Toga of Enchantment

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When a group of girls begin dressing each other in a public bathroom with strips of jersey fabric to form togas for an art show, it can lead to feelings of discomfort and insecurity about a person’s body image…

Surrounded by four gorgeous blonde girls who looked like models, and I began to question if I belonged, welcomed in the group. Or was I was a fraud that somehow got a backstage pass into the women’s restroom despite being a woman.

As we wrapped white pieces of fabric around our bodies to form matching togas, all four of the gals next to me morphed into goddesses.  I felt like I didn’t belong there because of my ego, because of that sly inner critic that slid itself inside my head and voiced its opinion about the invalidity of my womanhood. I was a fraudulent card carrying member because I also carried a penis between my legs.

Despite being among five friends who completely accept me for who I am and see my heart over my biology, it was my self-criticism that was the harshest witness of all.

“You look great, you have nothing to worry about,” said Lauren.

As much as I wanted to believe Lauren, I couldn’t silence the voice that kept saying that Lauren was wrong, that my self-criticism was right.  I couldn’t shed the insecurity surrounding me.

“These women are biologically female, and you’re an impostor,” my ego said.

My inner critic continued to jab me with its bloody and familiar bayonet while I tried to center myself and breathe in that muggy restroom. Toni began putting the white fabric around my body and wrapping me up with the toga to look like a Greek goddess, I started to relax and affirm to myself that I belonged right where I was.

So many transgender women can’t get over that initial criticism, that initial self-doubt, and in the process, they choose to avoid a challenging situation altogether, letting go of all the possible glory that awaits them.  Without taking any chances, they receive no gifts in return.  One must play to have the possibility of accruing wins.

There’s an inherent danger when we hold onto the binary of man or woman only, concluding that nothing else exists in between. I was accepted and seen as one of the women. On the other hand, they all knew my history well. 

They knew and didn’t know, they cared and didn’t care. It was fine.

When do I remember to tell myself that?  When do transgender women remember to affirm themselves in moments of doubt when they are in situations that require exposing themselves: getting naked and facing their fears?

How do we affirm ourselves when the trans-panic button is being pushed?

How do we stay calm in front of friends, family, and loved ones, when they see our externals but can’t even fathom how our insides are churning.? When we feel completely isolated and alone on our individual journey, our own path with no Sherpas to help us navigate through the choppy waters of re-gendering ourselves, claiming our new ways of taking power in the world?

I look back to all the times I faced adversity as a transgender woman since I presented in 2011. I can say that repetition through exposure has helped.  But what else can we harness to help ourselves stay centered in the face of adversity?

I think listening is a huge key for us to allow ourselves to hear our inner critic.  Upon being able to hear our ego flair up with self-criticism and labeling ourselves as fraudulent women, we can then begin to apply the tools of our practice to affirm ourselves when we want to hide and run.

Those tools are honed through countless lessons where we face challenges, receive affirmations, and on occasion, get a glimpse of something completely unexpected, something we didn’t even know we needed. Divine surprises are what keep us immersed in the river of life, willing to bear the brunt of the cold and turbulent waters, in anticipation for  one more surprise that is waiting for us.

We need to choose to listen to and live from our hearts.

Sometimes, well, all we get is a nice white toga to make us look like a goddess, even if it’s just for one enchanting evening among our girlfriends.

Natalie Yeh

Liminal Spaces with Natalie Yeh -- aerospace engineer with a penchant for the spiritual, artistic, and cerebral -- is an attempt where she tries to accept her own messy humanity in exploring the gifts in her everyday stories and milestones with compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness. Gifts she believes we can all share and learn from when we choose to see our continuous threads of connection in our common humanity rather than uphold paper walls of illusions of separation that some treat as real. When she has free time, she loves to cook, shoot landscape photography, practice martial arts, write and dance. Her Chinese American background, bilingual upbringing, and transgender history all lend to her experiences in exploring the liminal spaces where her history, her present and her future are at odds and of a piece, creating herself and her writing as unique, cross cultural art.

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