Is truth still the truth if no one speaks it?
Does truth transcend power?
What’s the impact of power on truth?

A few days ago, I was talking with Leia, one of my graduate students, about my plans of possibly asking people to write their thoughts on my transition, focusing on how, if at all, this has impacted them. I told her it was a way to tell a transsexual transition story without necessarily getting bogged down with the same old transition details and to focus instead on the social relationships undergoing transition.

Without hesitation, she said, “It’s a bad idea: no one will tell you the truth.”

“Why?” I asked, a bit taken aback.

“Because of your power.”

“Power? Over what?”

“Over their schedules, their lives,” she said. “Your decisions impact graduate student and faculty schedules, their teaching assignments, their grades, their very careers. If you ask them to write about your transition, all they’ll do is tell you what you want to hear. In fact, even today, you never hear the truth about what people think because of your power.”

I honestly don’t think Leia meant to hurt or deflate my excitement. I don’t think it was meant to deflate any more than Betsy and Rachael’s observation that money makes my transition palatable for the hometown folks of Empire Falls. And the question of whether I actually have any of this so-called power is better left to debate some other day.

But her argument that my power causes people to tell me what I want to hear or to simply hold their tongues also sounds to me like an argument that power makes my hard-fought changes seem easy and almost automatic. It also causes me to doubt the good feeling I’ve felt these past 6 months — if I’m so powerful that people wouldn’t tell me what they think, then it follows that maybe all this acceptance I thought I was feeling is just fear of power.

And it’s not just a feeling that I’ll never really know these things, but Leia’s observation also suggests that all my pain and effort at overcoming all my gender-related shame was wasted energy, since my power would protect me from others’ judgment and snarky comments.

It feels very deflating and dismissing to me.

I know, I know — I tell my kids, “No one can MAKE you feel anything,” but in this case, I can’t help it. I am mindful of my emotions, even as they are awakened by innocent words. Believe me, I know deflation and dismissal when I feel it, and Leia’s observation deflates and dismisses.

Maybe this whining is just another sort of cry for you to “look at me” and appreciate me. You already know how painful and difficult my past couple of years were, and so I don’t need you to acknowledge it again. But I really want to know how we can ever learn from each other, offering each other honest criticism and praise, if money and power obstruct us and build up walls that stymie such worthy efforts.

See also “Luck