life are flawed. There’s not a single saint among them, though Jack does try.

Though less than the norm of his time, Jack’s racist and sexist. Gael’s probably a bit alcoholic, suffering from PTSD, a lawyer, and a gangster, and possibly a serial killer, though he disputes that label. Kate-Marie, Emily’s oldest sister and Jack’s wife, is pretty much absent all the time. Nan, the housekeeper, was born enslaved and while she loves Emily and almost everyone she’s got some issues to work through too, though honestly, she’s probably the sanest and most well put together of all of them.

My point is, none of them are like this ideal paragon of perfect virtue. All of them are just people. And yet, none of them are mean to Emily. None of them make themselves feel better by abusing her. None of these very flawed, very much in their own pain people, abuse this little girl.

I hope that seems like a super normal thing and how the world ought to be to you. That wasn’t my experience. The people who parented me were not very nice. I claim to be successfully parented by books!

One of the problems with the books as parents, even in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s is that the societal norms scaffolding those stories included assumptions that women shouldn’t have power, that women have less self worth. While theologians can debate the meaning of Adam and Eve, when little girls read that story, when little girls go to church and sit the pew and are told they must obey their husbands, the impact of that isn’t really much to debate about.

There have been groups of theologians that got together and even debated if women have souls even. Still, we don’t really have a word for what that has done to women, to little girls, about how that type of world understanding strips young people of power, of self-worth, of their very agency and sense of self. That effect is even more profound if the person has been abused sexually, physically, emotionally, verbally, or in any other way that doesn’t have a word yet. As I looked for a word today, I didn’t find one. There’s oppression, but that seems like a wrong sized word, or maybe just that women don’t deserve that kind of validation.

I mean.. who exactly oppressed them? How does one stand up and say that such a deeply entrenched social norm is just wrong. That’s where feminists showed their greatest strength. They deserve a lot of attention, but this essay is more about me. It’s so easy to fall into that black pit where I’m not worthy, where me owning my own power is sinful, where it’s obedient to suffer in silence.

That’s all before we get to me being transgender. I’ll tell you what... if the ‘70s and ‘80s thought being a woman ought to feel powerless there really are no words to describe what being trans ought to feel like. Here in our very advanced and modern 2020s we have people doing their best to make laws against people like me, but I’m not alone. They’re after black voters and pretty much anyone not eligible for a KKK card.

Well, I’m way past the first paragraph now, aren’t I? I want to make it a strong sentence, a sentence to be proud of. The flippant part of me wants to start changing, ‘We’re Queer, We’re Here, and there’s Nothing to Fear!” Maybe a recap will help. I survived nasty abuses. I tried all the things that the mental health community and various religious communities told me to try. I got to the end of the very long to do list and I still felt horrible. My new therapist, who is super cool, tells me the problem lies within power and self worth, specifically the fear of both. She’s right.

I still don’t have my thesis. As I sit here, putting this essay together, what is it I want to say? Emily will grow up in a world where if she ever questions her worth or the rightness of her using her own power, she will go to her big brother and he will tell her that she is more valuable to him than almost anything and that if she needs his power to add to hers, just point him in the right direction. Even Jack, who grew up super religious could never look in Emily’s eyes and tell her she’s less than in anyway. That’s what being loved is like.

For her, she’ll grow up and never question her value or her power. She’s going to become a journalist in WWII and follow Gael to the war in Europe. She’s brave and powerful and human. Just like I can’t really explain why the color red looks red to me, she will never think about why she values herself. It’s just the truth. The adults that loved her mirrored her worth to her and nothing could take it away.

I can’t have Gael and Jack as my parents, of course. Fiction doesn’t really work that way, but I can feel worth and power through Emily’s experience. Maybe I can’t put that into a thesis sentence. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t read thousands of sentences that go along the lives of, “You’re valuable! Own your power!”. That’s not enough. One has to feel it on the same to the same extent that the color red (or whatever color) just makes sense when you see it.

I hope I loved my daughters so much that they never need to question their own value, not on the most fundamental level. I wrote Emily, so I can clearly conceptualize feeling that kind of rock solid self worth. It’s dark now. This piece has taken so long to write. Maybe there is no profound thesis for the night, but I can tell you this, that each of us is valuable, is worthy of our lives and of our power, and that means me too. It doesn’t have to be perfect today, but we can all build better looking glass selves by the people we allow into our lives, the choices we make. We’re not kitties, as splendid as they are, and we can learn to manage the mirror.

recovery

About the author

Duointherain

I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.

I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.

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