More than wishful thinking for the New Year, especially this one

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By: Tynan Power*/TRT Columnist-

There’s something about a new year that makes many of us feel full of potential. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to begin again. As the New Year ball drops in Times Square—and rises above the Hotel Northampton—I’m poised to leave the old year behind with all its failings and missed opportunities. I’ll keep the accomplishments, and discard the accumulated detritus of 365 days of being perfectly, imperfectly human.

No matter how many times my New Year’s resolutions don’t make it to fruition, there’s a part of me that still believes. I’m clearly not alone. The goal-setting website 43Things.com lists over 32,000 resolutions made by its members. Vague commitments like “lose weight,” “get enough sleep,” “take charge of your own financial life” and “embrace your personal style and beauty” rank in the top 10. A few specific goals make the cut, too: “Read a book a week” and “Set an attainable athletic goal, like running a 5K or 10K.”

My trans friends report resolutions ranging from “take better care of my body” to “obtain a concealed gun permit.” Last year, my 26 resolutions on 43Things were just as varied. Only eight were completed by December.

Each year, evidence mounts that my New Year’s resolutions are more wishful thinking than life-altering commitments. It seems to make no difference whether I pose my resolutions as guiding principles (“Take better care of my health”) or specific, measurable goals (“Run the Providence Half-Marathon in August”). Whatever my intentions on January 1st, life often has other plans.

Despite this, I seem to expect to wake up every January 1st transformed.

And then I remember: Oh, right. I still wake up as me. I still have the same history and I still have the same flaws. (On January 1st, I will not become naturally punctual, sadly.)

It’s kind of like transition. Sometimes it seems like all we need to step into a brand-new life is to transition—get a therapist’s letter of support, get on hormones, have surgery, change our names, change the gender markers on our IDs.

It’s safe to say that trans people feel a lot _more_ well once we have affirmation of our gender identities and we feel more comfortable living in the world in our bodies (which means different things to different trans people).  Yet there’s also a moment when we realize: Oh, right. I still wake up as me. I still have the same history and I still have the same flaws. (If anyone has figured out a trick so that transition makes one naturally punctual, I’d love to hear about it.)

All that “wishful thinking” doesn’t lead to miraculous transformation, true. Yet it isn’t pointless, either. Wishful thinking reflects our aspirations, lighting the way into a future we can’t yet know. We may not be reborn without the old faults and weaknesses, but when we stumble—and we will—we find our way again because we know where we hope to end up.

Wishful thinking can be fundamentally life-altering, when coupled with action—even slow or full of missteps—and uncoupled from self-blame. It takes courage and self-knowledge to look into the unknowable future and say “that’s where I want to end up,” but it also takes courage and self-knowledge to know that right now, where we are today, is also OK. We are enough and whole, no matter where we are on our journey.

This year, I have a number of goals, which I’ll break into action steps and put on my calendar. One will be to run the Providence Half-Marathon I missed in 2011.

I only have one resolution: finish unfinished business. I’ve managed to accumulate a fair number of incomplete projects from laying flooring in my son’s room to writing projects to closing my mother’s estate. In 2012, I want to give myself the gift of releasing my mind from those burdens and the self-blame that shadows them.

It may be wishful thinking, but I’d like to think it’s hope.

*Tynan Power is an FTM parent, writer, Muslim and interfaith leader. He is the author of “The War on the Home Front: A Queer Family after 9/11” in the new anthology “Progressive Muslim Identities.” Email him at tynanpower@yahoo.com.