Being Seen

It was my first day of seminary. The group moved around the room, weaving betwixt and between itself. When two of us made eye contact, we would pause, stand before one another, and one of us would say:
“I am here to be seen.”

“I see you”, came the response.

I was hooked.

Fast forward, and I’m working on my “self-directed learning project”, which is effectively a mini thesis required as part of the Interfaith Ministry training. To no one’s surprise, I’m using mine to explore and create Rites of Passage and Celebration for Gender Transition. As part of the project, I ask potential ritual recipients to fill in a questionnaire about what they might like their ritual to entail; it might be a hypothetical ritual, or one I’m going to co-create with them, or facilitate for them. If you are on a gender journey yourself, and would like to reflect on what marking that in a ritualised manner could look like (whilst also adding to my data, which would be hugely appreciated!), you can find the questionnaire here.

Reading through the responses, I find myself deeply touched by the pattern that emerges. The wishes expressed therein – inevitably I suppose – reveal again that need to be “seen”. I’m moved to tears by what I read, and I reflect that being “seen” – particularly when we are in a state that we feel to be especially vulnerable, open, real – and having what is “seen” affirmed and accepted, has a profound impact on our own sense of self, of self-acceptance, of self love. I would even go so far as to say that this is one of the areas in which, truly, no man is an island/entire of itself – that this being “seen” as we feel ourselves to be is an essential component on the journey to our own “enoughness”, to knowing ourselves to be OK. No matter what our gender, or what particular flavour of OKness we each happen to be journeying towards, being deeply seen and affirmed is a necessary stepping stone on that journey.

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” – Martin Buber

I have been weaving that stepping stone into my work for years – from the intensive weekends of self-discovery, through to the sacred sexy play spaces – and of course it lies at the heart of my work as a counselor. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that therapy has the powerful potential that it does. But it does not need to be limited to the therapeutic space. We’ve most of us experienced glimpses of that feeling of being deeply seen – those subtly life-changing moments when a parent or teacher noticed and affirmed something deeply personal/precious/creative in us – and some of us are lucky enough to live through extended relationships – of the personal as well as the therapeutic variety – where we feel “seen” on a regular basis. Some of the most profound moments in my relationship with my beloved have been moments when I’ve felt him witnessing parts of me I’ve had to keep “out of sight” before, and loving me not in spite of, but because of them.

“Seeing” is a great gift, and it is a gift that is within our power to give. I’m not suggesting that it is always an easy gift to give (or to receive!), and I’m certainly not suggesting that it is our job to become “therapists” for our friends, family, and lovers. What I am saying is that, despite what current events and our endlessly awfulizing media would have us believe, people can be extraordinarily good for each other. And when we are fortunate enough to be party to another’s vulnerability, struggle, or deep personal sharing/revelation, if we can find it in us to be present; to listen; to resist trying to jump in and save or fix; and to simply look a little deeper and find our own way of saying “I see you. I’m with you. You’re OK”…

Then we exercise a precious piece of our power as human beings, and we give another person what is perhaps the greatest gift that we have to give.

Indeed, reflecting on the fact that it was Trans Day of Visibility yesterday (there it is again: visibility, the desire to be seen, and for what is seen to be accepted) and the suicide statistics that still weigh heavily upon this community, I might be tempted to suggest that taking the time to see each other can save lives.

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