Tangled Web

Deceptions of a transgender guy

Rock island

Rock. Island.


“I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.”

~ Paul Simon (Simon and Garfunkel)

One theme that crops up again and again in the blog and Facebook posts of trans* folks, is Loss. Loss of friends, loss of family, loss of partners.

When I started losing my hearing, one of my childhood friends kept phoning me, no matter how many times I told her via email and text that I cannot use a phone any more. She agreed to rather keep in touch by writing, but my phone still rang and I rejected the call every time. The emails and text messages never came. The ones I sent remained unanswered, so she is no longer part of my life. The loss of her friendship leaves a gap, as she was the only friend I had in one of the loneliest periods of my life. We designed weird cake creations when her boys had their birthdays over quite a few glasses of wine. No need to say the creations became “curiouser and curiouser” when the fruit of the vine replaced our creative juices. But it was a boundary I had to set, and I feel guilty about it. Probably because my mom brought me up with the principle, “Always turn the other cheek”. Go figure.

Barbed wire

At work I have a colleague who just cannot start a sentence with any other word but I or My. At the end of the conversation – no, monologue, as I seldom get a word in edge-ways, she will sometimes ask how I am and then listen without expression or reaction to my  response. I have started limiting my answers to, “Fine, thank you,” as she does not care what I answer. I have started avoiding her, as after these sessions I am emotionally drained from the physical exertion to try and hear her and from showing empathy with my body language. I know I need to tell her why am am setting this boundary, but it not easy for a shy introvert to speak up for themselves. You always question yourself first – was this my doing? Is it because of me that they treat me the way they do? (Dr Phil’s pop psychology Life law #8: We teach people how to treat us: “…you are partly responsible for the mistreatment that you get at the hands of someone else”. Ha!). And then I feel guilty all over again.

Last week my cousin brought us a framed jig-saw puzzle of a baby and a Pug dog sitting in a bath – to hang in the guest bathroom. She knows we are gaga over Pugs and she loves babies, so she loves this photo. B and I are not baby people at all (except when they are baby animals), but the photo will be hung in the bathroom in the spirit of Nuestra casa es su casa. Well, maybe when she is visiting. I did not have the guts to um, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I could not erect that boundary.Tyrtle

My usual reaction to difficult relationships, is to withdraw. Astrologers say this is a typical trait of Aquarius – to disappear from people’s lives without even telling them why – but being at the receiving end of such treatment, has made me aware of how baffled and injured the deserted person feels, so I am trying to change this trait – without much success. It is so part of me to just “turn tortoise” and retreat into my shell.

Doll's legThe fear of loss and rejection is so innate in human beings – probably even animals: Pooch gets huge separation anxiety and proclaims her happiness at our return home so loudly, the whole suburb knows we are home!

I admire those trans* people who manage to overcome this fear and forge ahead with their transition and I empathize with those like me who are crippled by our insecurities and fears. I try to focus on those aspects of my life I can control to some extend: relationships, so I have been researching how to set boundaries.

I came across these Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries:

(Modified from the book, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, by Anne Katherine. I have not read the book, though.)

  • When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry, or apologize for the boundary you are setting.
  • You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. If it upset them, know it is their problem. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing, or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologizing.
  • At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty, or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and tell yourself you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself.
  • When you feel anger or resentment or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.
  • Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. Set them in your own time frame, not when someone else tells you.
  • Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic persons from your life—those who want to manipulate, abuse, and control you.

Crying man scultureResearch and knowing what to do, is one thing, though. Doing it, is something totally different.

Now I need to go and practice, practice, practice and speak up, because, dammit, I am not a rock. I am not an island. I feel pain and I do cry.

Do you struggle to set healthy boundaries? Any tips? What works for you or not?


Author: Kris

Hi! I'm Kris. I live in South Africa with my life partner of 27+ years, whom I call B or Madam in my posts. We have a Pug dog child, Remi, also known as Pooch, who has graced and enriched our lives for the past 12 years.

14 thoughts on “Rock. Island.

  1. Reserve me a spot on the Turtle I ! I have spent decades on this stuff and am mostly in a better place now. I have made some dramatic changes. For instance, I used to limit the information I told my parents about myself because I didn’t want to deal with their reactions. I turned the tables and now I tell them everything. Usually they don’t really want to know everything so they bring the conversations to a quick conclusion! I wish I had tried this years ago! My main struggle is saying no to requests for favours, volunteering, extra work, etc. I am doing much better. Part of it is that I have more hobbies that are important to me and I feel strongly about defending my time for them, whereas in the past, I felt like I wasn’t doing anything important so why not give in and say yes? Good luck with your boundaries; sometimes they need to be high fences or walls 🙂


    • Your space is reserved! Glad you are able to say no to things you might have taken on in the past. I have learnt to not be the willing horse at work when it comes to taking on projects: “But nobody does it as well as you do!” Bull, I too had to learn how be good. It was hard, but I am managing quite well. It is just in relationships that I find it hard to set those boundaries being a turtle and a softie. But I just need to erect them to stay (relatively) sane!


  2. I’ve set a lot of boundaries at work and in non intimate settings. I’m not good with friends, I tend to withdraw and cut myself off. I am really most comfortable by myself even though it is a lonely place. TGFD (thank god for dogs).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. At least when we are by ourselves, we have intelligent company! 😀 One of the reasons I am back blogging, is the loneliness. Oh yeah, TGFD, even if Pooch favours her mommy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m working on this myself and have had a little success. For me I had to get to the point where I was 100% sure that the boundary I was setting was necessary and non-negotiable and then I just had to say that I would not tolerate that anymore. First to myself and then to the offender. If more than one person is offending your boundary or it happens again then you plainly tell them you will not continue to tolerate the behavior and keep repeating it calmly. No anger, no tears, no fear. Just as you would with a child. If you continue to do X then Y will happen. I’ve told you this before and I won’t continue to tolerate it. Also, baby steps. Practice with things that aren’t that big a deal or emotionally charged to get your confidence up to tackle bigger offenses. Patience and knowing what’s most important to you is important. Some things really aren’t that big a deal. As far as the picture, we all get stuff from people we don’t like and politely accept it and then either re-gift it, donate it or throw it away. If you put it on your wall and the gifter sees it in the future they’ll think that you liked it and buy you more of it.

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    • Thanks for the tips, Shawn. You really are a practical guy! Congrats with the little success! That picture, meh! Haven forbids more baby pictures and ornaments. I guess the baby will have to go. 🙂


      • I guess I am practical in a lot of ways but I’m also really really sensitive. I relate very much to the image of the turtle and have spent years retreated into my shell of protection while the outside world did as it pleased around me. I developed passive-aggressive tendencies at a very young age to deal with not having boundaries and unable to protect myself. Part of what I’ve been working on for the better part of my adult life is to come to terms with all of this, heal it, and learn healthier ways of living. It’s only this year that I’ve started to put some of the stuff I’ve learned into practice but I have a LONG way to go.


        • I guess my self-harm is partly due to the same passive-aggressiveness you speak about. There is a lot of healing needed, but setting boundaries involves a fair amount of pain again (to me). So much to learn, so far to go… But onward, ho!


  4. I’m really, really bad at boundaries! I’m so bad that I don’t even “disappear”. I just stay, feel awful and try to swallow it all and wait for them to get tired of me and disappear on their own. It might be because the only persons I really need to set boundaries with are my parents. All the others have already been evicted/left my life and I avoid befriending people that might not respect me.
    Whenever I need to set a boundary, my wife kindly reminds me of it, I stale it and blame myself for feeling bad since I didn’t set clear boundaries right away and finally I feel there’s passed so long time since the first incident and the last one that I’m no longer entitled to set boundaries – because I should have declared them earlier. Yeah, I beat myself up quite bad over this. Basically someone treat me badly and I get hurt. I then continue to hurt myself by not allowing myself to set boundaries (which means they’ll do it all over and over again) and blame the whole thing on myself for not setting boundaries from the beginning.
    I suspect I need to work more on this…
    I’ll go back and read your list again. It feels like I need it!


    • Oh, that stalling! I have lots to say to the other person in my mind afterwards. I guess we both have to learn to have that boundary crashing down as soon as they start encroaching on our emotional land. That colony in space gets more and more appealing and it sounds like quite a few of us will be leaving on that space ship – the Turtle I? 🙂

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  5. wow Kris, I really relate and genuinely appreciate you putting it all into words. I’m in this ridiculous situation with some people at work (one of them being my boss). Yes, I have spent years “teaching them how to treat me” and now I’m done being the whipping boy, the lackey, the scapegoat, whatever you want to call it. And of course, they’re bucking my changing of the rules. Also like the turtle, it is slow.
    As for the trans-stuff… you know I’m in a similar place. Right there with you brother.


    • Weird that the whippers never seem to realize their cruelty – for that is what it is – and are surprised when the tame dog starts growling. Wait till we start biting… do turtles have teeth? If they don’t, we should get them some. Journey on, Hali and take care. Hope your knee is well?


  6. I understand exactly where you come from. I just spent the weekend with my parents. I can’t ever seem to assert myself with them, even when I decide that I will. So I spent the weekend being mis-named and mis-gendered. It was like someone beating me every time.
    I never looked at this as a boundary issue. I am going to try to keep that in mind, when I interact with people.