Everything Changed

Truth is always stranger than fiction because nobody will publish fiction unless it makes sense.

When we try and make stories our of lives, it’s always tempting to have a moment when everything changes.   Tie your life to one clear turning point where things were never the same again, where you hit bottom and had to start coming back up again and people will be able to buy the change, accept that transformation really happened on the road to Damascus.

Amazing Grace
How sweet the sound
To save a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now am found
Was blind
But now I see.

It’s the way our culture likes its magical stories, with a bang and a puff of smoke and a flourish, now you see it, now you don’t!

Change, though, doesn’t happen in a blinding flash.  Change is an ongoing process of facing old stimuli, facing cultural convention, facing habit and training, facing social pressure and making new choices.  Change is hard work, moving beyond comfort, and never one simple moment.

Alcoholics Anonymous knows this.  You don’t stop being an alcoholic.   You choose new behaviours today, then again tomorrow, one day at a time.

This is the same for everyone.  Coming out isn’t something you do once.  Being more open, more truthful, more authentic and less defended, rationalizing and compartmentalized is something you have to do every day, opening in new ways that push past fear, facing down the bear in the closet.

The traditional trans narrative, though, follows the transformation convention.  I lived a bad and sad life being forced to follow the gendered expectations laid on my heart, then the doctors helped me change my sex and now everything is good.   I am cured, so my current assertions are credible because the medical profession says so.

A real trans life, however, isn’t nearly as neat and simple, with an easy transformation story that any third grader can grasp.  Instead, like any other human life, it is a struggle to become better, more whole and more authentic everyday, facing the same ideas and pressures that shamed us into the closet in the first place.

Of course, this is why my trans narrative is both so potent and so challenging, because it details that daily journey with such acute observation.   I stay in the struggle, a struggle that most want to leave behind because it complicates and contradicts their narrative of a moment of transformation rather than a lifetime of change.

“You can change your life in 21 days!” goes the self help huckster, selling what the public want to hear.

For it is surely a lifetime work, this learning to be a woman.
—  May Sarton

The truth of a trans life — the truth of every human life — is that every life is more complicated and more nuanced than any simple and easily comprehensible story can ever convey.   Because we make new story everyday, that complexity continues to grow rather than diminish, especially on days we face challenges that are not routine.

Transpeople cross boundaries others see as solid all the time, so we are always faced with the discomfort of others whose conventional narratives about themselves are challenged by our very existence.   We remind others of connection, of continuous common humanity in ways that stimulate their own understanding, sometimes helping them grow and sometimes causing them to act out to silence and erase us, trying to “put us in our place,” the place we belong in their comforting taxonomy of the world.

It is impossible to know how we exist in the stories of others, memorable even after years for how we speak a different truth, but we always end up queering their stories, making them more rich, nuanced and complex.

I know why we try to simplify our narratives to make them fit with normative assumptions about transformation and correction.

I also know why a trans life is always complex, always evolving, and always at least a little bit queer.   We live in truth, not in constructed fictions, and truth is strange.

Strange, true and wonderful.

Pull The Trigger

There is a common phrase used to describe making an irreversible decision, going ahead with a bold choice.

“Well,” people might say, “you are just going to have to pull the trigger on that one.”

For many, pulling the trigger is a highly satisfying experience.  It is a moment of judgment, creating a clear separation between the moment before and the moment after you fire.

I enjoy watching Karen Walker on “Will & Grace” let fly with sharp quips and witticisms, cutting other people down to size.  Maybe it’s her Oklahoma upbringing or her ballet training, but Ms. Mullally really knows how to pull the trigger on a sharp wisecrack.

“Shoot first and ask questions later,” has been the credo for many who believe it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Just shoot it out and clean up the mess later.

Observers are right about me, though.  I just don’t tend to pull the trigger.

My experience of the world lets me see connections, ramifications, complications.  I learned early the costs of pulling the trigger every time I saw an easy target, something that would be fun to take a pot shot at.

As I did my work, opening my vision, getting beyond my desires and impulses, moving more towards the good, I embraced empathy and compassion.  I understood how vulnerable people are, how much they need safe space to explore their own space, and I got how taking shots at them did not help them grow and heal.

I knew how to cut people with my tongue, knew how to make quick and clean decisions, knew how to pull the trigger.   I knew how to act out of impulse and how to play to the crowd, going for the quick hit.

As I became a primary caregiver, though, I learned to be more tender, more conscious, more considerate, more balanced, more kind.   I learned how to bear with people and situations rather than just pulling the trigger.

Being centred and gracious is a wonderful thing. To live life, though, to be vital rather than just virtuous, sometimes you have to get off balance, jump and just pull the trigger.  Balance, when it becomes cyclic, can deprive you of the inertia needed to get the most out of a messy, human life.

My not being able to easily “pull the trigger” and act on impulse is, of course, a consequence of learning to modulate, to be a guru, to try and be appropriate in relationships.   It is the habit of someone forced into “concierge mode,” always being their for aging and challenged parents.   It is the training of someone who learned not to trust their impulses and desires.

I know how to turn the other cheek.  I know how to let fear and acting out end with me.

I am not so good, however, at engaging the possibilities of whatever days of human life I have left, not so good at dreams and hopes and aspirations, not so good at exuberance and passion.

Learning how not to be quick on the trigger, not to be trigger happy and overly sensitive has been valuable, important, laudable and appropriate.

Never being able to pull the trigger, even on the possibility of joy, well, that can be put down to analysis paralysis, and it doesn’t really serve me.

And as an old gunslinger, I know that to be true.

No Balls, Pussy

So it was my first question in my first session at my first day of my first big trans conference.

“Men and women take power in different ways.  As you shift your gender expression, how do you shift the way you take power in the world?”

That question of power shift, that one question, has been at the heart of my own transgender journey.

Power is relational and the way someone sees you has a great deal to do with how they see your expression in the world.  A big guy tearing up or a petite woman trying to be physically intimidating just doesn’t work well, for example.

Brené Brown says we teach men to be ashamed of just one thing, but that one thing is so big that it shapes every choice they make.  Men should never be weak.  They gotta shoulder the load.

Men, in other words, should always show their balls, announcing their presence with authority, and never be a pussy.

The rules for women aren’t the same.   They have to fit in, make connections, and show vulnerability.    Being pussy actually turns out to be an asset and being too ballsy can be a complication.

Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body and transgender is about changing your mind.  A huge part of my message in the world is about the need to drop your old armour, let go of your defences and find new ways to open yourself to the world.

I find it quite trying when others try to tell me that I am being too much of a pussy and not being ballsy enough in demanding my place in the world.

“Dammnit,” they seem to tell me,  “you don’t have the balls to stop being an unreasonable emotional pussy and just grab hold of your own damn life!”

Yup.  I just don’t have the balls to stop being a pussy.  No doubt.

Hell, I spent decades trying to act cocky and failing.  It never really worked for me, was always just too much damn stress.

I understand why a manly form of motivation is to encourage putting aside weakness and claiming what you are entitled to.

I also understand why that kind of masculine approach isn’t really used by those teaching feminine motivation.   It’s a different kind of empowerment that resonates with women.

There is plenty on this blog about these modes of feminine empowerment.  There is, however, very little in my life and connections that actually puts these modes into practice.

I don’t actually believe that they will work for me because I don’t believe that I have the experience, history or biology to effectively use them in the world.  Nor do I believe that I can attempt masculine modes again.  Stuck in the middle, I feel.

This is, of course, enormously frustrating for those who care about me and want to see me happy.  They offer their best advice, offering suggestions that have worked for them in the past.

It turns out that being reasonable and compliant, passing my choices through a kind of forensic test, as if those who never met me will stand in judgment of me, is not an effective way to take action.

As someone who has been trained to distrust my gut, to put aside my own sense and feelings so that I can be seen as balanced and reasonable in the the world, my own dreams, vision and imagination have been corroded so much, my desire so attenuated, that any impulse to leap is dulled to passivity.

It turns out not to be easy or simple to find support for learning to trust your own instincts after learning to suppress them for decades.   When your instincts fall into the great gender divide, well, even more difficult.

I understand why many think I am a pussy.   It’s because I am pussy.

I just don’t think not being a pussy is the solution for my  being stuck, though that notion isn’t always easy to communicate.   I think it’s probable that the solution is to be more feminine, more visible, more intuitive, more shiny, more pussy.

Will I ever have the balls to take charge and change my life?

Will I ever open up and be receptive enough to create new relationships, new possibilities new chapters?

Or am I just another trans cliché?

Show Yourself

So, if I had a girlfriend in the area, here’s one thing I would want her to say to me, over and over and over again.

“Show yourself.

“Show your smile, show your style, show your charm, show your wit, show your smarts, show your warmth, show your caring, show everything.

“Do things that show yourself.  Do the podcast, talk to people at events, ask questions at seminars, schedule to do workshops, attend conferences, go to meetings, volunteer and contribute.

“Show yourself.   Don’t get antsy and down and grumpy, just show yourself.

“People will see what I see when they see you if you just show yourself.

“Dress nice, smile pretty, and let those great blue eyes sparkle.

“Show yourself.”

Showing yourself is the essence of feminine power, even the power that so many women resist by trying to meld into the crowd.

Show yourself is the message I give to women I care about, be that my sister and her studio, ShamanGal and more first dates or TBB and being a star.

Showing yourself is hard to do.   I know that because I see how hard it is for other women to show themselves when they would feel more comfortable staying in the shadows.

Every woman keeps a long list of all her imperfections, all the things others could judge her about, all the places she falls short of her ideals, a list of things she doesn’t want to show.

The other list, the list of small, surprising and beautiful bits that are unique to her, well, that is most often kept by her friends, the ones who keep telling her to show herself.

It’s not easy to show yourself.  There are many times when you just don’t want to be seen, want to hide behind some kind of generic façade, want to disappear.  Just don’t look at me!

As transwomen, we are taught early that the only appropriate, safe and gracious thing we can do is to not show ourselves.   The pressure to pass, or at least to remain invisible is intense, and when we fail, when our trans nature gets read, often we feel as if our gender is denied to us as people strip us to our birth biology, denying the truth of our hearts.

Hiding, though, really doesn’t allow us to be present, to contribute our best, to get affirmation, to be supported.  For that, we have to show ourselves.

The more we have to show, the harder it is to show ourselves.   There is a conventional pattern for attractiveness and being too much, too big, too intense, too smart, too anything doesn’t fit those expectations.

If I had a girlfriend in the area, the one thing I would want her to say to me, over and over and over again, is “Show yourself.”

I would fight her and resist, telling her why showing myself is hard, pointless and counterproductive.

But because she knows from her own feminine experience the struggle to be big, brilliant, visible, and vulnerable, knows how hard it is to show yourself, she would just keep telling me the same thing.

“Nobody’s perfect, honey, but you are amazing.  Show yourself.”

There is a reason women gather in groups.   We inhabit a complex and nuanced world where many points of view need to be respected at all times.   We don’t act as bold individuals, we act as nodes in a network, parts of a community.  Our confidence comes not from narcissism but from shared views, asserting and affirming that it always takes a village to raise our children.  The hive mind is the mothers mind, alloying the best in each of us to make a better place to live.

That’s why we support each other and need the support of each other, especially when we want to do something as bold and risky as showing ourselves.   We need to have each others eyes to see more, each others shoulders to cry on and each others backs to stay safe.

This is a mother’s message “You are so pretty!  Get your hair off your face and show yourself!”  It is even the message we give to girls flaunting their bodies : “Don’t just show your skin, show yourself!”

For me, showing myself is a big deal.  It means I have to push past fears far beyond what most women have to do and have to do it without the early training that girls are given.  In fact, my training comes from a mother who knew how to act out and tear down, rather than support, encourage and build up.

Beyond that, I am a big person in many ways, so it takes someone who has learned to own their own big presence to be affirming of bold and brilliant sparkling.  Many just see me being big and want me to affirm them, or want me to stay at their level, but doing that means I cannot really show myself.

I know what I think I need to hear.   It is a message that all women need to hear, all through their lives, but especially when they are healing and coming back from a challenge.

“Show yourself.  Lift your chin and let them see your stuff.  You really have something to share, something beautiful.   Show yourself.”

Show yourself.

Belong Compliment

“I heard the bear who tries to keep me in the closet  telling me that because I wasn’t all made up that I was unsafe, telling me that I had to fight, freeze or flee.

“‘Bear,’ I said, “I’m going to show you that I belong here.’

“I went right up to one of the clerks and told her that I loved her nails.

“She was so sweet, saying that she thought they might be too much, that she was thinking about changing them.   She opened right up to me.

“I showed that bear that I belong in the world.  He shut right up.

“It was great.”
— ShamanGal, 9/10/2014

“It’s so easy to just dismiss a compliment, so I knew I had to sit with it.  Just spending 10 seconds or a minute with a complement gives you time to open to it, so I did that, just letting it in.   It mus have worked, because soon enough one of the other gals told me that I was glowing.   I really did feel good, seen and valued.”
— ShamanGal 9/10/2014

Mind Fark

The worst thing about me is that too much, I live in my mind.  Rather than making the actions, taking the risks that can find me new connections, new resources and new affirmations, I think about it, leading to a kind of analysis paralysis.

The best thing about me is how much I live in my mind.   I am able to ask smart questions, understand and integrate the answers and build models quickly, then to communicate what I learn effectively and with grace.

I had parents who didn’t know how to be engaging and affirming, instead living, like other people whose mind works in the way that Dr. Asperger identified, inside of their own assumptions and expectations.

Very early I had to learn how to keep myself safe.   For me, that meant going into my head.   I might not have been able to get hugs, cuddles, laughs and affirmations from my parents, but they loved it when I was smart, learning to read before I was four years old.

The absolute experience of my childhood, being smart, queer and the target patient in my family was to retreat into my own world, to get deep into my head.  As a transperson, my embodied experience didn’t really connect with my heart, and as the child of my parents, I knew that almost everything was invisible around my father and unsafe around my mother.

It is a lovely thing to live in your head, being able to enter the worlds of other people and help them understand more clearly.

It is a lonely thing to live in your head, no one being able to enter your world and help you open to trust, sensation and sharing.

“You are so smart,” people tell me, “that you can figure it out by yourself.  After all, half the battle is knowing the question.”   Yeah, and for me, that is the easy half.

“I have learned how to believe in myself, but now I need to learn to trust other people,” I told a partner.

“Can’t you learn to do that by yourself?” she replied.    No, you cannot.

I know how to be there for and take care of other people.  As long as I am the only one who can take care of me, though, I’m not really going to support me in making choices that are hard, painful and scary for me to make, not going to be there for me to be affirming and hold my own hand when I have to move outside my comfort zone.

I see patterns quickly, and when I do, I don’t bluster forward, rather I modulate.  I have learned from long experience that people don’t really like being observed as closely and as thoroughly as I do even without thinking.   It makes them a bit skittish, puts them off their game, and makes them feel exposed and without magic.

I know why I learned to live in my head.  I know why it is a gift.   I know why it is a curse.

I don’t know how to change it.

Getting pithed, turning off my mind, isn’t really a solution for me.   My mind really is my greatest asset even if it also is my biggest block.  What I think I need — and I think pretty well — is getting affirmed that I can actually make connections below my mind, on the physical and emotional levels.   I need to believe that I can have deeper relationships where my mind doesn’t get in the way, but where it isn’t erased, either.

“Just being myself” will always mean being cerebral for me, at least in part.   I don’t know how to trust my instincts alone, to trust that others will find me beautiful and not be put off by my mind.

Getting loose requires a non-cerebral approach, but if I need to pick myself up and give myself support and advice when I go splat, the only way I know how to do that is with my mind.  Ergo sum cogito.

I create safe space with my mind.   My mind creates the boundaries of my own safe space.

Throwing out cues as to what I need is fine, but if there is no one to pick up on them, to do their part in the dance, then I am still dancing alone.

If only I can take care of myself that is a problem, as then I am bounded by my own limits, trapped by my own pain.   I have come far in using my mind to transcend, but claiming what most children take for granted is next to impossible at my age.

I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses.   I know how therapied I am, how much I have done the work.   I know how much that means I can illuminate places where others have chosen to stay vital rather than considered.

Getting beyond requires getting out of my head. laughing again, playing again in a warm, tender and affirming embrace.   As long as my head is the only thing I can rely on, just like I learned when I was a kid, that becomes well neigh impossible.

I cannot both stay in my head and get out of it at the same time.   Since my head is the only thing keeping me upright — if I stop concentrating, I will be a puddle — moving beyond it alone is difficult, but finding support that I can trust to also affirm my smarts, to enter and understand my world, is very difficult.

My mind is wonderful, my mind is limited.  My mind is a gift, my mind is a curse.

And I can’t think of any way out.

Ultimate Solution

It’s the a voodoo truth: don’t talk about suicide.

If you talk about it, you might bring it around, so just don’t talk about it.

When someone does talk about it, quash the talk quickly.  Cowardly, self-murder, easy way out, sick, sinful, reprehensible.

It’s the survivors who write history.  For those who have had someone close to them commit suicide, the trauma for the living, the mess left behind is the story.  The only story.

“Suicide really kills the people left behind,”  one said.  Another person’s choice was “really” all about the people around them, according to her. They should have swallowed their frustration, pain, isolation or weariness to keep others comfortable, suicide just being another way of acting out to inflict pain, not a difficult choice to end it.

Any assertion that your first job is to keep others around you comfortable by hiding your own suffering and challenge is unreasonable and abusive.

Especially for young people, the option of suicide is the ultimate hold on their own agency in a world where they are subject to the whims and obligations of the pressures on them.  It gives them some ultimate ownership of self-control, knowing that if things get too, too bad, they can call game over.

For others, the threat of suicide is the goal.   It allows them to get a kind of attention and gravity that they could not achieve any other way.  This is suicidal speech as a cry for attention or a cry for help, a kind of posturing to break through the banality of everyday language.

Death and rebirth the theme of human lives, loss and transcendence, letting go and becoming new.   The final loss of this life, the death of the body, is always the most drastic and not to be taken lightly as a permanent response to a temporary problem.

“Wouldn’t it be great if I was already dead?”

Still, the first thing any person with thoughts of that ultimate end is told to do is to not talk about it with anyone who isn’t trained.   Those who hold suicide chat as voodoo will try to shut conversation down immediately, rather than letting thinking about that choice be a way to discuss the challenges, stresses and bleakness someone else is feeling.

Instead of opening conversations that might be helpful and affirming, the mention of suicide often just freaks people out so much that increases the social pressure that suicide is designed to escape, rather than releasing some of it.

“My death is the most pleasant thing that anyone can imagine for someone like me.”

There is no doubt that suicide is a really bad spur-of-the-moment idea.  And there are better ways to communicate your pain and get help than to make a weak attempt.

If you feel that you need death, first try rebirth.  Toss off your old life and boldly claim a new life, however weird it may be.  Join a cult, be a freak, live on the streets, volunteer on a project, pick vegetables, whatever you can do to drastically and dramatically change the pressures you are under, to give you a new context to understand life.

To make rebirth work, though, you have to be willing to let go of your stuff.   Wherever you go, there you are, so bringing your own sad and sorry self with you will never let you get away from your troubles.    It’s vital that you realize your life is about you, not about them, so any choice designed to strike out at them is really a strike against your own tender heart.   They won’t care like you want them to, but if you don’t care for yourself first, nobody else will.

No one has the luxury of demanding the world change to accommodate them.  Sure, money can buy you some insulation from the world, but in the end, the world changes only slowly and in one direction.  The only power you have is to change your own choices, which first requires changing your attitude.

Still, you don’t have to stay in one place and take what is being thrown at you.   You can get away, you can leap, you can get a new start, which can work if you don’t bring your old habits along with you.

There comes a time, though, when the choice to die becomes well considered.   Society is right to make that choice hard — having people bullied into their death must not be allowed and the vulnerable need to be cared for, not just disposed of — but in the end, it is a choice.   Maybe just a choice to provide contrast — life offers a much more clear and bright range of possibilities than the darkness of death — but a choice, nonetheless.

Suicide is not about you.  Suicide is about the person who chooses to end their life.  You didn’t save them, but that was never your job, maybe never even possible.  People heal — and fail to heal — in their own way and their own time.   You can only provide context for that healing, only help. You can’t actually save anybody.

Suicide may shatter your assumptions and force you to reconsider your own choices, destroying what you believed was normal.  Normal, though, is only a mental state, not any kind of reality, and it needs to be shattered now and then so we can emerge vulnerable from our cracked shells and grow some.

Pain shows us where healing is needed.  My father didn’t feel pain in his last year, but that also meant he couldn’t participate in his own healing, breaking down more and more.  That was very hard.

In the end, you made the best choices you could make, the only choices you could make, and you are not responsible for the choices of another person.  They had their own human experience to contend with, to live with or to die with.

Love endures, even as the flesh fails.   As humans, we need to hold onto that to give our lives meaning. You gave and they gave and it was real, even if it wasn’t enough to transcend death.   Nothing is.

Talk about suicide.  Do the death and rebirth thing.  Celebrate life, even if it sometimes ends badly.

What else can humans possibly do?

“À ma mort.”   A toast, to you.

Recurrent Martyr

“That’s OK.  I’m not stupid.  I know you want to hurt me.   I’ve been hurt many times before.”

I know how to transcend pain.  I know how to be focused and stoic and appropriate.  But that comes at a cost.

Deep, down, though, the pain I have gone through is written deep into my soul.   It’s so deep that it threads through all my experiences, coming up quickly as recalled and stored distress that I have no way to discharge.

With small irritations my martyrdom comes up, stopping me and dragging me to the floor.   The experience of denying myself in order to serve is always just a heartbeat away for me, and it hurts, tapping into a long lifetime of pain.

A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause, usually a religious one.

A martyr and a guru are two sides of the same coin.  A powerful memory doesn’t just let me find the good, it also means I can remember the bad, the silencing attacks, the broken promises, the acting out, the casual slights,

“That’s OK.  I’m not stupid.  I know you want to hurt me.   I’ve been hurt many times before.”

Every time I try again it is a triumph over my damn history, over the very low levels of latent inhibition that keep me aware and connected.

I learned early that explaining why I am feeling what I am feeling at your suggestion is a counterproductive and pointless exercise.   You don’t have time to deal with my feelings, and if the history involves you, you don’t want to be reminded of past failures.

You want me to suck it up, swallow my experience and just open myself again, trusting that this time history won’t repeat itself, that this time I won’t be hurt again.

Because I know it is not your intention to hurt me, that you are trying to be kind and present, if I can, I do push past my memories and go.

Unfortunately, though, many, many times, history repeats itself.   The old patterns I have learned so well to recognize just play out again.

“You aren’t self-sabotaging,” TBB told me.  “You just see what is happening very quickly, and usually, you are right.”

You get martyred often enough and the picture becomes quite clear.  You can see it coming right down 42d Street, but getting out of the way means getting out of the way of possibility, too, so you grin and grit and stand there once again, trying for transcendence.

My martyr experiences started when I was very young, under the age of eight.  I was always pointing out inconvenient truths, so my name in the family became “Stupid,” used by everyone until the counsellor I saw when I was in seventh grade suggested to my parents that it wasn’t really appropriate, kind or useful.

“That’s OK.  I’m not stupid.  I know you want to hurt me.   I’ve been hurt many times before.”

I am more than aware that calling myself a star, a guru and a martyr may seem grandiose and self-deluding.  Some may argue that I just need a more proportionate sense of self to more effectively assimilate into community, that my problem is my inflated self-image which blocks me from healthy integration into the group.   Play smaller, they would tell me, and your problems will go away.

That is not my experience.   I have learned true humility and service, but my experience is still that of being too hip for the room, of having nobody who gets the joke.

How much martyr can one person take?   How many times can you resurrect yourself and try again?  How can you triumph over your experience and your scars when they bind you too much?

“That’s OK.  I’m not stupid.  I know you want to hurt me.   I’ve been hurt many times before.”

I hate it when I feel the martyr flare up again, reminding me both of real pain and of the obligation to put it aside to try and connect with and serve others who are just trying to share with me in the best way they possibly can.   They can’t be held responsible for my history, or even for my history directly with them, because doing so would block any new possibilities.  They are, after all, only human, just like me.

Holding open the space for their transformation, being open to them one more time to assist in their growth and healing is the most divine choice that I can make.   I know that if I stand for the possibility of change in the world, I have to committed to allowing people the opportunity for change.  Shutting them down is shutting down my own commitment to rebirth and resurrection.

There are, however, limits to what any martyr can endure before the body just can’t take it anymore.   “And by a sleep, to say we end the Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks that Flesh is heir to?

“That’s OK.  I’m not stupid.  I know you want to hurt me.   I’ve been hurt many times before.”

And every single day, I need to decide if I can stand to be hurt again.

Gone Guru

One of the worst days in my life was when I realized that I was doomed to be a guru.

It became clear to me that with my character, my brain and my training that bringing light, revealing connection and understanding mistakes was the only thing that I was cut out for, and that made me very sad.

Your greatest blessing is always your greatest curse.   It is easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side, but we don’t have to mow it, fertilize it and manage it.   There is always a cost we don’t see.

A guru who just tells you what you want to hear is useless and sad.

Telling people what they don’t want to hear, though, is an quite an uphill climb.  Even after you learn to phase it graciously, telling them what can help them get better, they quickly understand that you are really telling them where they are wrong, telling them what they don’t want to hear.

I deeply and profoundly understand the cost of a life spent telling people what they don’t want to hear.   That price of that is written on my body and soul in scars and suffering.   Those wounds have made me a better & more potent guru, that is true, but that, as I have noted, is really quite a mixed blessing.

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all,
is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.
— Lorraine Hansberry (referring to James Baldwin)

As a child, the guru gift is challenging and confusing.   For most people, “helping” someone learn to fit in well is much easier to do than encouraging them to be bold, brave, contrary and empowered.   It’s just easier to try and shut down challenge rather than to engage it.

Living with x-ray vision, seeing through things others find opaque and solid, is not easy.  I demands that you do a lot of work to get clear, a lot of personal healing so that your own pain doesn’t get in the way of your understanding of the world.

Maybe the most important thing to learn is that other people’s choices are not about you, no matter how they end up slamming you.  They are just expressing their own deep and repressed pain and struggle.  People heal in their own time and their own way, and people includes you.  You have to do the work and just have to let others do their work, no matter how frustrating or difficult that makes your life.

Seeing the patterns, remembering the details so many others just erase, it all is a challenge.  “There are things I wish you would forget, but I know that you are not going to,”  said my sister.  “Yes,” I agreed.  ” That’s my blessing and my curse.”

I have seen many other people who have cracked under the strain of their own sharp vision that passed through boundaries.   In the first place, it is a very hard gift, but more than that, it opens up to those who want to silence or restrain us, who want to see us as defective or stupid because we don’t go along with the status quo, won’t comply, but instead announce that the Emperor has no clothes.

Even if you do survive and own your own guru power, life is still enormously wearing.  The cost doesn’t go away even as the body gets more frail.    There are limits to willpower, and overused, it drains the life out of you.

It’s my birthday today, one of those odometer birthdays where you really have to take stock of where you are and what is left for you.

If all that is left is being a guru, having a clear vision of where healing is required but faced with a world that resists growth and healing, leaving me without a support network, then that future looks bleak.

ShamanGal suggested that I do workshops, offering my guruness to the world.  If I came to LA, I asked her, who does she know who is ready for the kind of graduate course I offer?  She thought about the question and realized that, no, people I’m not that easy to get, no matter how much she is seeing the gold after a long year and a half.

TBB tells me that my work is for the future, when it finally becomes separated from my mortal pain.

I know that it is easy for me to meet other people where they live and take care of them.   I also know that it is very difficult for other people to meet me where I am and take care of me.   I end up having to sublimate my needs to take care of them just to get a bit of support and the cost of that process, in the end, is more than I can afford, more than the rewards I get from doing it.

I’m not unhappy.  I don’t have a bleak view of the world.  I am more than happy to work to affirm and empower others to achieve their dreams.

I am, however, depleted.  There are certainly possibilities out there for me if I have the wherewithal to chase them, to take the knocks and stresses inherent in any new venture.   And if I invest, there are some potential rewards out there, people who might get the joke, who might be able to give me what I need.

I just can’t imagine that I have that desire, energy and reserve left to chase them.  I am old and I am decrepit and I am too hip for the room, a guru who doesn’t want to have to sweeten the pot to say what she knows.

The price is high.  Very high.   And the rewards seem distant.  Very distant.

Only in my private world is anything about me.  In the wider world, people demand that it is all about them, that the guru serve their needs, being nice and helpful.

One of the worst days in my life was when I realized that I was doomed to be a guru.

The price is very high and the rewards are very low, only located in the joy of knowledge and creation itself.

A missionary may well enjoy the adulation of followers, those who want to believe in the message that they preach.  A visionary guru, though, doesn’t get the same rewards when they pose just the wrong question, ripping open the space for teaching.

I learned early that I am way too queer to be comforting, way to queer to be easy.   I did learn how to meet people where they are, to modulate myself, to give encouragement and care, but always at a cost.

“Just be yourself,” people tell me, “and doors open.”   Well, the doors to knowledge opened, and that was delightful, but the doors to other humans took more work for an intense, visionary, trans, theologian, guru to penetrate.

I did the work, and in any sensible human time, I would be gone by now, on to my next challenge.

I have explained all of this before, as well as I know how.   I have done the work.

Now, though, I am just spent and tired.

Very tired.

Context Landcape

Having a beautiful view out your window is a treat.   By giving you the gift of time and place, it teaches you to see how something that is always the same is also always different, full of cycles that change with the passing of the sun, the passing of the seasons, and even the passing of our own heart.

The same landscape can reflect so many differences, all depending on context.  Our experience of the world can never be objective because our context cannot be easily quantified.

I have been hitting the “A Random Post” on the top of this blog.   It lets me experience the past with a new context, both reminding me of old lessons and letting me see my life in a new context.

You can’t read one post understand and understand what I am saying, I have been told.  It is only over time that you understand what the landscape holds, as anyone who loves nature will tell you.   A quick glance at any place or at any heart will only let you see what you already know how to see, only let you understand what you already think you understand.

To see things in a new way, you need to engage them in context, doing the work of picking the eternal from the ephemeral.  You need to be able to pay attention, to be present for the gifts that are offered.   It is the connections that emerge from below surface separations that help you understand and grow.

It’s easy to look at a transperson, for example, and see only the body they were born with, using your old context, and miss the contents of their heart.   Or you may see only their defences, the scars and rationalizations they have acquired as barriers over the years.

Many researchers used to decide that transpeople were broken because they found us broken.  Without looking at the context of a trans life they discounting the enormous shaming social pressure that was specifically applied to break us by breaking our spirits, forcing us unto dark and airless closets where we couldn’t help but grow twisted.

Anyone can tell the difference between red and white wine, but engaging the nuances takes time, work and context.  For example, a white burgundy is pale, even though it’s really a red wine, made from red grapes with the skins removed early in the process.

In the spiral of life, we come back again and again to see the same things, especially seeing our own nature as expressed in our desires, ideas and choices.  When we pay attention, rather than being distracted, we can begin to see those things in context, experiencing the essential underpinnings rather than the momentary novelty.

I urge you to look deeper, deep enough that context begins to open you to process.   It is the only way I know to really understand the patterns of nature, and that is especially important in understanding the patterns of your own natural heart, which is so often buried under layers of socialization.

The premise of most therapy is just to see your life in context, helping you break old habits, create new patterns and make different choices.   We learn practices that help put the world into context, allowing us to approach it without flailing.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, opening to yourself and to your world.

It takes courage to push yourself
to places that you have never been before…
to test your limits… to break through barriers.
And the day came when the risk it took
to remain tight inside the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
—    Anaïs Nin

The entire goal of gender studies is teasing the natural out from the merely conventional so we can both respect difference and affirm possibility.   It gives us the wisdom to know what we have the power to change and what we need to serenely accept, though we still have to supply our own courage to transform our lives.

Only respecting context, pushing to understand the entire process and not just judge on a snapshot, can help us to do that work.

It has been a joy to me every time I have watched another petal open, seen a little deeper and understood a little more.   By celebrating context, I have gained a more full understanding of the process of the heart, helping me quickly read patterns, illuminating what is dark to many, and getting me closer to my own nature.

I wish this same blessing for you as you come back to touchstones and see them in a new way, opening to a new self.  Maybe even my writing will offer some of that, as when you revisit it you see meaning that slipped by you in the past, context that was invisible to you at an earlier and less understanding moment.

The gift of time and attention is the gift of context, which is the only way to understanding the processes that shape our lives. Seeing the landscape change over the course of our experience is what brings wisdom, as some ephemeral bits fade away and the eternal bits begin to stand out as you get past your own stuff.

If the goal of a human life is to use separation and suffering to learn what we could never learn without them, trading a slow death for a growing story,  trading vitality for wisdom, then it is an expanding understanding of context and process which reveals all.

May you get older and wiser, get more decrepit and more enlightened, everyday.    May time and the world passing by you give you understanding and peace.

This is my blessing and my hope for you.


A great sermon should have some poetry, passion and power, no doubt.  Rhetoric has always been a way humans excited and entertained each other, telling stories that invoke emotions.

The heart of any good sermon, though, is insight.  I want to see the routine choices we make everyday in a new way, having their connections and implications revealed.   I want to have the attention and time I spend rewarded with a way to make deeper connections in the world.

I have always been more attracted to “teachy preachers,” those who speak for celebrating connection and how we have to open and change to become more righteous than to “preachy preachers” who speak for fear & separation, explaining how we have to disconnect from an evil world.

Victoria Osteen, Joel’s wife, recently gave a sermon explaining that God just wants to see us happy, so making ourselves happy makes God happy.  Somehow, “God is all about your happiness” wasn’t the theology I found, even if prosperity pastors know that message can fill a mega-church.

I know that this blog is full of dammed sermons.   I take experiences that I have or that others share with me and share the lessons, the connections that I see in them.

Usually, I end up “blinding” the original incident, rendering it more anonymous, so I take the emotional power away from it.   I probably wouldn’t do that if I was speaking the story, knowing that real anecdotes give more power, but I don’t want the story to take away from the lesson, and I know that when reduced to text, stories can easily get twisted.

My goal hasn’t been to tell people what they are doing wrong, to blame or castigate them, to label them demons, rather it is to speak up about what appear to me to be better choices.   Sin — missing the mark — is always just a starting point for growth and healing, at least to me, and not a feast of schadenfreude, at least to me.  I have no interest in gossiping about the transgressions of others, only an interest in what I can learn from them.

It is the force of separation that builds negative identity, leading us to know what we are not and who we should blame.  For many, that separation is comforting and natural; do the divine work by attacking and silencing those who challenge us.  After all, they are wrong and evil.

Seeing where other people are right, finding the kernel of truth inside their beliefs, searching for the common ground that connects us, is a much more challenging ask.  It is also the basis for love, compassion, empathy and for community.

When we see where other people are right, we have to see where we are wrong, where we need to correct our own choices.   It’s almost impossible to be both smug and open at the same time.  Dropping our defences means dropping our assumptions too, letting go of our stuff to find better, to be transformed.

Yes, I have indeed offered a sermon or two in my time, just as I have listened gratefully to many.  My hope is that at least a few of them will stand the test of time and offer something useful to future readers.   We all want to believe that our hard won lessons, the result of our work and our suffering, will might help others get better a bit faster and with a bit less struggle, even though we know that everyone has to learn the same lessons for themselves.

It’s all I can leave behind, I fear.

Missed Connections

WordPress is promoting an “easier posting experience” on this “Add New Post” page now.

That’s a lie.   It’s no easier, really.   You still have to do the hard work of writing well and then you have to push the publish button.

It’s not any easier, but it is significantly streamlined, with many fewer visible options.

For most people, though, WP knows that simpler, even in appearance, means easier.   If fewer bits distract you, it’s easier to focus.   Take away the options and the apparent complexity goes down, even if it takes basically the same keystrokes to do the work.

The removal of clutter, people sense, makes their life easier.

The removal of clutter, though, to me, means missed opportunities.  Creativity is impossible without clutter, because creativity is always making connections, seeing things in new ways, learning and growing in ways that you didn’t plan or expect.

Use a printed thesaurus, some professors say, because just being forced to thumb through pages of words opens you up to the divine surprise of serendipity.   How can anything pop out at you if it is hidden from you in the first place?

In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency.  There is no way we can pay attention to the whole world, so we have to be selective.

For me, that means levels of attention.  I take the 50,000 foot view of the Kardashians, for example; all I need to know about them is in the tabloid headlines I glance at in checkout lines. In other areas, though, I use macro focus, looking for what I value.

Connections are what I look for.  I am interested in how things connect, how they form patterns, how they illuminate each other.  We live in a connected world, and those nodal points always bring insight.   I like to believe that reading my work you have been offered amusing and surprising connections that gave a bit of insight.

For people who find the new WordPress posting experience easier, though, this notion that clutter brings insight because it exposes possibilities and connections is not on their radar screen.   Simple means separated for them, with everything that they don’t need to understand hidden away where it will never, ever bother them.

Danger lies in every connection.   Once we understand that one choice we make is related to many others, we understand that our choices have deeper and more widespread implications than we want them to have.

A guru and his followers passed a bait shop, Joseph Campbell tells us, and were saddened by the plight of the captive fish in the window tanks.  They bought all of them and took them to the beach to release them, giving them freedom and happiness.   As they poured the buckets into the sea, the pelicans caught the scent, swooping down to fill their beaks and their bellies with delicious fish.  The followers started attacking the Pelicans, who just wanted lunch.

Every choice is connected to other choices.   To help us make the choices marketers want is to make, though, they make sure those connections are hidden, so that the choices we make appear simple and easy.

One of the hardest things I have to do is watch people making choices that they see as easy & simple and that I see as disconnected and missing the priorities.

For example, I remember the days when all liberals asked was we keep our queerness hidden.  “I don’t care what you do in the bedroom,” they would magnanimously say, “but you don’t need to expose it to the children.”

That was an easy choice for them to ask, because they didn’t have to pay the price of having their nature stuffed into the closet, of being stuck in there with a bear who kept you well policed.

Simple choices most often fob off the cost onto someone else.

In my family, my work was seen as free, because I was expected to be selfless.   This allowed people to not be forced to see the connections, the ripples, the ramifications, the costs of their nice and simple, easy choices.

I was left cleaning up the mess, being at the end of the whip, getting cracked.  I had to make sense of and do the work to get things to work.

Clutter is messy, yes.  But messy — and connected — are the nature of life.  It may feel “easier” to do clean mental separations, offloading the results of choices to others and letting us not have to do the work of seeing, understanding and being accountable for our own choices, but it renounces responsibility.

Being thrown into the darkness because it is easier for others to avoid the connections of their own choices is very, very hard, even if you know that those others do care for you and and are just overloaded with the complexity they have to negotiate everyday, the consuming no-win options in their everyday life.

They miss the connections and feel guilty, then that angst leading them to miss more connections, all the while making life more limited for those who depend on them to do what they promised to do.

The easy choice is almost never the choice that leads to growth and healing.  The easy choice is often the choice that keeps us in a spin, raising the emotional fever to keep us reactionary and manipulated rather than consciously responsive, finding a new way that pulls us out of the spiral.

It may seem easier to erase the clutter and miss the connections, but success takes intelligent ignorance; if we don’t know what we are choosing to not pay attention to, we lose the power to become better by seeing connections in what was once clutter.

When simplicity emerges from clutter as patterns reveal themselves to us, we become better.   When simplicity is imposed by throwing out what we don’t understand, we become more disconnected.

Simpler is not the same as easier, even if simplicity and order does have its own value.

Things really get easier when we understand them better, when we understand how they connect, not when we fight to ignore the connections.

Or, at least, that is my experience.

Dark Star

How can TBB not know that she is a star?

She recently had a couple of dinners with one of her old frenemies.   They were in a documentary film together a few years ago when they both were working in Trinidad Colorado.

The friend is an very accomplished doctor who loved being a big fish in a small pond, both geographically and culturally, serving the trans community.  In her mind, TBB was playing a supporting role and not really doing it all that well, as TBB had her own vision and her own energy.

After watching the film again recently, though, her friend had a different view.

“You really were the star of that movie,” she told TBB.

Yeah.   TBB has always had megawatt star power.

That’s not something she can easily agree with, though.

What makes a star?   The most useful definition I know is functional: when a star is on, you can’t take your eyes off of them.   Their energy just compels you to watch, to engage, to connect.

TBB was already the star of Southern Comfort Conference when I arrived.   Everyone knew that she had the spark, even as they saw others doing the work.

Why were others visibly participating?  Simple.  TBB would focus her star power on them, tell them that their idea was great, that they were great, and that they had a big part to play in the success of the conference.

TBB wasn’t in it for the glory; she already had the star power.

TBB was in it for the mommy.    She knew she could empower others to be better than they thought that they could be.

Other people really did play their parts, parts they and others around them understood.  That was great.

But TBB was playing her part too.   It’s just that other people didn’t understand what she was doing, didn’t get how hard she was working, because she, like any great star, made it look effortless and natural.   A star never lets them see her sweat.

To them, TBB was just having fun.   The magic happened without her seeming to strain or make a point of it, just flowing in a way that made it invisible to all but those who knew the work and energy it takes to be a star.

The first day I met TBB at SCC, with just an hours notice, she pulled me up on stage to co-host a talent show in front of 450 people.

I knew a few things.  I knew that this was a great opportunity to go beyond my own comfort zone, knew that my over-thinking and elaborate preparation routine had to be thrown out, and I knew, knew, knew that TBB was going to have my back and make it safe for me on stage.

I knew she was a star.  I wonder what she knew about me.

Tonight, though, as I telephonically joined her table for dinner overlooking the Sound in Seattle, I reminded her of what her frienenemy had said to her; she was the star of the movie they shared, bringing an energy her friend didn’t value at the time, an energy that was even threatening in the moment.

TBB had trouble agreeing with our assessment.

Why doesn’t TBB know she is a star?   People around her see that star quality in her, feel that energy.    They all assume she understands how powerful and attractive she is.

Almost none of those people, though, have grown up with star quality of their own.  They don’t understand the cost of shining in the world.   Growing up a star and as trans?  Even more inconceivable, even less comprehensible.

TBB learned early to use her power for good, making the honourable choice and putting others first, leading with family and empowerment.  Unlike others who craved stardom and chose to hog the spotlight, TBB took her inner light and shared it with others, bringing them into the glow.

The worst part of having success is
to try finding someone who is happy for you.
—   Bette Midler

Ms. Midler knows the price of being a star and search for support.  Trying to find people who aren’t threatened or challenged by your power is almost impossible.   Others can’t see the power and the price, can only imagine that somehow you are bound by the same constraints that they are.  Between envy and ignorance trying to find someone who is happy for you, who can really help you burnish your brilliance rather than hide it is well neigh impossible.

The star as wounded healer, performing at a personal price, luminous because of a huge and broken heart is not an uncommon archetype in the world.   Burning bright always has some cost.

TBB finds it hard to acknowledge her stardom because she needs to fit in, in technical spaces, in workplaces, in communities, in family.  Being big and bright isn’t a way to make people comfortable even if it is a way to enervate them.   Star power separates you, even if your goal is to illuminate and empower the lives of others.

It’s been over two decades since she pulled me up onto that stage with me and I still see the star shining through under the sweet transwoman, even if she resists going there.

It’s hard to embrace your own star power and it’s even harder to embrace the star power in others, that terrifying and thrilling energy that makes others incandescent with life.   To cheer for the power you just see as both magical and as coming at so high a cost to the star is hard.

“Your work will shine more freely after you are gone,” TBB tells me.  “The audience will catch up with you.”

Why can’t TBB easily accept her own stardom?

Probably for the same reason that many others also swallow their star power.

D’ya think?

One Lesson

The walls you build to keep yourself defended are the walls that block you getting the best from life.    Your resistance to transformation & growth is your resistance to the surprising gifts that you don’t yet know will delight and nourish you.  Shedding your old walls — shedding your skin — is the only way to both become new and become more of the essential person you always were.

This is the lesson of the shaman, that the walls we think separate us are just illusions which end up separating us from the power of life.    We build our own cell, our own closet, become our own jailer and our own bear, policing those walls with fear and miss the banquet of life.

With the people I have cared about, I have stood with them to reassure them that if they became more authentic, more visible, more vulnerable and more present, moving past conventions & defences, they would find more love and light in their lives.   By being present, able to really listen to all the voices, they can make conscious & considered responses, not just old habitual reactions.

The lesson of life, that you grow and heal more the more open you are, is simple to say and daunting to execute.  Growing and healing aren’t painless, and the benefits they provide come in the long term, not in the short term.  Opening takes practice, lots of practices, well practised.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.

They point out that the conventional walls we build are illusions, as I explained in 1997.

Working to erase the walls of separation that keep others comfortable, though, well, that can run you into a bit of resistance and opposition.

I am pleased that over the decades, a few people have listened to my words and got out from behind their walls, as scary as that was for them, and found a bit more breathing room, a bit more joy, and a few more rewards in their life.

When you start collecting human wisdom, patterns emerge.  It turns out that most sages come to the same answers, though they always express them in their own unique metaphors and language.   Get beyond the semantics, though, and the one human nature we all share shines out at you.

I’m not saying anything new.  I am just saying what society chooses to forget, time and time again, because separation is so much more economically beneficial, so much more controlling of behaviour and so much more comforting.  Separation is a knee-jerk response while connection always takes hard work, especially the work of being open, responsible, vulnerable and getting over our own damn stuff.

I know why people keep walls between themselves and me, usually walls that generate noise.   It stops them having to question their own internal walls, the ones they find so very comforting, believing them protective.   As long as I am just a blah-blah-blah over-thinking crackpot, what I say can be discounted as blather and stupidity in the face of real fear.

But I also know why I keep finding new ways to discuss the challenges of moving to connection, to continuous common humanity, and why I have been doing it for many decades now.

Somehow, it seemed important.

Spent Force

Life engenders life.
Energy creates energy.
It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.
—  Sarah Bernhardt

How can you be in the right place at the right time if you are no place at all?

This is, in the end, the biggest challenge with the closeted, modulated, lonely life.  Because you don’t have any place to spend yourself, you have no way to become rich.   Your own denial of desire engenders scarcity, which pushes abundance and the nourishment that comes with it away.

By denying us a place to give our gifts, stigma denies us a place to receive our rewards.   To be marginalized is to be denied participation in your own way, leaving you to pick up the crumbs around the edges.

Spend yourself is always great advice.   Put more in to get more out.   And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

For those, though, who have spent themselves with little reward, too whatever to get the gifts back, it is easy to feel a spent force.  The lesson that giving more will get you more resistance and heartbreak eventually becomes hard to overcome.

Too often, the lesson to give more becomes not about your energy but about your compliance.   “Give them what they want,” people tell you, “what they expect, what they are comfortable with, what the know they need, and you can get rewards.”   Fit in, assimilate, redirect, cut yourself down, modulate, so they can accept what you have.

Becoming selfless to give what others need and value is a technique I mastered.  I know how to disconnect and go eternal, how to deny my own character to play a role that others can grasp.

For me, the search for a venue where I can spend myself and get back what I need has been the challenge of a lifetime.  It has left me depleted, a spent force, without the reserves of enthusiasm and exuberance of youth which offer the resilience needed to try, fail, bounce back, get up and try again.

The Divine Sarah was right when she told her listeners that it is only by spending yourself that you can become rich.   I have spent myself in the pursuit of understanding, and I have become rich with knowledge and even with wisdom, able to suss out what is going on quickly and even with authority.

What I haven’t become rich in is agency, the wherewithal to create change in my relationship with the wider world.   Vibrancy, passion and impulse are the currency there, melded with the willingness to give them what they want, not stubborn, iconoclastic and clear vision.  Vitality over virtue, every time.

Yes, yes, yes.  Spend yourself, and if what you are spending yourself on now isn’t giving you the rewards you need, search for someplace that will.

Try, try, try again to find reward.   But if you fail again, well, maybe it’s time to quit.  No use being a damn fool about it, eh?

Family Tradition

When I brought my father home from the hospital the last time, three and a half months after a fall, a missed diagnosis, and ignorant treatment left him a paraplegic, and left him only a week away from the infection caused by overuse of antibiotics to solve a non-existent problem, there was one thing he was clear that he wanted.

It was time to go through his technical writing again, to assemble another paper on special situations in jet engine dynamics, to be thrown up against the experts in the field who had long since decided he was a crackpot and no more from him would be allowed.

At 87 years old, long after most had given up the technical fight for golf or leisure,  my Aspergers father wanted to make sure he could work on his technical papers again.

By this point, I was the only one who was engaging him, editing, arguing, challenging, clarifying and just giving him the counter force he needed to keep thinking, thinking, thinking about the experiences of a rich and idiosyncratic life in design engineering.

This ferocity, his inability to take “yes” for an answer was one of his defining characteristics.   The other was his unconditional love, always coupled with an inability to understand emotion and nuance, that lead him to give and to serve, often without helping.

To his dying day, my father still wanted to be up against that coal face, smashing away at the wall of complacency that experts who never really tended a machine put up.   He wanted to fight the academics who believed in their simplified computer models, never understanding how exceptional and quirky real systems can be in operation.   One of his treasures was a copy of an 1854 article by Rankine on shaft vibration, an article misread by experts after his death, and then blamed for their own mistakes.   Such a battle.

Writing into the void, challenging texts that seek to get to a deeper understanding of the eccentricity of the real world, where forces cannot easily be simplified, even as experts dismiss your work as that of a kook, well, seeing that means I see myself as my father’s child.

I slog against the same kind of coal face, my computer just feet away of where he did his work, set up so I can peek past my monitor to see how he is doing, where he needs assistance.   The Avro Arrow soars when I look up as it never did in life, the engines he helped design burning only on paper.

The isolation and the persistence, the dogged work to explain, never giving up, well, it’s just a powerful family tradition, even if it is not one that was ever valued much outside this basement.

On Father’s Day 2000, 14 years ago, I gave him a website just to help him get his papers onto the internet.   I was there, all the time.   I’m not the first in my family to sit in this basement, railing away on the internet like a crackpot, but I suspect I will be the last.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
— Calvin Coolidge

“Why God, why do you keep afflicting me?” I asked.

Her answer was simple.

“Do you have any idea how stubborn you are?”

I do know how stubborn my parents were, do know how they taught me the behaviours and choices of Aspergers, the best that they had to give.   I got unbounded curiosity from my mother, stubborn thought from my father.

I have known many people who cared for me who wanted to know when, when, I would stop being persistent and stubborn, would just move on rather than pounding at the same damn coal face all my life.

I am awfully proud of my father the crackpot.  He knew what he believed to be right and kept toiling away, trying to get that knowledge into the world.

That’s a family tradition that I valued.

Conventional Loss

It’s impossible to rethink every moment of your life.

Researchers will be happy to explain to you the limits of perception.   It’s amazing how much people miss when they think they are looking hard.  If you work really hard, you can expand what you experience, but in the end, the limits of the senses and brain focus really do create hard edges to what you can perceive.

It turns out that we need the narratives of others sharing what they perceive to build up a bigger view of the world, to have more context.   It is only by working to engage the experience of others that we can expand our own consciousness beyond our blind spots.

If we don’t have the power to even experience the world as it is, instead writing huge amounts of it off as noise, beyond our power to discriminate, how can we have the power to understand everything that is going on around us at all times?

Writers understand this challenge.   If we want to convey stories to you, we need a shorthand that symbolizes what you already know and understand in big, satisfying blocks.

These blocks are the conventions of storytelling, easy building blocks that can be arranged in different ways with a twist here or a new image there, the conventional and comfortable spiced with just enough novelty to keep your attention.

When they built Oscar Meyer Lunchables, they knew that shoppers would feel better with a product they already understood 80-90% of, and only had a small twist.   They bits of meat and cheese and cracker were all very conventional, very comfortable, while only the sectioned yellow tray was novel.

The marketer had seconds to get the idea across, so keeping the amount of thinking down for a busy, shopping mom was crucial.  She had plenty of other things to use her brain for.

As a transperson, I am limited by the conventions you already have in your brain.  The most I can ask is for a second or two of new understanding, not for a whole rethinking of all the deeply held conventions you hold about gender and separation.

ShamanGal was in a workshop at Esalen.  Two gals her age saw her as a transwoman right away, though they didn’t suggest that to SG until she came out to them.  They had enough experience with transpeople that they could understand her in context, not just “a tranny” but as an individual.

For the rest of the group, older women, when SG shared her trans view on the topics of biology, gender and stress, they were taken aback.   This wasn’t someone who fit their conventions of transpeople, defended and hurting souls who were just guys-in-dresses.

The young women who already a had a set of very broad and more nuanced conventions around what a transperson is got SG quick.    The older women, who had much more rigid and limited conventions around trans, didn’t really get SG at all, because they had no time, no incentive and no mindshare to do the very, very hard work of taking apart their old conventions and building new.

There is no room in our head for new conventions unless and until we are ready to remove the conventions that already fill that space.

Change in scientific thought often comes slowly because the people holding the old conventions have to die off, opening the path to power for those with newer conventions, who then go on to obstruct progress in their own way.

My own conventional understandings are always under examination.   I am ready to move beyond my old expectations to be present enough to see things in a new way, a new light, through new eyes.

This is what being present and vulnerable is about, the willingness to sweep away outdated conventions to see the world in a queer way, always looking for nuance and uniqueness.  It demands we come out from the fortress of convention to be exposed and open to what really is in the world.

A huge amount of business consulting is based around this simple premise: how do you see the world not as you expect it to be but as it really is?   How does engaging what is change your attitude, approaches and choices in the world?

The basic trick of trans narrative construction has always been simple.  How do I use the conventions you already hold, add a twist, and then get you to respond as I want?

Abjection and oppression of gender have always been at the heart of those stories, along with birth defects or hobbyist tropes.  We don’t try and form new conventions because we know that the limits of our stories are the limits of the comprehension of our audience, and those limits are the limits of the conventional thinking they already hold.

We live inside the conventions of our culture, and those conventions don’t allow transpeople much breathing room.

If SG had asked if transwomen would be welcome in the workshop, the odds are good that people would say no, because their conventional image of what a transperson is is defended and clunky, someone who might make other women feel uncomfortable.   In the name of Thirdhand Fear, they would have excluded an irritant, just for their own good, much as SG was not invited to a work friend’s bachelorette party.

But SG didn’t fit their conventions about transpeople, so even when she spoke from her trans experience, it just read as noise to many.

I know who I am.   I know how to express myself.   I don’t know, however, how to thrive within the limits of your conventional thinking.   I have seen too many faces glaze over while I tried to explain myself, knowing that “blah blah blah,” was all that they were perceiving.

Engaging stories, I see the conventions at work, shorthand for understanding, taking away the audience obligation to think by using easy shorthand.   It’s impossible to rethink every moment of your life, so creators learn to keep novelty to a minimum, using it only where absolutely required.   Even improv artists know that audiences love it when their conventional expectations are affirmed and not challenged.

People love their conventions, usually so much that whatever doesn’t fit into them is lost.  We often call that observer bias, the engaging of what fits our conventional expectations and the discarding of what challenges them.

I don’t know how to live inside of the conventions of people around me, including the convention many young people who are open have that I am crusty, oppressive and over-the-hill because I am not young and pretty, because I do not conform to the conventions of youth.

Conventional loss is taken for granted in human culture.  What doesn’t fit the convention falls through the cracks, left for the queers.

My loss.

Premise Healing

If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit

That’s old comedy writer wisdom, usually attributed to Johnny Carson.  He knew that of people started smiling when you explained the underlying idea, they would most often be laughing by the time you got to the punch lines.    There is nothing more fun than a hot audience, one primed to be enthusiastic because they warmed to the premise, bought in to the excitement, as my bosses have figured out when I turned the room over to them.

An audience is complicitous in their own seduction.   If they have decided they want to buy in, they will do whatever they can to create success.   It’s much harder to bomb with an audience who paid for $200 opera tickets than it is with drunks who just showed up to get loud.

Comedians are usually not great audiences of comedy.   They don’t respond like you want an audience to respond, with warm, engaged, infectious and growing laughter.   They don’t share in the punter’s enthusiasm.  You can’t afford to get lost in the laughter if laughter is your business.

Instead, they analyze comedy. looking at constructions and references, grasping word choice and cadence in the service of getting the laugh.  They approach comedy almost as the old Yankee who said, “That joke was so darn funny that I almost laughed.”

There is a huge business in offering workshops, seminars and consultations that offer the promise of healing.   One publication calls this selling — excuse me, “opening hearts and minds to” — the “philosophies, products and services of the new millennium.”

I don’t believe there are any healers in the world.   In the end, only you can heal yourself.

There are, of course, people who do help you heal, be they doctors who treat the body, or wise people who help you see your own choices and attitudes in a new way.   Healing is always internal, even if it almost always requires the support, intervention and assistance of other people.

Opening the pathways for healing, from just making sure you have soup when you are sick to pinning together bones so they can knit together properly, is an valuable and important job, but it all just facilitates the environment for healing. Others may be able to set you up for better and faster healing, but that is all they can do.

Healing is hard work that you have to do by yourself, no matter how well supported you may be.   Sure, it’s better with someone there with you, but in the end, you are the one who has to run the fever and vomit in the bucket.   It is your suffering that is part of the process.

People will pay more to be entertained than educated.
— Johnny Carson

My recast for the newage community: “People will pay more to be comforted than confronted.”

If you want an audience to buy the bit, then the premise has to be easy and not challenging.   You have to give a sweet legend behind a technique that is pleasurable, loaded with positive sensations and emotions.   If it’s not comforting, they probably aren’t going to come back, no matter how much it helped.

Most people don’t really want to heal because healing requires change, requires letting go of behaviours and habits that have become deeply part of them.   We didn’t develop our crippling defences for no reason; they protect real wounds, shelter real scars.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.   What are you willing to let go of, willing to renounce, in order to open up space for new and more vulnerable choices?

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.
— Don Marquis

My recast for the newage community: If you make people feel that they are healing they’ll love you, but if you make them really heal, they’ll hate you.

There is no birth without pain.
—  Carl Jung

The journey to enlightenment takes many, many, many small steps.   Stepping out of our habits and interacting with others who also feel the need for personal growth is always a good thing.   Just the attempt to try a deeper practice that helps us see our world and our choices in a new context is always good, always a step towards the light.

Processing feelings out of the flow of the everyday world allows us to deal with microcosms of experience that we can handle both deeply and in a new way.    It lets us operate inside of community that isn’t looking to us for everyday routine obligations, but instead only holds the responsibility of support.

They often say that time changes things,
but actually you have to change them yourself.
—   Andy Warhol

To me joy is an anæsthetic.   It give us a high that is helps us do the hard work we need to do in the world, be that building new relationships or building new roads.   Bliss is not an end in itself, but an essential part of the heroes struggle, keeping them present and engaged for the next challenge.

Many today, though, want joy to be an end in itself, a sensation we crave and seek out, but separated from the real work of change and healing.   They begin to venerate the ladder, the doctrine, rather than the place to which the ladder leads, the real work of connection, opening and healing.

I’m a tough sell for newage types because I have seen many premises go by in my time.   As a theologian, I know well that one little twist in a good story can distort it out of health and into a tool for manipulative ends.   I don’t respond as an audience, I respond as a performer, more likely to observe than to be swept in.

We make up premises, stories, not because they are literally true, but because they offer comfort in the face of the challenges of a human life.  They can bring healing — any modality can work — not because of the accuracy but because they support change and growth, making letting go of the old and taking up the new a little easier.

Every premise, though, has the seeds of its own failure built into it.   Trying to take it too far just distracts us from the underlying truth that it isn’t the dogma that is sacred, it is the very personal healing it serves to facilitate that we always need to focus on.

Healing is something that comes from inside you.   You need others to help point the way, to give you support in the process, but too much dependency on externals only clogs up the process of doing the work you have to do with your own fortitude, endurance and discipline.

The premise may be fun, something that it is a joy to buy into, comforting and diverting, but in the end, it’s just the basis of some laughs, not a bit of pure gospel.    It exists to play with, not to replace the requirement for individual thought and personal responsibility.

It’s fun to be seduced.    It can be quite an invigorating rush.

Enlightenment, though, always takes work.

Useful & Selfful

My history is clear.  I was useful, very useful, because I was selfless.

I learned early that I couldn’t let my own stuff out because that would just leave me slammed and shamed over my own difference in the world.   My mother was clear that the world was about her and no one else, and the system was clear that my struggles were something to keep silent about.

I learned atheistic denial of self.   Sure, it took decades to get the space and maturity to go inwards and process all the subjugated desires and knowledge, which was required to get past being defensive & manipulative in the world, but I did it.

The last decade of my parents life was a real test of those skills.  Others, usually professionals, would tell me that I had to take care of myself first, but I would just look at them with sad & compassionate eyes, accepting their kind thoughts while both of us knew that wasn’t really an option.

My experience is of getting asked to leave support groups because I held too much for the other members to handle and the needs of the many always had to come before the needs of one individual.   For the past twenty months I have scoured the interwebs looking for places that I might be able to find an understanding and open audience, without luck.

I am unconventional.   I know that.   My experience helps me walk into the worlds of others and bring light, but my experience also makes it hard for other people to walk into my world and bring comfort & encouragement.

My sister has been set as my lifeline, an umbilical strangulated by her own stresses, limits and issues.   She wants to be there for me, and when she fails, she takes it hard, which further impairs her energy and efforts.   To keep her there, I have had to be selfless, something I know how to do, but something that has always, always, always, always come at quite a cost.

As I have become attenuated, I have also become less useful.    For me, that feeling of not being useful is horribly depleting.

I need to feel useful again.  I need to feel useful again.

But I cannot do it by becoming selfless, no matter how much my being selfless makes it much easier for people to accept my gifts.  5) The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted.

I know that if I demand people be there for me in a way that I need, rather than just accepting them being there in any small way that they can manage, bounded by their own limited focus, energy, compassion, vulnerability, openness and commitment, that I put up a wall between myself and others.   I get that.   The gracious thing is to take what they offer and be grateful for whatever small crumbs come my way, to “drink their milkshakes.”

But I have been starving on the kindness of others.   Maybe that’s because I am not feeding myself well, not being self-full enough.

Learning to be selfless in the world was hard.   My self gets boiled down to text missives that I publish without any expectation of someone reading and engaging them.  I exist, yes, but only in my own prose.   That is not a place that is as nourishing and empowering as one might hope, at least not in the moment.

Is the problem that I don’t know how to be selfful in the world in a way that both nourishes me and is accessible for other people?   Probably.   It’s been a long, hard, painful experience in learning how to put myself away for others comfort, losing my own balance to participate and be useful in the world.

Finding support, though, for being selfful in the world, especially when one is both as big and as emotionally malnourished as I am, well, that has proven to be a very, very difficult challenge.

I need to learn how to be useful without also having to be selfless.   To do that, I have to get past the deep wounds that have come from being selfless in the wider world for way too damn long, the scars that bind me, the wasting and the damage.

And that seems quite a challenge.