Being Lost

Earlier this week I was in Parkholme and wanted to go down to an address to the southwest. In a car I'd have gone down Marion Road to Sturt Road, and finally headed west.  It's different on a bike; I headed west immediately, crossed the Sturt Drain via a footbridge, and followed a rat-run through the back streets, that was both safer and faster. Except... part way along the route I had mapped out, I realised my GPS was malfunctioning. It was telling me that north was what I knew to be due south, and that I was heading east, and not west.

Intellectually, I know, and knew then, what was happening. It was fully overcast, so there was no sun to keep my bearings. I'd done a fast circuit around a couple of parks, taken an acute turn around the tip of a diagonal intersection in order to get a clean hop across Morphett Road, and somewhere, the part of my brain that keeps track of where I am, missed a turn. There was nothing wrong with the GPS at all; my sense of direction was merely confused.

But, emotionally and perceptually, the situation was utterly confounding. Despite knowing intellectually what was going on, I was completely thrown. I came to an intersection where there was a large school. Intellectually, I am pretty sure it was Sacred Heart College on Brighton Road. But on the spot, what should have been familiar buildings made no sense at all. I think, factually, I was looking at the campus from a north-easterly perspective, but I knew in myself, I experienced, that I was standing looking from the south-west. Nothing made sense, nothing was familiar, and I'm still not sure exactly where I was. A few moments after that, I could see the sea. I had to be riding to the west. The north arrow on the GPS was correct, but I knew—my mind screamed at me, that I was impossibly riding towards an Adelaide beach from the west. It took nearly 40 minutes riding for the perceptual/emotional part of my brain to finally catch up with where I was.

What saved me was being able to trust the GPS trace in front of me. I could "fly by instrument," even though my brain said I was not on the correct trajectory at all.  Without the GPS I would have been utterly lost, and in a panic. I remember taking a kids' basketball team to a familiar court one Saturday, following a rat-run we had used week after week. GPS was unheard of then. And I arrived at a side street intersection with a main road, and was suddenly utterly lost. I had no clue where I was, and no clue how to get to the courts.  It's a terrifying experience. It's one reason people get lost in the bush: their perceptual brain over-rules all the intellectual mapping cues, even the compass, if they have one.

Stay with me through the sudden change of direction which follows.

One of my very favourite people has written of our recent past

The professional bigots of the world, whose very livelihoods depend on the attention of those in whom they provoke fear of The Other, decided that the L, the G, and the B just weren’t cutting it as a unifying enemy. Denigrating them wasn’t working as well as it had, people were getting too okay with people loving whoever they damn well pleased (the audacity). So a new spectre was summoned.

Now the fight du jour wasn’t whether non-hetero people should be allowed to work in schools, or have a consenting relationship with another adult. Sure, there were holdouts, who couldn’t let that bigotry go. But now, there was a new scary. They’d not been as visible, people weren’t as comfortable with them, or as familiar, so it was much easier to incite fear, then hatred. They’d even take just enough uncertainty that a well placed “for the children” could sway any argument. Trans people were perverts, deviants, monsters, predators[i].

I wish I could write with such acuity. It is a fine exposition of the way humans scapegoat and gaslight others to enable their own safety and power. It illuminates the lowest common denominator of our parliamentary system. Denominators determine the meaning of every expression, and in the major Australian political parties, the common base denominator is the lust for power, no matter who is damaged or destroyed its pursuit.

How does all this relate to my GPS and getting lost?

Well, we're all of us, a hot mess. We tend to think other people have got life together; I mean, look at their wonderful Facebook photos. The research psychologist Richard Beck is clear about our mistake here.

The people we borrow meaning from are themselves as broken, confused, lost, and unwell as we are. Neurosis mixes with neurosis in an enmeshed tangle of neediness. We are unable to provide steady help for each other because we need so much help ourselves. Just look at social media, it is a circus tent full of funhouse mirrors where distorted, twisted images stare back at other distorted, twisted images. Every screen is a portal into a vast, churning sea of human insecurity, confusion, and anxiety.   

No wonder we latch onto a scapegoat when someone in power suggests them to us. More or less consciously, we think, "Well, at least I'm not that bad." The "scary ones," as my friend called them, take the pressure off own personal pain and tragedy and neediness. We can pour out our anger, and our fear about our own personal pain, onto them.

Except that we don't generally work out for ourselves who will make us a good scapegoat. Generally, the scapegoats are given to us—suggested—by those in power, the ones my friend calls "the professional bigots of the world." We are born into, and given before we know we have been given it, a mental map with scapegoats supplied.  And that map is our compass, our GPS. It’s the way we navigate the world and make sense of it. It's the way we stay sane. If someone pulls that mental map from under our feet, if the GPS of the people around us suddenly begins to say north is what we thought was south, and that our scapegoats are actually real and loving human beings just like us, we can be utterly confounded, and full of fear. I'm mixing metaphors deliberately: We typically talk about having the rug pulled from under our feet. Well, our mental map is a rug; it's a security blanket.

To own that our map is wrong is terrifying; nothing makes sense anymore.  I've had to redraw my mental map from its most basic details, and in many ways the emotional experience of that has been as terrifying, and very similar, to the experience of ending up at that major road in Adelaide, responsible for a car full of kids, and having absolutely no idea where in the world I was. Except it went on for years, not just a few minutes.

The trans haters are afraid of LGBTIQ+ folk. We threaten to destroy their world, so they need to destroy us so they can survive their panic. Picking on transgender school kids is the equivalent of sacrificing a sheep instead of slaughtering a human being. Yes, maybe the haters have assimilated that part of the cultural GPS/map that says LGB is not so bad. That's my friend's suggestion, but I wonder if it's often merely that they've worked out that picking on LGB is like being racist—and I'm not racist—so the focus shifts to those of us who are transgender.

There is no arguing with people over this issue. Hate of LGBTIQ+ people is not based on logic. It is rooted in deep fear which is often so well covered that people are unconscious of it. It is why discussion groups of sexuality suddenly erupt in anger: In the end, anger and hate are undergirded by fear.  In past times, the mob would lynch people. Now we keep them close at hand.  For a hater, it's more useful to keep Trans folk on the edges, not too far away from your school or workplace, so that you can vent your hatred whenever you feel the need. I wonder if that's not almost worse than the lynch mob... Sometimes all we can do is not hate back, and refused to be consumed with rage. Even though, if we have been chosen as the scapegoat, our fear is entirely justified! Because, if we hate back, we too are simply being ruled by our fears, even though they are well justified.

 As a well-practiced hater of those different from me, I have had to learn to let go. It's had something to do with recognising that those who hated me, who picked on me, who scorn me, are just as lost as I am. Just as afraid; perhaps more afraid. Just as fragile. It's meant trying to be compassionate and respectful, or at least teeth-clenched civil, when I'd rather just lash out and destroy people, or safely hate them at a distance. I'm not at all good at it. But it's made all the difference. It's somehow reset my map so that the world, despite all its violence, is not quite as scary a place. And so that I am a little more at peace with myself and who I am.


[i] Used by permission

Andrew Prior (Feb 2022)

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