I don’t like to be a polarizing force.
I stand for common continuous humanity, for connection and not for separation.
I almost always start my contribution to a conversation by identifying what we hold in common, what we share, where we agree, and then moving on from there, because I know that it is only when you feel heard and respected that you are willing to engage me openly.
This attitude describes the way I learned to take power in the world, honestly, openly and focusing on building from commonality, not by dividing and conquering.
I know this isn’t the way all people take power in the world. Some people love being polarizing, creating a binary us vs them, good vs bad, progressive vs conservative kind of energy. They stand for what they stand for and thrive on opposition, believing that it only proves them right, only makes them more of a crusader for right.
That kind of take it or leave it, my way or the highway power just isn’t for me. I love community building, circular empowerment, coming together.
I also know that gender shift changes the way that we can and should take power in the world. That was my first question at my first gender conference twenty years ago, in 1993, how does power change with gender shift? It has been the focus of much of my understanding since then.
Maybe we need to shift our power between being seen as a man or a woman, who take power in different ways in the world.
Or maybe we need to shift our power to being a visible transperson in the world, learning new ways of trusting taking power, always on a kind of a tippy floor.
My way of taking power in the world has been the way of the guerrilla. I stay invisible and only pop my head up to say what I know needs to be said, to do what needs to be done. I don’t really participate in formal power structures, being the queer that I am, rather I shape and direct them from the shadows, asking just the wrong question at just the wrong time.
I know how to be sly and pinpoint, popping in to deflate earnestness, pomposity and oppression and then fading back again. I come out of nowhere to be funny and insightful, turning the light on, then vanish, my own little magic trick of envisioning.
This mode of power mirrors my own strength, the the strength of doubt, the power of living in the question and not the answer. I come as a searcher, not as an expert, here to work the process alongside of others to create new and effective results. I work to cast light and create new, removing the overblown expectation to find the strengths that lie beneath.
There is, to me anyway, a certain kind of joy in being invisible, because it allows me to speak in the voices that move through me, that Jonathan Winters energy I knew I had before I was five years old. “Radio shows” pop out of my mouth and give a new way of seeing a situation, moving the viewpoint around the room, illuminating the world in a new way.
This is the power of a shape-shifter. One reason I appear smart is because I choose when to speak up, when to become visible, only speaking from my own deep knowledge and not from any need to gain, establish or propagate power. I don’t try to whip it out and show how big it is, in other words.
I love this power of the shadows. I know this power. I am good at this power.
But the rewards of this power are limited. If you stay invisible, people don’t value you, and you spend a lot of time at their mercy.
I have known for decades that my style of power had to change, whatever that means.
I often get queasy at the world “authentic.” It’s not because I don’t think we shouldn’t try the best we can from truth, because clearly I do. I search for truth and true expression all the time.
Many people think that truth is something that can be written down on a piece of paper. “Look at your birth certificate,” they might say. “The truth is all right there. Name, gender, everything.”
To me, truth is something that we can never symbolize all of at one time, because truth is beyond our puny power to capture in a snapshot of symbols. Truth is shimmering, vibrant, scintillating, spiralling, turning and twisting, revealing itself through facets. We are like the blind man and the elephant, all with one piece of the truth, but no one with the hole.
For people who like to believe in the fixed and immutable, this is a very troubling concept. It is, maybe even, a polarizing concept. If we aren’t the only people who follow the one true faith, if others also hold pieces of the truth, then is our truth wrong?
Those who believe in truth as fixed and knowable tend to venerate standing and résumé. They want to believe that if they know who someone is on paper, they know who they are, and anyone who makes claims beyond their résumé is a fraud, a liar, a deceiver.
“Who am I anyway? Am I my résumé? That is a picture of a person I don’t know.” sings Paul in A Chorus Line. (FYI, Paul is the one who worked as a female impersonator.)
I spent years trying to understand the issues around transgender and truth. Was I lying about who I was to express my own understanding of my transgender nature? Is sex and gender immutable and fixed, so that what is on their birth certificate tells you everything you need to know about someone? Is truth something fixed, immutable and knowable? (Just in case you are wondering, it’s not.)
I learned that my shape shifting was always a search for truth, that contradictory, ambiguous, translucent, beautiful, and twinkling truth. I learned to love truth, especially when it popped me upside the head and gave me a breathtaking new vision of connection and understanding.
Here, you see, is the problem.
I don’t like being a polarizing force. I strive for connection.
But the very idea that truth is unknowable, always presenting new facets to us, true in a million different ways to a million different eyes, the idea that authenticity is not fixed and immutable but something need to express through performance, well, that idea is very, very polarizing.
The idea that truth is always revelatory is the power of change agents, those who threaten the status quo, those who value knowing over seeing, those who take comfort in their own “perfect” knowledge and see challenges to their understanding as challenges to their own identity.
People can only learn what they are willing to learn, and those who refuse to even open the question because they desperately need to stay fixed where they are won’t learn until they have change explode their rationalizations.
To stand up and be visible as a transgender person is to be visible as a change agent. And to be visible as a change agent, not just be a guerrilla who stays invisible and pops up out of the mist to reveal that the Emperor has no clothes, well, that is a very polarizing thing.
Yet, this is my next challenge.
I need to stand up and lead change in the world. I need to give people a chance to stand up and do the right thing, getting behind diversity and supporting the possibility of transformation and growth that exists in every one.
When you stand up and give people a chance to love you, you also give people a chance to hate you.
As someone who has been told that they were stupid, wrong, worthless, perverted and sick since my parents first caught me putting on girl’s clothes over a half century ago, that’s a very exposed position. I have been well and truly trained to stay small and unchallenging, and I have all the scars to prove it.
And yet, and yet, and yet, my challenge is to do just that. To stand up and give people a chance to join with me to make something good happen. To be polarizing and let the haters hate and those who want to sign up for change and diversity and trust and community to stand together.
“From what I have seen, it is the smartest people in the room who are drawn to you,” Performance Guy told me last night.
“Have you ever considered that that same transgender nature and queer journey of yours is something that others can value and find attractive, not just find uncomfortable and offputting?” he asked me.
Can I really stand up and polarize a room for good?
I have learned that the trick is, as it always is, staying in the moment and working the process, being present and engaging what is, merging the moment and the energy, everything that people bring into this instant to make something new. Process queen I am, by golly.
“You don’t have a posse, do you?” Performance Guy asked. He is used to working with a cast that can keep up the momentum, watch his back, give him a moment when he needs it.
I, on the other hand end up having to work alone, without a net. It’s hard and scary work, and my only defence, past my wits, is my ability to become invisible. It’s hard to be invisible with a nice manicure, as I noted on Monday.
If I want to get out of this basement and back into the world, if I want to get tyhe rewards I need including cash, if I want to connect with other people and maybe be a bit less lost and lonely, I need to be visible in the world, showing myself and trusting that people will see, value and honour what I have to offer.
I hear attitudes about transpeople have changed a lot in the decade I have been in this basement. We are almost mainstream now, even if we still have the same scars.
It was hard to learn how to take power from the margins, but I did.
Now, I have to trust that I can take power from the centre, visible to the world, and that people will see the authenticity that exists deep inside me rather than being demanding I conform to their truth.
I need to trust that being polarizing can help make connections, as I bring together people and help break down barriers to change and transformation in the world, help people see and celebrate the feminine alongside the masculine, help celebrate our continuous common humanity.
And all I have to do is resist my fight or flight instincts and stay visible, present and in the moment, no matter what comes up for me.
Oy, that sounds hard.