Decoded Confidence

You cannot simultaneously think like a man and think like a woman.

Choices must be made.

That’s probably the biggest barrier to understanding between the genders.  Men try to understand why women don’t just think like men when it would serve them and women try to explain how they experience the world to men who just can’t understand the thinking.

For transwomen who worked hard to pass in the world as men, this component of gendershift can be hard, almost as hard as desireshift.   Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, but transgender is about changing your mind.  Taking apart the thinking you were drilled in, the thinking you were expected to deliver, then replacing it with a new and different way of thinking is just hard work, but it is the only way to transcend compulsory gender training.

Two experienced reporters, Katty Kay & Claire Shipman have come out with a book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know.  In their explorations, they found that women just don’t have confidence in their abilities and strengths, often playing small, which denies their power, grace and professionalism to the world.

Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt,” says one of their experts.   Self into pure action without being hobbled by doubt is difficult for women. The propensity to dwell on failure and mistakes, and an inability to shut out the outside world are, in [WNBA coach Mike Thibault's] mind, the biggest psychological impediments for his [woman] players.

I remember when I was in business and passing as a guy.   I made snap decisions all the time, fast and focused, coming from if not  personal confidence, then at least from a lack of second guessing.  Right or wrong, I made choices, and if wrong, I chose again.  Was I as ballsy as the real guys in the company?  No way.   I needed to stay in my competence, work for excellence, and after work, a cry was often required.  But I was in the zone, and could pass, at least as long as I didn’t have to drop my pants.

Today, though, my actions are constantly inhibited by deep doubts.  That confidence is not present, for a group of reasons including my questioning & theological nature, my thinking like a woman, and my feeling unsafe as a transperson.    All the bear in my closet has to do to sap my confidence is to remind me of what Ms. Kay & Ms. Shipman wrote about: in this culture, a lack of confidence and a prevalence of self-doubt is just a very womanly thing.

If I use the old tricks to invoke confidence, do I end up channelling the “male energy” that might just get me dismissed as “really a guy?”   If I don’t channel confidence, though, I end up just being lost, because, as Kay & Shipman note, for leadership, high confidence is often more important than high competence.

I very much recommend the book to all women who find themselves struggling with confidence.  I also recommend it to men who want to work with or coach women in this area, though I suspect they will find it a bit baffling; why are these women talking so much about something that isn’t that hard?

Kay & Shipman don’t seem to have any easy answers, but doing the consciousness raising that they offer is a start, even if they admit even after knowing the traps they still tend to fall into them.

“Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I will show you a man,” said Erica Jong.  As women, all the voices play in our heads as we try and juggle all the demands put on us and know that we will always fail in satisfying all of them.

Confidence is at the core of standing up, taking risks and gaining an audience.

And as a woman, as a trans woman, and as a theologian, it’s not surprising that confidence is a struggle for me.

The Bear In The Closet

Nobody goes into the closet alone.

The thing that all queer people share is the experience of being pushed into the closet, feeling the pressure to hide the contents of their heart or experience stigma, shaming and isolation.  We feel that just being out will create resistance and push back, understand that hiding our queerness is what is demanded of us.

But nobody goes into that closet alone.   We always take with us the voices that we felt called us into the closet in the first place.  They are always there with us in the darkness, reminding us of why we need to hide, why we need to stay safe locked away, why we need to avoid being exposed, always ready to run back into the closet at any time.

We didn’t choose to be in the closet because we felt safe, happy and welcomed.  We ended up in the closet because we felt threatened & scared, because we believed that unless we kept part of ourselves hidden away we would be dehumanized and denied.

All the voices and fears that pushed us into the closet, though, start to melt together when we get in there, inside our own head.   We build the voice that polices our own gender behaviours, that melange of all the of the taunts and humiliations we have over what someone like us should and should not do, what others will find attractive and what others will find repulsive and ugly.

The bear in the closet is our own special companion, the big, furry, smelly beast who reminds us that being inside and hidden with them is always better and safer than being outside where anything might happen.   Better the scary animal you know than the humans you can’t know, we end up believing.

The growls of our bear are always in our ear, always pushing at the fight, freeze or flee response when we come into unknown territory.   The bear is always there, inside our head, ready to remind us of why we built the damn closet and the bear in the first place, ready to pull us back in if we get too complacent, too relaxed, or, God Forbid!, too happy.

The bear just can’t trust happiness or vulnerability.  The bear is our guardian, protecting us from evil, no matter how much he sounds like our ego, speaking from fear and demanding that whatever we do we must avoid loss at any cost.

No matter how much our spiritual practice tells us that it is only by engaging and opening to other people that we can get the affirmation, affection and respect that we need, the bear is always on duty to lure us back into the closet, back into that bear hug we created when we felt threatened and under attack.

It is the voice of the bear reading stories to us which fills our head, all those tales of bad things that happened to other people, reminders of when we felt scared and sad.   The world that the bear in the closet reminds us about is terrifying and small, with no possibility of change.    In his cooing voice, bear reminds us why hope is a fool’s errand, something that we, as a hidden queer, just don’t have the luxury of ever having in our life.

Every bear tells us to defend his cave in different ways.  Some growl, some hibernate, some attack, some play small, and some just rationalize.  All forms of fighting work, as long as they let us keep our nature hidden and our heart defended.

The most powerful thing about bear is that he isn’t wrong.   The smarter we are, the smarter that the bear in our closet is.   The bear knows us better than anyone, because he is us, intimate with all our fears, connected with all the touchstone stories which drove us into the closet in the first place.   The bear uses our real life to glean terrifying examples of when we felt hurt and damaged, creating fables that both scare the bejeezus out of us and have real components of a real life.

If you have never lived with a big shaggy bear who keeps dragging you back into the closet, time and time and time again, then you have no idea how incredibly hard it is to tame your own bear, the one who lives inside of you.   Even if you want to help people who are wrestling their own bear, you stand a good chance of missing the point, of trying to attack the bear with logic and dominance.

Attacking the bear in the closet never works.   Being attacked only proves that he was right to pull us into the closet in the first place.   Attacks prove that people just don’t understand how damaged and tender we are, how we need to find safety and solace in the arms of a big scary — and scared — bear.

Allies who don’t understand the power of the bear in our closet will never understand why we ended up in the dark with a bear, and why we often feel that bear is our only friend and protector.   It is a brave act to defy the bear and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and seen in the world, tender and timid, feeling the call of the bear to defend again in every moment.

Bear taming is an art.   It’s an art that demands that someone else distract the bear while you do your tricks to move past him.   Bears are powerful and sly because they are part of us, the part that knows what it is to be hurt, humiliated and alone.

Defeating your own bear all alone is almost impossible, because your bear is you and being alone with him just gives him more power.    After all, you ended up in the closet with the bear because of your experience with other people who wanted to silence, hide and modulate you.

No one goes into the closet alone.  Our trusty bear is always in there with us, always ready to remind us why hope and happiness will always be denied to us.   Every time we venture out, we will get new reminders of why we decided to live in the cave with the big fear bear in the first place.

The best we can hope to do is get past the bear, to give him less power in our lives by finding someone else who can help us get out of the clutches of the bear in our closet.

Gender(ed) Hormones

Fascinating podcast from Bitch Radio

Transvestism is about changing your clothes.
Transsexual is about changing your body.
Transgender is about changing your mind.

Hormones don’t change who you are, don’t change your sex, but having permission to change your mind goes a long way.

And, as they note, the way people read you isn’t just on your choices, it is on your choices in the context of your physical presentation.

Hormones aren’t what change you.  Changing is what changes you.

Big Hole, Big Doughnut

Sure we’re all born to suffer and die.

But before you go, try the pâté. 

It’s wonderful.

I was 17 when I had that printed on a greeting card by the guys at LSC.

I now am very clear how twisted up I was then, with challenges at home and challenges around my gender identity and relationships,  but as the kid who did “wonderfully” in an odd confirmation class at 10, I was doomed to be a born theologian, teasing wisdom out of stories.

It was clear to me even then that life was going to be challenging, but the only thing that was going to get you through was being open to delight.  If we weren’t grateful for the little joys, the moments and the blessings,  then life was nothing but suffering and dying.

The only way I engage the hard, hard exploration of suffering I do every day is to be grateful for the little things.   I am often shouting “Thank you!” in an empty room, for the taste of a fresh local peach or the sight of a beautiful full moon.

This can be a hard lesson to share with people who have learned to stay small by focusing on the dark parts of human life.   The world is filled with death, suffering and maybe most of all, wilful ignorance — why can’t awareness be bliss and ignorance painful? — so much so that it is very easy to be overwhelmed by it.

That’s why I had to pull out an old maxim that used to grace the walls of the Mayflower Donut Shops:

optomistcreeed

 

 

The Optimist’s Creed
As you ramble  on through life
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut
And not upon the hole.

 

 

Here is a little tip for you, though: The bigger the doughnut, the bigger the hole.

For “too people,”   those of us who are intense, who experience life in a big way, we have lots of everything.   Lots of smarts, lots of energy, lots of vision, all that.

And we also have lots of darkness, lots of angst, lots of sadness, lots of hole.

Think Texas Donut here.   Huge and compelling, big enough to be larger than life and memorable, amazing and awesome, but with a hole that could swallow a regular doughnut.

A big hole, black and huge enough to fall into easily if you don’t keep your eye upon the doughnut is something that can make you crazy.   In fact, for other people, just having a hole that big can make you seem crazy.

It’s easy to get distracted by a hole, especially the big hole that comes with a big personality and big gifts.   The hole will always be there, because every doughnut — every life — has one.

I know the hole.   If anyone has mapped the darkness of a trans life, it’s me.   But I am still here, still celebrating a juicy local peach as I have the gift of it sliding down my human throat.   Gratitude for the next lovely moment I can find is the only thing that keeps me sane.

The moment you lose sight of what you must be grateful for is the moment you lose sight of the point of life.   Sure, we are all born to suffer and die, but before you go, try the pâté.

It’s wonderful.

Opposite Discipline

The opposite of discipline is distractability.

We live in a world where distractions are everywhere.   Most of them are man-made, shiny objects and ideas specially designed to capture your attention for a moment in a quest to capture your cash.   The world is one huge carnival midway, full of tempting distractions created to lure you, fascinate you, and use your attraction to open your wallet.

Marketers today count on the short attention span of consumers to cloak the same old tricks in novel guises so that you can be taken again and again.  They know that if the stimuli come at a fast and furious enough rate you won’t have time to get the underlying concept and record it in your brain, so they can fool you again and again.

In the collected human wisdom, the solution to getting better, getting more successful, getting more balanced is always clear: you have to do the work to pay attention and understand the world around you so you can make better choices.   This is the core of any discipline, developing an awareness beyond sensation. one that informs and sustains you.  It is this discipline, based in the focus which lets us see connections, that allows us to transcend being caught in the traps of the sensual and low.

Society has an interest in keeping us controllable by luring us with new stuff, the machine-made red shoes that they want to take the place of the handmade.   We don’t disrupt the status quo if we can be distracted by a set of shiny beads rattled close to our head.

Teaching us to let go of our deep and unique passions so we can follow the fashionable, trendy and profitable is a key technique for gaining control.   We trade the hard work of creation for the sensation of excitement,  those human responses that were created to help us grow now used for the growth of the market.   Instead of, say, working on machines to create a sense of real accomplishment and satisfaction we just take the exhilaration and then don’t understand why we feel so drained, too wasted to fight, after the experience.

For transpeople, distraction becomes a very appealing alternative to actually engaging our own powerful knowledge.   The more we engage in distraction, the more we put off having to actually let who we are inside come out in the world.

Many of us create distraction engines inside of us just to draw down our natural passion, to keep small, keep what we have been taught is broken or shameful inside of us.    It really doesn’t matter what we distract ourselves with, be it sex, booze, shopping, or anything else as long as we do stay under control.  We work to avoid loss by grabbing every sensation rather than to claim success by letting go of distractions and focusing on where we can make a difference.

We end up justifying our demands in many ways, usually pointing to our past.  Every human in the world has a story, but the only way to change that story is to change our future.  Whining about past losses, trying to create some entitlement only keeps us distracted.   Staying distracted is staying stuck in our own pain, demanding that the world attend to us rather than allowing us to make the world better for those who come after us.

The only way to take power in the world is with one step, one breath, one word, one choice, one hair at a time.   We create habits that shape discipline that makes us ready for the next opportunity that comes our way.   If we don’t do the work, instead always looking for shortcuts, always feeling upset that other people got what we wanted, then we are never ready to take care of ourselves and instead end up whining to others.

In the end, discipline is the only way to focus and own our own choices and our own lives.   Because discipline is hard, though, lots of self-help programmes instead sell the sensation of growth, knowing that they pander to a market that is always willing to buy the next hot thing they believe will give them a quick shortcut to happiness.

Distraction is a lovely, powerful, socially approved technique for discharging your own personal power in the world to fit in with all the other people who also are entranced by all the distractions offered by others trying to get your attention and your gold.   The promise of shortcuts to what you “deserve,” to what you covet in other people, is always the trick of a con artist.

Whenever you feel emotions you can’t stay with, all you have to do is use the old tricks to distract yourself, diverting the uncomfortable emotions to habitual self talk which brings you back into old and unresolvable circles.   Familiar distractions offer relief from deeper and more pressing feelings.

Distractability is the opposite of discipline, seemingly much easier and certainly more sensational.   It only seems easier, though, if you are willing to let go of the benefits of growth, success, balance, happiness and strength which only come with discipline.

Choosing distractions over growth is the essence of social entitlement and personal sabotage, because distractions are meant to exhaust you, spill your seed, without returning the benefits and challenges of moving forward.  When you fight the work it exhausts you, when you do the work it invigorates you.

There is no substitute for discipline, not even trying to rely on the discipline of others who worked hard to achieve it and want to help you find it.

It’s exciting to get easily distracted, but when you do, you have no one to blame but yourself for the absence of results that only hard work and discipline can bring.

Passion F

Passion is passion.  There is a reason so many battles end in a kiss; the line between love and hate is much, much thinner than the line between love and politeness.

Beyond the practical things, like helping with the chores and the budget, what does a woman want from a partner?   Maybe it’s the  three Fs — Fight, Fuck, Frolic.

“Make me laugh, think or come,” as an old button I had phrased it.

To be modulated is to damp down your own passions.    You don’t feel safe because you have learned that other people find your passion unsafe, too much, too intense, too weird, too off putting.   You know that your passion tends to trigger other people’s stuff, stuff they haven’t yet worked to own.

“You don’t learn to be fascinating; you unlearn boring,” says Sally Hogshead.  Yes, but why do we learn to be boring in the first place?   We are taught that our passion is just too much for the world, taught that it needs to be constrained and corseted until it can be released with one special person who is going to go on that wild, naked, intense ride with us.

One of the key gifts I gave my parents was the engagement of their passions.  My father would come at me with his brilliant, crackpot theories about every new plane crash.   My mother would hector me about how the world is interesting and disappointing at the same time.   And I would be there, ready to push back, ready to make them stand up for their own ideas, their own passions.

One of the key ways that I gave them one more good day was to give them something to be passionate about right up to the end.   I wasn’t sweet and sticky, as the staff from Hospice quickly found out, rather I was challenging and prickly, but somehow, they soon figured out, my parents took that as love.

We don’t love people to be bland and defended around them.   We love people to be proud and passionate around them, ready to abandon ourselves to passion as we fight, fuck and frolic.

It is vitality that compels us, because the passion in others opens the way to revealing the passion in ourselves.  When we see someone else as passionate, more passionate than we are, we know that they are a safe space to open up our passions, to unleash and free the wild forces within us.

I know that my passion creates safe space for others to get naked.   They understand it’s very hard to trip my circuit breaker.

Having a place to let my own passion out, well, that’s no so easy.   I suspect that passions come in the same four chakras that intimacy does; physical, emotional, intellectual and creative.   We may trade physical passion for emotional passion, but getting to intellectual and creative passion takes a partner who has done that work for themselves.

To claim your voice in the world requires that you have someone who can really hear it, really respond to it.  To me, sharing my voice is sharing my passion.  I may know that I have a fierce poetry, raw with intense thought and deep emotion, but knowing that someone in the room is going to get the joke is a whole ‘nother thing.

My passion is poured into my writing, but it doesn’t get reflected back to me.   The cycle isn’t completed, with affirmation or with challenge, with encouragement or with criticism,  constructive, creative and clashing.  Fight, fuck, frolic.

When your life force is habitually modulated, breaking free of the gravity of convention is very, very hard.  There is a reason that many shots create escape velocity not by brute force but by using the slingshot effect to leverage the forces of others, force against force to break through to a new path, a new freedom.

I love being able to affirm and unlock the passions in others.   The experience of letting out even a tiny bit of my passion and seeing others cringe, be baffled and pull back, separate from me, is highly distressing and very painful.

Knowing that I have a small potential partner pool (PPP) who can come with me when my passions are revealed is challenging indeed.   Like any woman, I need to fight, fuck and frolic to feel alive, to break my shell and become new.

But here, outside of the passion loop, it feels very hard to break through and break out.  Passion is the energy of life and mine has too long been stored like radioactive waste, too dangerous to be released into a fearful and boring world.

Fight, fuck, frolic.  May my passion find its celebration, somehow.

Want To Be

The local PBS station is trying to raise money by playing big self-help programmes.

“You can become the person you want to be!” said one presenter.

Oy.   Don’t we all wish that we could actually become the person we want to be?   What a lovely wish!

Joseph Campbell was more clear.  If you work really, really hard, fighting the dragon with “thou shalt” on every scale, shedding your skin, being in the moment, doing the work, then maybe, just maybe, you can become the person you really are.

I may want to be Clare Teal or Joanna Gleason, but if I struggle and transcend, the best I can be is Callan.

That’s not something someone trying to get your money really wants to promise.   He wants to say he can help your fulfil your desires and not just fulfill your destiny.

Desire is such a weaselly thing.   Unless we want something, it’s hard to find the energy to take the crap of everyday life.  That’s why we have these lovely illusions that if we just get the next thing we covet then our life will be perfect and satisfied.  It never is, of course.

Goals and visualizations are often set as magical by success trainers, telling us that if we dream it we can own it.    Once we get those images of desire into our heads, though, it becomes easy to believe that the end justifies the means, that whatever we do to get what we imagine should be ours is part of claiming success.

When people get unbalanced, off-course, corrupt is when their desire overwhelms their integrity.   We give up what we know to be right and good to obtain what we have convinced ourselves that we deserve.

What will make us happy, satisfied, content and fulfilled isn’t the result of coveting something we see someone else having and then doing whatever it take to get that.   Trying to be the person we want to be is a formula for frustration and desperation.

It is when we make the most out of every moment in our lives, making bold and vulnerable choices, putting our sweat and our creativity into the opportunities that are in front of us that we create our best life.   Sure, we make take bits we admire from others, but unless we forge them into our own unique and very personal creation, they will always be just bolt on bits that don’t open our own power in the world.

It’s easy to get covetous and see what we want in the world.   It’s much harder to want what we have, to take that mess and beauty that is us and make the most of it in the world, creating our own unique successes and our own special happiness.

The best you can be is invisible to you at this point, invisible to the world.  No one can imagine or visualize the magical possibilities that lie within you if you struggle and sweat and dance to get them into the world, to polish and develop them into something the world has never seen before.

You can’t be the person you want to be.   That is a quest to frustration.

But if you do it right, you can be much more of the person you are.  That is a quest to delight.

But selling to your desire to just buy someone new off the shelf with a new dress, or a $180 set of DVDs is still the best way to get your cash.   You can get what you covet, people tell you, and when this purchase doesn’t get that, well, there will always be something else to purchase, another promise you can put on your credit card.

Buy what you love and what you need.   But you have to make your own balance, integrity and bliss to become the person you really are.

Tranz Made EZ: 10 Rules

It has been brought to my attention that the great majority of people have no interest in the theological understanding of how the nature of crossing gender boundaries reveals our continuous common humanity, leading us beyond convention to a deep connection with the underlying spiritual lessons which have been revealed in human wisdom across time and across cultures.

Instead, all they want is an easier way to be transgender and happy in the world, effectively cutting a space for themselves using the simplest and most effective explanations possible.

That’s why nobody comes back to read this blog, why the audience absconds; I’m just doing it all wrong!

What’s the easy way to do trans?

1) Join the groupthink!  Find a bunch of people who explain how to be politically correct using flip charts and egalitarian process and do what they embrace.   An army of self-referential doctrinaires cannot fail!   Anyone not doing it your way is doing it the wrong way and deserves whatever they get!

2) Wrap yourself in flags.  Play to prejudices.  “They” are indeed the enemy!  To the holy go the kudos.  You are on the side of the patriots and the angels, against the kooks and the blasphemous.   Find whatever flags you can to wrap yourself in, spin by pushing buttons of goodness and create shared enemies to gloss over differences.   When in doubt, pull out a cliché, because old chestnuts are always digestible.

3) Be abject.   Losers don’t threaten anyone.  As long as you surrender your power in the world, people will have no reason to slap you, every reason to pity you.   You are the vulnerable and broken one, powerless and abused, so you deserve all the consideration the world can muster.

4) Compartmentalize, compartmentalize, compartmentalize.   If something is confusing or creates ambiguity that might open questions on your story, lock it away, far away.    Seal off what you don’t want to engage or admit and be sure that it is hidden away from everyone, always.  Mental separations are what gives life authority and stability.   By denying your connection to other people, you can keep parts of yourself away from challenging your assertion of self.   What you keep in the dark keeps everyone in the dark, so go for it!

5) Attack, attack, attack.  Anyone who challenges you must be silenced.  To silence a critic is to defeat them.   Let your story override theirs, and if that doesn’t work, challenge their credibility to speak.   After all, anyone who challenges you must be a wrong headed enemy who just has internalized issues over anyone who is like you and in your group.  Transphobic asshole!

6) Stick to your story.  Never admit defeat.  ‘Twas ever thus.   You were always this way, no matter what your history or those who knew you when have to say.   They are blind, because the knowledge and understanding you have today is true and pure and holy and will never, ever change, ever.   You have no obligation to change or grow; you are done!

7) Say what works today.   Consistency is over rated.   (But never admit that you changed!)  This is one area in which compartmentalization is your absolute best tool.  You know what will work in this context and that’s what works, because situational belief is completely justifiable to people like you.

8) Be earnest and flatfooted.  Nuance and ambiguity is not your friend.   Wit is a tool of the questioners.   More is achieved through bellowing than through shimmering, so never let them see you sparkle.  Be unimaginative and pedestrian, first to show how sincere you are, but more than that to stop any creativity that might show you are special, unique and magical.

9) When in doubt, rant.  Carry people on a cloud of emotion that feels real to them as it carries them over the gaps in your story.   Let the roller coaster move them away from actually looking at the integrity and implications of your claims.

10)  You are the centre of the world.   Whatever works for you in demanding that your needs be satisfied is the most important thing.  You have been kept down too long, so fuck those who demand your responsibility to anything but groupthink!   They have no standing to oppress you any more; if they don’t let you be yourself, you will die!  How will they like being responsible for killing you?   It’s your damn turn; your way or no way!

Follow these simple rules and you too can do tranz the EZ way!

Désolé

Desolate

  • in a state of bleak and dismal emptiness
  • lacking the people, plants, animals, etc., that make people feel welcome in a place
  • very sad and lonely
  • having the feeling of being abandoned by friends or by hope; forlorn.
  • sad beyond comforting; incapable of being consoled
  • to make (someone) feel very sad and lonely for a long time
  • to damage (a place) in such a way that it is no longer suitable for people to live in
  • barren or laid waste; devastated
  • to make wretched
  • providing no shelter or sustenance

To walk beyond social convention is to walk into desolation.

It is a very freeing experience, but it is that because it is a very lonely experience.   When you get beyond the expectations and pressures that other people impose on you, you can hear yourself think, can open to your own feelings.   Alone is a kind of freedom at a kind of cost.

When you feel trapped and tormented by the presumptions placed on you, you need to be able to escape to touch your own desire, to feel your own heart beat.

A little desolation is always a good thing.   It is good to be forced to be with yourself, important to know who you are beyond the roles you play in society.

Too much desolation, though, can be a very, very hard thing, says someone writing under the banner “the loneliness of a long lost tranny” since 2005.  We are social animals and we need each other, need someone to serve, someone to love, someone to see our own reflection in.

“Why should I try to explain to my counsellor the desolation I experience as a transwoman when I know that she won’t understand it?” someone said to me last night.  “It’s just not worth the effort.”    Comprehending people who felt the need to leave the system of desire, pressure and rewards is usually impossible for those who have learned to accept it as their natural environment.    They cannot imagine what it is like to be beyond convention.

Je suis désolé.   A simple statement made in a language that most people just won’t understand.

In a land of desolation, you learn to scale back your expectations.   You let go of expectations and learn to survive on scarce resources.   Your body and mind learn to live on less, to not dream of richness but to scrape by on what is at hand.   You adapt to the terrain, living with less.

How much desolation can one person tolerate?   Clearly, we each have our own limits, and some of us go farther and deeper in than others.   There are gifts to be had in the wilderness, treasures found where you stumble, rewards from the spirit quest.  You are completely transformed and yet the same person you have always been after you push yourself beyond the limits of convention.

Too far away, though, and the return becomes very precarious.  You have changed too much, holding too much difference to pack it away and return to a society that doesn’t want what you found, for if it did, it would already have it.

For those of us who felt the need to go off the grid, to enter the desolation, the thought of reentering social convention can be terrifying, which is incomprehensible to people who have stayed in the spin.   We left, though, because we felt pushed, knowing that the costs of keeping up appearances was just too much, because the conventional prejudices and assumed walls ended up running through our heart.

We didn’t enter the desolation lightly, often keeping up a façade of normativity even as our hearts felt the separation.  Those defences we built to keep our soul away from the battering and cuts of social demands were strong and desperate, even if we ended up still scarred, growing twisted and tropic in the darkness.  Humans, well, we need light, space and nourishment to grow healthy, not closets.

To return from the desolation, we need to again engage all those things that pushed is out in the first place.  To do that after deliberately losing the callouses and habits that form a buffer for everyday people in society often seems like an impossible task.  How do we again build the reactions and defences that social pressures take for granted?   Can we really be transformed enough so that we see things and people see us anew?

There is a reason that desolate is such a powerful idea to people, that the noton of being in a bleak and dismal emptiness without the people that make us feel welcome and sustain us is so strong.  We don’t want to feel abandoned by friends or by hope, to be beyond comforting; incapable of being consoled.

There is a reason why transpeople walk away from society, even at the cost of being barren or laid waste; devastated.    We have to go out into that desolation.

Some of us, though, never find the way back.

We are desolated.

Suppression

There has been lots of chat about clinical depression in the last few days since Robin Williams chose to end his life.

Some experts say that suicide is always a shock and a surprise to other people, that people can’t imagine that anyone would choose to die rather than face another day.

Suicide is not a shock to me.   Often, I am more baffled by people who don’t choose to die.

I started writing suicide notes when I was in my teens.  They were a way to explore my relationship to life.   Where was I in pain or torment?   What did I want to stop and what did I want to hold on to?

I have never, ever, not once, attempted suicide, unless you consider drinking innumerable half-gallon mugs of Coca-Cola suicidal.  I know it had a long term cost.  Kurt Vonnegut wrote that he was “committing classy suicide by Pall Mall [cigarettes]” and that was something I understood, though my own coke problem was brown and sticky.

Death and rebirth is vital to a shaman, to a healer.   We need to walk into hell to move through it, need to let old patterns and understandings die to create new ground for new birth.    There is no transperson who has not dreamed of rebirth, but the problem of death before that is very challenging.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.  Unless you let things pass away, embracing loss, you can never let new bloom, never embrace transformation.

This attitude has gotten me into trouble with therapists, who have accused me of encouraging suicidal ideation in their patients.

Death is always a close thing for transpeople.   We dance with it all the time in our quest for rebirth beyond oppression and pain.

I read a narrative from a transwoman last night who was explaining her choice to attenuate her life, to cut herself back in the world.   Because she can never be female, she believes womanhood is outside her grasp, which leaves her as a man with fetishes like autogynephilia.

She now lives what she considers a hermetic life, though with no obvious spiritual practice.    In contrast to people in the world who indulge their own egos, she feels virtuous and appropriate cutting herself back.

This attenuation is so very common with people whose nature is stigmatized and shunned by society.   We cannot let who we are be visible, or we will be be called a liar, so we bury it away, trying to kill it off.   “How old were you when you found out that you had to die?

I call this phenomenon induced or selective depression.

You can just call it suppression.   We create our own depression by suppressing our nature, disconnecting from a world where we can neither be ourselves or be who others expect us to be.  We attenuate ourselves more and more until there isn’t enough of us left to engage the big, challenging, demanding world.

Encouraging transpeople to be bold and confident in showing themselves in the world is the only way I know to face this threat, so I do that all the time to any suffering transperson I see.   I encourage them to face death to claim rebirth, try to show them the possibilities that they have been so deliberately estranged from.

A therapist is someone who sees something in us that we do not yet see in ourselves, and often that is the possibility of becoming beautiful beyond our current pain.

That encouragement is very, very difficult for me to find.  Often, I have to try and do it for myself, but that is far from the most credible process.   It is important to find someone who can share your dream, someone who can carry it forward when you are too weak or too hurting to do that.   A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you forget the words.

I instantly understood Mr. Williams choice to end the game.   I do wish he had been able to find enough to get through his dark night and have a rebirth, but at sixty two years old and with the weight of all those years and expectations on him, he must have found it too challenging.   How can he let what was weighing him down die and find rebirth?   How could he find new ways to be intense and fresh in the world?   There comes a moment, and we just know it is time to go.

Personally, I am being challenged to move beyond my own suppression by the demands of my family, the demands of being in the world.   Rather than understanding my position, though, they just expect me to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, using the old tricks I used to man up and do the work required.

That feels like an enormous burden to me.  I can neither go backwards to meet their expectations, nor can they go forward to support a new bloom.

Breaking my own suppression on demand, even as the tools that might help me break it are removed — access to a vehicle is eliminated, for example — feels like too much of an ask.   It is a chicken and egg problem; which comes first, the rebirth of energy or the energy needed to have the tools and attitude I need for rebirth?

Induced or selective depression — suppression — is something every transperson has had to face.  I have understood it since I was 19 and a young counsellor told me that I appeared to be depressed, but didn’t fit all the diagnostic criteria.  I wasn’t clinically depressed, but clinical suppression isn’t something that is in the DSM.

Rather, suppression is just in the hearts of every transperson who plays small to squeeze themselves through a world where trans is just too freaky to engage.

Just Got Be Strong

When I was taking care of my parents, especially the last eighteen months, I was very much running on batteries.   I kept needing more power than I was getting, kept pushing myself farther and farther.   People would tell me that I had to take time for myself, but I would just look at them kindly, knowing that they had my best in mind but also knowing that there was no time for me.

In the end, that had a huge cost, of course, because my efforts were not specially rewarded as my mother wished.  Instead, everyone got treated the same, no matter how problematic they were, as promises made to me were simply washed away by other people’s choices.

How did I keep digging deeper than anyone expected I could, deeper than they could imagine themselves digging?

I was watching a UK TV show where the wife of an Afghanistan war veteran who came home with PTSD and an artificial leg explained how she did it.  “You got just be strong,” she said.

I know how I was strong, how I ran beyond fumes, how I pulled out what seemed impossible or super human.   I did it through service.

When things were tough, I gave more to others.   I went beyond any expectations, not for myself, but instead for the people I cared for.   There was a family to be taken care of, so, like any mother, I scraped up every bit of energy I had and gave it to them.

For me, like for so many, service and love are tightly coupled.  They mean the same thing, are the same energy, come from the same place.

Now, twenty months after my parents passed, there are demands that I dig deep and do more than I feel capable of.   I have spent the last year and 2/3 attenuating myself, pulling back, playing small, living in the shadow of a family that are focused on their own challenges and left me to scrape by with mine.  I didn’t have a functioning kitchen sink for seven months of that time, for example.

I “just got be strong,” going above and beyond to do what feels like it will just crush me.

This time, though, the batteries that I used to get me through — love & service — are just flat.  They are gone, vanished, vamoosed, empty.

My service to my parents was based in absolute focus.  I knew what I needed to do — give them one more good day — and did everything in my power to do that.

I have no focus now.   I don’t see any way out and up, no clear path.

This was one of the things that Andy Rooney used to grumble about, one of the million things, missing the shared and common focus that brought the people around him and the country together in WWII.  He missed those days when the requirement was clear, when the service required duty over doubt and you could just do your part to help the cause.

I know that in the past I have been able to go beyond and do what is required.

I also know that now I just don’t have the focus to muster the wherewithal to do what needs to be done.   I can’t simply man up and be the kid that needs to take care of their parents, whatever the sacrifices are that need to be made.

It is, without doubt, the emotional component of doing the work that is crushing me.

And it is, without doubt, the emotional component of facing the world as an aging transwoman that people have the most trouble engaging and supporting.   It is a lonely and isolated place.

I know that I am an intense person.   That is just one of my blessings and is one of my curses.   It let me deliver a quality of life to my parents, a trusting service, that gave them many more good days in their life, even as it challenges me to move beyond my own hurt to blossom again.

To re-enter the world I got just be strong.

But without focus or the call to service, that feels beyond me tonight.

Giving Voice

“Can you really just tell a story and create images inside of other people’s heads?”  I asked

“Oh, yes.  It’s easier than you think,” said the old man with the television valise.

It was a strange moment my dreams from last night.

That was followed up by an article in the New York Times about Apple’s in-house training programme where they specialize in teaching Apple style.   I have never been a huge fan of Apple because they often seem to venerate style over substance, but the elemental Jobsian lesson that style is a powerful tool to build a following.  Simplification does creates an elegance that makes it easy and desirable to brand yourself with those products, even if is always at least a bit reductionist, creating over-simplified and limited solutions.

I am very much aware that the biggest challenge for people in connecting with me is the fact that they see my work as abstruse, over-complicated, too twisty and just plain baffling.  I know that Janet Mock isn’t wrong when she conveys the wisdom of herself and her editor: to communicate with people about transgender issues, you need to be at third grade level.

This is why I have never, ever tried to cultivate an audience for this blog.    It is a place where I speak at my level, work to explain myself as clearly and fully as I can, not a place where I try and make my concepts and knowledge easily accessible to a broad audience.

To get what I need, though, to make a dent in the world, to gain people who want to follow me, that is what I need to do.   I need a different voice that tells compelling stories people want to hear more of, a voice that builds visions of a different world in people’s imaginations, one where they see themselves and their possibilities in a different way.

I know that in one-to-one conversations with people, my language is quite different from what I use on this blog.   I am looser, funnier, punctuating with characters, voices and stories, reflecting back what I hear in a way that lets people hear what they are saying in a whole different context.   I take tangents, moving the conversation around the point at hand so we can come back to it from another direction, looking at it from an new and enlightening angle.

My approach is all about meeting the other person where they are, rather than trying to express where I am.  I’m really good at this, as you have to be to be primary caretaker for people with Asbergers all your life.  When I focus attention on other people, they feel seen, heard and valued, feel cared for even as I ask just the wrong question that sheds light on dark spots of their understanding of themselves.   And I do all this with a sly wit that the universe uses on me, humour takes the sting out of a-ha! moments.

That approach doesn’t work well in writing, though.   Marianne Williamson was first known for her presentations on ACIM, which were followed by a Q & A session.  One of these was even mocked in Sex And The City.   A publisher wanted her to create a book, but she told him she had no material.  He had the perfect solution: just transcribe her presentations!   Great idea, but when the verbal play and process was reduced to text, all the life went out of it.   Devoid of her voice, nothing hung together, all the twists and backtracks and asides shredding into insensibility.

Words that seem like three dollar clunkers in writing, arcane, erudite and heavy, become part of my poetry in speech, their meaning evident and their sound continuing the flow.    People who know my voice can hear it in my writing, but in my experience, few who just read my writing can imagine how playful and personal my voice is.   My text comes alive when voice is added.

Target had the Samson Q2U recording pack for $59 in store, and when I saw it marked down 30% to $42, I thought about it.   On the visit when the price had dropped to $18, though, 70% off, I knew it was meant for me, so I brought it home.  It’s basically a high quality USB and XLR microphone, heavy metal that feels like an old and comfortable Shure, bundled with accessories.

Like any transwoman, I have always felt unsure about my voice as a woman.  i don’t sound like what I want to sound like; I just don’t have the vocal hardware for that.  Heck, some transwomen have even had surgery to raise their voices.

What I do have, though, is the effusive comments of two women judges at my first big out just two months after my parents died where I ended up presenting as a woman.    They loved, loved, loved my voice on the PA system.  Astounding.

It is so very, very hard to hear yourself as others hear you.   For most people, the first time they heard their own voice on tape, they often recoil.   Voice is performance, and all the nuances of that performance are often not considered.

I remember telling one of my staff that one way she could be more effective was to use her voice more strongly in meetings, as it is the one of the few tools we have.

“But I can’t sound like you!” she said.

“Nor would I want you to,” I agreed.  “But you can listen to women whose voices you admire, maybe broadcasters, and learn from how they use their voice to communicate, to cajole, to convince, to connect.”

In the internet world of podcasts and videos, being effective with your voice is even more important.    I listen to authors not primarily to hear their content, but to hear how they use their voice.   I watch television shows to observe women expressing themselves in the world.

When I went to the transgender voice training introduction at St. Rose, Jack Pickering and I chatted.  “I tend to use voice to talk about tone production,” he told me, “but you use voice as expressing meaning in the world.”

As a kid I used to do voice skits on the school PA system, much like the later “radio plays” another boss commented on.  Then, though had a “thousand voices” as Faria the drama teacher said,  I had trouble staying centred on one, instead getting drawn into the voices around me, shifting quickly.

“You have spoken for your mother.  You have spoken for me.   Now, speak for yourself,” as my father told me many times from the delirium of what was to be his death bed.

Can I really just tell a story and create images in people’s heads?   Do I have the style to carry my substance, to draw people into a new vision?  Can I stay in my own confident and feminine voice, no matter how easy it would be to just give people a voice they expect?

Can my voice be heard and valued in the world?

Emotions Mine

“I was worried about mine fields,” says my sister, explaining why she hasn’t kept me informed about estate issues over the last year and a half even as she has informed my brother.

She wanted to encourage me to speak, but when I started to share my experience, she teared up, was obviously in distress.

“Don’t worry about this,” she told me.  “It’s about me.  I know that I feel challenged and ashamed when I hear how you experienced my actions towards you, and that’s my stuff.”

One minute it’s her stuff, but the minute before it was about my instability, my being a “minefield.”   Apparently, the mines I risk detonating are ones that are already inside of other people, but when they go off, well, it must be my fault.

One of the scariest images in movies is when a character speaks in a voice that doesn’t match what we would expect from them.   In “The Exorcist,” when Linda Blair emits the voice of a demon, for example, we are scared.

It’s very strange when a rough and tough cowboy acts like a girly girl, to give another example, strange and oddly terrifying.

When someone male bodied has feminine emotions, well, that can easily freak other people out.

I was taught this lesson early.   And I was taught what I had to do when I felt upset or emotional.

It was my job to man up.   I was the one who had to eat their own emotions, to keep them in check, to make them appear to go away.

If I didn’t do that, if I let the “wrong” emotions slip, then the way others reacted to me was my fault, my problem, my responsibility.       If a mine went off inside of them because I showed some dissonance that freaked them out, well then I was to blame.

One of the key lessons of girlhood is learning how to deal with your emotions.  When do you need to hide them, when do you need to share them, when do you need to let them out and vent, when do you need to release them before they blow?

These aren’t the lessons we teach boys.   To man up they need to learn to wall off their emotions, to be tough and stoic, to keep them down and always away from view.   Women are allowed to be emotional, but men are expected to be stable and frozen.

For transpeople raised as boys this raises a whole set of challenges, because without being trained from an early age how to manage emotions, how can we learn the techniques required while not looking like Katie Ka-Boom, an emotional adolescent girl?

It’s just easier to stay manned up, even if that does keep our own feminine hearts locked away in the cold, cold place.

But it is not easier to become a good, integrated and actualized human being if you don’t learn to actually feel and process your emotions.   It is impossible to be empathetic to others if you can’t be empathetic to yourself, impossible to be vulnerable and open enough to connect with others if you are not open with yourself, impossible to learn to drop your defences if you haven’t unwired your emotional triggers.

For transpeople with a feminine heart, one of the deepest and most overwhelming emotions will always be the pain of having their heart denied and abused in the process of people trying to teach us how to man-up. Everybody takes the social pressure of the compulsory gender system, but, in my experience, few people can understand how much that pressure torments, tears and breaks transpeople.

My sister really wants to be there for me, really knows how much she fails me, but she also knows that she has never had to do the kind of work I have had to do to both own my own emotions and keep them under control in the world.

She saw me be manipulative and defended, shaped by my mother’s emotional acting our.   She was a bully, but only to express how desperately frustrated and unhappy she was, how much she felt disconnected from other people.   “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” goes the old saw, but our mother was never happy and she needed people around her to experience her pain.

I tried to teach my sister how to engage our mother in conflict, to stand up for herself, but to her, that just added to the way she was torn.

There were times I did get angry, but because of my body, those were seen as the actions of a testosterone fuelled rageaholic rather than responses to the distress of a feminine heart trapped in the gendered expectations imposed on a male bodied teenager.

“You really, really worked to connect with me, to reach out and rebuild bridges,” my sister told me yesterday.  “I really was defended from you, but you spent years and years coming back and teaching me that it was safe and kind to open to you.”

“I was really just struggling to become an open and whole human being, walking through my emotional pain and dismantling my own walls,” I told her.   “It wasn’t about you.   Healing my relationship with you was just part of my process.”

I had to excavate my own emotions from under all those layers of pain, struggling to become to be safe space for myself (1994), and that made me safe space for others.  That work was very hard and very costly, so the vast majority of people, especially those who didn’t have to go through recovery never do it.

Their emotional territory is still riddled with unmapped and unmanaged minefields.   And many of those mines are triggered when someone they perceive as male bodied and big expresses emotion.

Men have to learn to defuse emotion, to not create conflict.   The classic example from Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” is of two boys she taped in a conversation she initially dismissed as not intimate because of their body language.   They didn’t look each other in the eye, instead sitting on the oblique to each other.   When she listened to the content, though, it was potent and vulnerable.

Tannen’s take away from this was that men need to learn not to let emotions flare into conflict, because conflict can be so potent and destructive, while women learn to go right into emotion, because emotions can be a bonding and effective force.  This understanding was the root of my “When gender shifting, how do you power shift question?” at the Southern Comfort Conference 1994, a question that I still struggle with

I know that people don’t see an objective form of me, rather they see me as facets that reflect back at distinct angles.   When another facet appears, I appear to shape-shift, which can often make my communication appear more dissonant to them, dropping walls that they haven’t yet seen as permeable and connective in their own life.

When that happens, mines can go off and it is easiest to blame me for those explosions, especially if you haven’t, as my sister has had to face, come to grips with the fact that your experiences and emotions are all about you, are inside of you, and not about what you feel triggered you.

My long and rich memory is my blessing and it is my curse.  My sister knows how hard it is for her to be there for me, understands why I can’t just put my emotional weight on other people.   Their mines can detonate at any time, making them unsafe, and usually leaving them blaming me for that explosion.

Why do people fear and hate transpeople?   The answer is simple: we make visible emotions and challenges that upset them, emotions and challenges that they feel should stay submerged in the world.   By making us invisible or stigmatized, they avoid having to do their own work around the pain of being forced into a system of compulsory gender pressure to conform.

I have had to learn to stay centred and gracious, keeping my own emotions in check, because I know just how much any sudden movement from me can trigger a mine in the room and how the shrapnel can be targeted at me.   I am left being pedantic rather than creative, separate from the flow of the group..

When your life is shaped by the obligation to negotiate minefields even as you know that those mines are in the emotions of others and far beyond your direct control life is hard.

When people choose not to engage you, not to enter your world, not to open empathy for you, choose to avoid your emotions because they can feel their own unhealed bits being stimulated, it becomes very hard to feel safe and cared for and loved in the world.   It can easily make you feel long lost and profoundly lonely.

It certainly doesn’t make you feel loose, validated and playful.   It makes it very hard to bet on tomorrow, hard to have vision of how your life could possibly be better.

Taking my thoughts and emotions and turning them into dried lumps of writing that most people find not worthy of deep engagement may be a very effective process for self-understanding, but it certainly isn’t affirming or emotionally satisfying.   I know that, like all my sharing, my text is more going to bring up people’s own stuff than it communicates mine.

My emotions are mine, but my experience is that your emotion are mines.

Ka-Boom.

Beyond Objective

If you see the highest calling of a scientist to drive out ignorance and fallacy, replacing them with a sure and consistent view of the phenomena of the world, then why wouldn’t you see your calling to be ridding humans of any belief system that you cannot define as objectively evidence based?

A world where understanding is subjective, driven by deep seated belief systems, can seem terrifying to someone whose values are staked on a commitment to objective and rational view of what is real.   People are often motivated to rail against what they fear, so fearing a world of subjective views that do not align with what you consider to be objective reality is a very human response.

I understand how comforting it can be to believe that the world is understandable on a logical, categorized and rational level.    That belief can make us feel that we, as humans, have the power to comprehend and even control our world, snatching it from the wild and scary unknown and making the world subject to our own mental power.   Understanding the world completely would allow us to drive out superstition and fear, and more than that, it would give is the power to silence those who challenge us with pure and crystalline facts.

A world without gods should be a world that man can conquer and own, a world where it is the smart who rise to power, not those who can marshal emotion through potent stories.   A world without gods is a world where the human brain is god, extending understanding to comprehend a complex but objectively knowable world.

There is only one big problem with this model, this calling, this worldview.

The human brain has always been and will always be based in the subjective.   Objectivity is only something we struggle to create in our mind, not something that is naturally part of it.

This starts with perception, the fact that every human experiences the world in our own way.

It continues with the ways we can communicate that perception, which are limited by the shared cultural references we have learned.   There is a reason that scientists have to be trained, because until we are indoctrinated in the shared language and conventions of the discipline, we cannot participate in the shared quest for what we call objective knowledge.

I love the struggle to attain some level of objectivity, to create some shared concepts and constructs that we can agree on.   I know this to be a good thing, so I am always looking to what others share to help me clarify my own understanding of our common world.   When I get to experience the perceptions and ideas that others share, I get to see my own experiences in a new way, teasing out the threads of connection between us.

I have no illusion, though, that somehow, if I can just drive out the irrationality of deep seated and atavistic beliefs I can achieve some kind of perfect rationality, some kind of crystalline objectivity which will erase all the mysteries and magic of the universe.

I am human and I have a human mind, brain and emotion and experience all bound up into a bundle called me.    My own creation myth isn’t that I am just a package of ultimately comprehensible genes, rather that I also contain some kind of spark, some kind of acorn that seeded my spirit, which still is within me.    Sure, I have worked very hard to be rational and smart, looking for what is objectively knowable, but that doesn’t stop my experience of the world from being very subjective, driven by what I have come to call my feminine heart.

i know that in many circles, this belief in the unknowable, the spiritual, in the godhead is very, very unfashionable.    I believe it is unfashionable and loudly rejected with screens full of attempts at logical argument because the notion that anything in the universe, anything is the human experience is beyond logical comprehension is just plain terrifying to many people.    These people need to hold onto their own tenet that the universe is understandable and they do that by rejecting anything that cannot be quantified by what they find to be valid evidence.

“If we can’t agree on it, it doesn’t exist,” they want to tell us, “so you have no standing to hold onto it, no matter how much you feel it informs or enlightens your experience of the world.”

The history of science is the history of conflict, men fighting for the truth that they call objective against others who fight for their own objective truth.   Over time, common understandings have been built, and the result of that is a much broader and more useful set of shared knowledge of how the world works and how humans can use and control that function.

I’m really please this has happened, and I hope it continues to happen.

The belief, though, that because that process has gotten us this far in shared understanding it can somehow be used to quantify everything in the world, well, we aren’t there yet.  Sure, we have moved beyond mythic, folkloric understandings of the way the world works — floods aren’t directly caused by God crying, for example — but we have not moved to the point where symbolic stories are still needed to carry the understandings of our own subjective human experience and cultural knowledge.

I am in awe of the power of stories.    I understand the power of belief.

The belief that only objective understandings can save us from the fear of the human spirit, though, seems to me to be more a wish than a fact.   It is the vain hope of people who want to keep the truth of the subjective at bay, rejecting subjective reality and substituting their own  reality, one branded as pure, holy, non-suspect and objective.

just because you use scientific buzz words to explain yourself does not make your explanations scientific or even objective.

We are human.    The quest for objective, shared understanding is a useful tool in moving the culture forward and I delight in both the process and the rewards it has brought us.

I just think that believing that quest should drive out subjective and potent understanding is a form of wishful voodoo.

Bet On Tomorrow

The essential human behaviour, the one that lead us away from the trees, the one that lead us to populate the world, the one that lead us to build a rich and complex culture full of art and architecture, the one that got us to the moon and spread computers across the world, is very, very simple.

We bet on tomorrow.   We took our resources — our capital and our smarts — and invested it in tomorrow.   We believed that tomorrow could be better, that tomorrow would be better, and we put what we had on the line to make that happen.

We borrowed to build buildings we couldn’t afford today, for example, betting that they could help make our life better enough to more than pay for themselves.

We start businesses, betting that we can build custom by delivering what people need and are willing to pay for.

We even have children, understanding that no matter the enormous cost of raising them, they are the best we can do to create a better tomorrow, betting that giving them the gifts our parents gave us will be very rewarding.

In the most challenging times we face as humans, the only thing that can get us through is betting that if we spend the resources that we have in our pocket today, tomorrow will better.     An investment is just a bet we believe we can help along using our smarts and our sweat.

I see people bet on tomorrow all the time.   TBB is does all she can for her children, loves learning to fly and building a plane, is working hard to create a new structure that will help her and her staff do their jobs better and more effectively in the future.    She knows that if she uses her resources the best she can today that she will get benefits from that effort in the future, maybe direct benefits or maybe just lessons in that point the way to better choices.

TBB bets on the future.   “It was hard to spend over $3000 for the first visit to Electrology 3000, knowing that even that would only clear up to 40% of my facial hair, that I would still have to spend 60% more to finish,” she told me.   “But when I look back on it now, it was a the best investment in my future.”

It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one
than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.
— Whitney Young, Jr.

It is better to bet on the future, because if you don’t, you can’t be ready to reap the rewards that are possible there.

The traditions of my family don’t include betting on tomorrow.   My mother’s greatest gift to her children was her failure cycle: want something, fail to achieve it, feel sorry for yourself, become incapacitated, want something, fail to achieve it, feel sorry for yourself. . .  The cycle went on through her whole life, resisting change by being upset that other people never made her happy.

When I was eighteen an older friend told me that I had to break out and break away from the failure cycle.  “Go across country,” he suggested, “trusting that you are smart and capable and attractive, making successes as you go.  Learn to believe in the possibility of tomorrow rather than just creating bigger and bigger failures that keep the expectation of failure growing.”

All those decades ago, he told me that I had to learn to bet on tomorrow, had to learn to make choices that would open possibilities for growth and success rather than just waste my life.

Education is what we get when we don’t get what we want.   My success has been in extracting the lessons of a broken life, learning from experience in a way that makes me more clear about context and directions.   It’s not a bad thing to have a conceptual understanding.

But what I still haven’t mastered is something that is so simple, so integrated into the human spirit that people can’t imagine how to share it.     I haven’t learned to bet on tomorrow, haven’t learned how to believe that better is possible if you spend what you have today.  My practical belief is very limited, very fragile.

I can give you a list of factors why that happened; certainly, being the long lost child of Asbergers parents and facing massive social abuse around gender expression taught me to play small, to attenuate myself in the world.   Add to that the demands of being concierge to dying parents, and I come to this from a very authentic and very scarring place.

Still, I have learned from scarcity, learned how to hoard and modulate.  This doesn’t stop me from encouraging others to commit, to make choices to put themselves out there, to bet on tomorrow, but it does mean that I have never built a good support system that can break through and convince me to do the same thing.

I need to believe that my old experiences are not the only predictors of my future, need to believe that better is possible, need to make the leap to bet on tomorrow.

Betting on tomorrow is the only way humans ever have figured out to make the future better, to create something new and valuable.   It is the essential human behaviour, the one that let us build incredible things and cultures.

And betting on tomorrow is the only way for me to create new and better, too.

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One Off, One Of

Every human on earth is a unique individual, each made of the same fundamental stuff but with their own essential character.

To be trans in this culture is to walk away from the gender expectations assigned on you by dint of your reproductive biology.   Transpeople say that they aren’t defined by their genitals, rather they are defined by their heart and the choices that they make.

Every transperson knows that they are trans.    The experience of being stigmatized into hiding your own nature, being shamed in an attempt to force you to make normative choices or pay by being ostracized is carved into our understanding of the world.   We know that many want to define birth sex as definitive, as a real way to separate people.

To express transgender in the world is to be willing to be your own unique self in the face of massive social pressure.   We know that we are standing as an individual, standing queer.

What we don’t want, though, what nobody wants, is to feel isolated, disconnected and unsafe because we are seen as falling into the no-man’s/no-woman’s land between the genders.

We know we are trans, sure.   But we also know that on some deep and true level, we are one of the gang, just another human.

For feminine hearted people who were born with a male body, who went through puberty as a male, maybe the most profound experience of our childhood is never being able to just be one of the girls.    It’s awful difficult to be confident and gracious walking as a woman in the world if you were forcibly denied your own girlhood.

Women teach other women how to be women.  That’s how gender always works, a collective and shared experience passed from mother to daughter, from girlfriend to girlfriend.   We learn the power of our expression by expressing it, learn how to master that power by sharing our experiences with other women, seeing ourselves through their eyes, passing techniques back and forth, getting feedback on how we can be seen more potently in the world.

TBB knows how to be an appropriate transperson in the workplace.   She even has the delight of having a trans elder, another transperson who had the same rank in the same organization, now retired, to share dinner with.

She knows how to play safe, to not assume that people see her as one gender or the other, just that they see her as a professional.

This week, though, she went to dinner at a married friend’s house, and another woman, a lesbian,came by to talk about appropriate clothing for her corporate assignment.   All of a sudden, they were talking clothes and presentation and being seen as a mature woman in the world, sharing tips, and all of a sudden, TBB knew she was included as one of the gals.   She was inside the giggle.

The story was so powerful, so rare, so delightful, that she wanted to share it with me, wanted to relive that moment, wanted to hold that light once again.

ShamanGal and a workmate were waiting for one of the guys to deliver some data when they started talking clothes.   Her co-worker’s blouse was great, but how did she wear a bra with it?   When a demonstration was offered, the guy turned to look, but her co-worker said “Hay!  Girls only!”

The guy, though, feels the need to keep ShamanGal in the guy category, needing to make sure that other co-workers who treat SG as a woman know that she is trans.   The problem for him, though, is that they know, but they still see her as a woman.   They value her choices and expression over whatever shape her birth genitals happened to be.  He, well, he can’t do that yet, maybe because he needs to remind himself not to be attracted to SG’s long, slim legs in high heels.

More and more, ShamanGal is trusting that women see her as one of the girls.   Being young and fine boned, that’s easier for her than for some of us, but she still struggles with it, knowing that experience of seeing her gender shift in someone’s eyes and feeling them go cold and scary.

We know the deal.  Being trans means being beyond gender, being hung out by ourselves, being at risk.  This has been well explained to each of us, many, many, many times.

I’m cool just being Callan.   I know that I will always be trans, whatever my expression.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t need, need to be one of the gang, need to get the affirmation and acknowledgement that can only come from others who share our hearts and share our world.

It doesn’t mean I don’t both crave and need the kind of validation and feedback that helps me be more confident and powerful in the world, helps me be a more polished and graceful feminine hearted person in the world.

There is connection and joy in being seen and valued for who we are inside, beyond convention and social demands.    There is growth and beauty being inside the shared giggle, the one women raised as girls take for granted.   It’s very hard to let go of the old without being assured that the new can be more authentic and kindred.

We each need a shared identity, an affirming space, a community.   Some get that through the device of identity politics, defining a group by political beliefs, by knowing who they are in opposition to; knowing their oppressors and enemies.   This never worked for me, as I am a bit too damn queer.

That moment, though, when you feel like you are seen, respected and valued, understood and affirmed, when you are safe, though, that feels great.

I know that I need it.

Unpredictable

Thank you.. I wanted to tell you I needed to imagine to myself what you might do with regards to my dad when he was getting a bit upset when things got overwhelming and I was so overwhelmed too..
It helped.. To go onto a different mode for him as helper.. To put that face on.. Normally I have been fortunate to be able to be pretty much myself with him since my mother died.. But this week that wasn't working for him.. And therefore not for me either.. So I told him we had both forgotten to go with the flow.. He laughed..
(From my sister's friend)

How do you gain the trust of people who have limited Theory of Mind (ToM)?

You have to become predictable.

This is the call of the caregiver, taking care of children or seniors or anyone else who is facing life challenges that consume them.  Their life is about them, so your job is to get out of the way when you are being nurse or mom or manager.

I call this Concierge Mode.  I had a style that worked, not a boring style or one without personal flair, but one that was always focused on serving, be that entertaining or comforting.

My sister still loves it when I take care of her.  It feels safe and comfortable, because I am there for her in a predictable way.    She knows how much my parents came to trust me with their very lives and she knows how much of myself I had to put on hold to take that responsibility.

That’s something her friend is having trouble doing with her aging father, even if she did it with her students.   And its something that my sister has not mastered, leaving me to be slammed and jarred by her breaches of my trust.

My role for the past year and a half has been being compliant and and unchallenging to her, attenuating my life to keep her comfortable and functional.   She gives very little indication that she understands what is going on inside me.

I know how to be consistent and predictable, an iceberg, as a former partner said; solid and safe, even though I do tend to move around a bit.

To claim myself back, though, I need to be able to break out of that predictability and become new.

To be a woman is to make the choices of a woman.   My training and habit, though, is to make the choices of a gender-neutral caregiver who modulates themselves to be predictable for others.

To continue to be as reasonable and predictable as the persona I developed to care for others is to lock myself in the same box that has kept me struggling for decades.

Credibility in world comes when your choices match your assertions.    That’s what people read as authentic, some essential truth that runs through your entire presentation.

I cannot both make the choices of a predictable, rational, attenuated caregiver and also make the choices of a transwoman claiming her own space in the world.    As I told Ms. Rachelle years ago, I cannot both smash through the walls and also clean up the pieces after to make everyone comfortable.

I’m pleased that my sister’s friend learned some technique from me that helps her and her father deal with the medical challenges we face as we get older.   I’m happy that I mastered that technique to give my own parents a large number of good days.

Being predictable, rational and attenuated, though, is a strait jacket that I know how to manage but that doesn’t let my heart show itself and expand.

One of the biggest cliches I grew up with is that transpeople are just self-indulgent, following their own Eros, unpredictable and irrational.    I took that on board, working hard to use my own discipline, my aesthetic denial to become solid and predictable, even as my hidden heart wanted to wink, giggle and dance.

In the end, I suspect that I, like everyone else you will ever meet, am just human.

My experience, though, is that people want something other than that from me, something predictable.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

And those choices aren’t always predictable, even to her.

Belief As Brand

Special-K used to be just a crisped rice & wheat cereal.  Just a single product, simple.

Today, though, Special-K is a brand.  It started with more flavours of cereal, then extended to nutrition bars and pastry crisps, to meal replacement shakes and protein water, to crackers and crisps.

Marketers figured out that once customers knew what a brand stood for — what the belief structures behind it were — that other products that embodied those beliefs could easily come under the umbrella, quickly signalling their own values by wearing the known brand.

If a brand is a set of beliefs and values, quickly communicated, that consumers sign up for when they purchase a product.   This is why consumers end up owning brands; products that they decide well represent the values they think the brand means succeed, products that don’t, fail, as the developers of New Coke found.   Coke turned out to be much more about traditional values than about a flavour profile that worked better with HFCS.

Since we now live in a world of brands and branding, there are many, many people who believe that individuals need to be able to brand themselves to create success, using all the marketing strategies of positioning and value statements, shaping the belief structure and then continuing to develop the product — the person — to more fully and effectively meet those branding beliefs.

In this world, we don’t reinvent ourselves, we rebrand ourselves, defining our beliefs and values in a new way, then reformulating who we are to deliver on that label.

The big problem with branding, though, is that it is nowhere near as easy as it seems.   Every product in the dollar store has some kind of branding slapped onto the package, often created like the exercises in packaging assigned to art students.   How hard can it be, many people think, to brand a product or to brand themselves?   It’s just a bit of bullshit, right?

Dollar Tree knows that it isn’t that simple.  They buy up old, out-of-use brands to apply to their products, for example buying the Breck brand for in-house hair and baby products.   Why do they think it is worth the money to buy brands rather than just have interns make them up out of thin air?

It turns out that we respond to brands with depth and history.   We want to have brands that resonate, that for some reason, either past remembering or depth of knowledge, make us feel like there is more than just a label to the brand.

Great brands are great brands because they have substance, because they are not just a paper thin veneer popped on a generic product.   Great brands come out of great products with great histories because the values and the beliefs have clarified and made rich by the process of focusing on quality.    As much as Google creates the future, its roots of a few guys in a garage building an elegant and useful product still live on in its every successful venture.

Deciding what you should believe, what others want to hear, can only create a tinny pitch until you have the texture and tone that offers credibility.  That depth can only come from the real experience and traditions of creating mastery, not from making the label prettier.

You can’t just create a brand and then grow into it, but the process of defining your brand by assessing what you have to offer and what you value can help sharpen your own communication and your own choices.    The process of developing and defining a brand makes product choices more crisp and the process of product development makes branding richer and more clear.   They work together.

In many ways, transgender emergence includes the process of rebranding, taking knowledge, truth, values and beliefs that were previously hidden and putting them out front.    Combined with the process of development, shedding non-productive choices and replacing them with choices that more effectively represent and deepen what we offer, this give us a basis for becoming new, for dropping what doesn’t work and mastering that which is more effective and resonant in the world.

For me, it’s time for a rebranding.   I need to take what I believe & value and turn that into new choices, both of clear expression and of decisive action.

Rebranding always comes with resistance, because people are accustomed to the old brand, the brand they know and love, even if that brand has become moribund and is no longer growing in the world.   It even comes with resistance from inside, because we are familiar, comfortable and even fond of the way we have done things before.

To take what we believe, to get that clear and crisp, and then to turn those beliefs into a clear brand that we in turn use to shape our future choices, revealing ourselves as integrated and credible, then iterating what we learn back into strengthening our brand is a very newfangled way of self-development.   It is creation for culture where attention is the most precious commodity and where brand awareness is the drivers of most people’s choices.

The way we express belief today is by developing and consolidating brands.   That branding is not separate from becoming better but is part of the same process.

I need a rebranding, one that supports new choices and beliefs which transcend doubt and facilitate creation.   Happy brand, happy choices, happy me.

Being Belief

Whether you believe that you can, or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.

Henry Ford understood that attitude is at the centre of our ability to achieve.   Doubt depletes motivation, doubt removes that strength of persistence which is at the core of all achievement.    Once you think that it can’t be done, the probability of you doing it falls precipitously, down to around zero.

If you really believe it can be done, you will take the time to analyze why others have failed, why you have failed in attempts to do it, question what could have been done better, then come up with considered, new and innovative approaches that offer more possibilities of achievement.

If you really believe it can be done, you will make the tradeoffs and pay the costs required to achieve, rather than holding back, deciding that you are throwing good money after bad.   It may not be able to be done at a price you can afford after all, but if you believe it cannot be done, then you can never consider what the possible price may be.

I’m pretty clear about what I believe I cannot do.   What, though, do I believe that I can do?

In the end, your choices are shaped by what you believe you can do.

The doubter is wise, the believer is happy, as the old Hungarian proverb goes.

My job in the world has been the doubter.  I doubted for my family, I doubted myself to maintain the status quo. I doubted for my people to explore and communicate the boundaries of the trans experience.

I have chosen doubt for a million good reasons, not least of which is that I am very, very good at it, showing a theological bent from an early age.

I have a birthday coming up, though, one of those rollover birthdays where a digit resets to zero, a birthday that marks me as old.

Maybe it’s it is finally my time to wear purple, to act on my beliefs rather than my doubts, to reach for some kind of unfettered happiness.

It is a joy to find someone who believes in you, but there is a reason that Bobby Morse’s character in “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” sings “I Believe In You” to a mirror.   In the end, you gotta believe in yourself because people tend to reflect your own beliefs rather than to lead them.

Whether you believe that you can, or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.

Can I believe that happiness exists in the world for someone like me, as scarred and battered as I am?   Or do I continue to vest my identity in the really brilliant and useful doubting that has defined so much of my life?

My beliefs have been bounded and constrained by the beliefs of others.   Thought forms gather strength by the number of people who sign on to them, as Rachel Pollack reminds me.

If our beliefs shape our possibilities, how do we own beliefs in the modern world?

That’s a good question for the next post.

Workaround

I did testing and customer service for a long time in the very, very early days of PC software, back when everything was new and raggedy.    I even worked on a Columbia running MS-DOS 1.2, which is why HCF seems goofy to me.

My job in the company was to break new ground, in development, in implementation, in marketing.  I figured things out and taught other people the procedures I created.

Sometimes, to get the results you wanted, you had to take a bit of a circuitous route around limitations, design crocks and bugs.  We called this kind of solution a “workaround.”

I was the master of the workaround, finding ways to do the impossible with ease.

As I listened to Christine Montross’ “Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist’s Encounters with the Mind in Crisis” I realized that my entire life has been a workaround.

The psychological damage I took early in life was real and profound.   I didn’t know how to heal it, even as I was called to transcend it.

What I did figure out, though, was how to work around it.   I created solutions that let me do the work I needed to do, even if they weren’t solutions that found me the peace and connection that I required.   My own ocean of pain and damage didn’t go away, wasn’t drained, but rather it was managed by a huge engineering project, creating cofferdams and overflow canals, sluice gates and drainage basins.

Being able to manage my own flow makes me much more able to survey and model the flows of others, able to see the tides inside that they want to ignore until they are flooded by them.

It’s a great skill to be able to create workarounds.   And when faced by a world that you cannot change, it is a very useful approach.

A life that is only made of workarounds, though, is limiting.   It is a reactive life, where you don’t feel ownership or agency, one where you have no place of comfort or safety.

Because you still hold your difference and pain, people find it enormously simple to project their issues onto you.  Having your own stuff visible rather than having it compartmentalized away brings up their stuff, as if your choices were about them, when, as Greer Lankton said “It’s About Me, Not You.”

The ultimate workaround is in that Morey Amsterdam joke about the fellow who buys the cheap suit.

I understand why I learned, from a very, very early age to master the workaround.  My parents and society wanted me silent and compliant, unchallenging and pleasant.  They demanded that I come into their world, but refused to come into mine.

I understand the workaround.  I just don’t understand the fix.   And I despair of ever finding that which can repair and mend me, choices that will let me be myself in the world, especially since that self is so twisted out of shape from a history of working around having to wear suits that never fit, so away from working around the needs of her own heart to serve others.

I’m happy to share the techniques of the workaround and have that accepted.

I’m happy to share my own flow, too, but somehow, when I show it, people just want a workaround, working around my battered old heart.