Suck It Up

I have proven that, when required, I can suck it up.

Ten years full time taking care of my parents?   Oh, yeah, I can suck it up, burn everything, do the self-denial, toughen up, show the discipline, make it happen, keep plugging, come through.    I have that skill.

I know how to go into my head, figure out the right thing and then do it.

But trusting my heart?   Being happy?  Indulging my own art?  Letting loose and dancing?

Not so much.

Is there a way to blend my own self-expression and my own capacity for heads-down work?   Is there a method to being both blissful and driven?

My life has split service and expression for so long that they feel alien to one another, like two separate modes of life.

I know how to suck it up.  I know how to transcend.

I don’t know how to integrate those expressions.

 

 

The Comfort Of Certainty

I love great preachers.   The best of them really touch my heart as they create a smooth and graceful testimony, pulling me along with stories and wit.   I love the ride, wherever they want to take me, from warm caring to fire & brimstone on a divine rant casting out the demons seen in the world.

I used to enjoy watching televangelists as they spun their sermons out, delighting in their rhetorical tricks and smooth delivery, delighting in the flow of their absolute faith.

Now, that doesn’t mean I turned my brain off.   I still hear the tricks they use to gloss over facts, how they just pop out unfounded assertions as facts and move on, never acknowledging doubt, only on any anecdote that supports their case.   My smarts rear up a bit at that point, knowing power of selective engagement, only accepting inputs that support your case, but I still get the emotional satisfaction of the plea.

I wrote a few days ago about why artists make horrible missionaries because they need to ruthlessly create rather than to repeat.   The process of creation is always the process of doubt, of living in the telling question rather than in the certain answer.   Who, What, Where, Why, When is the dogma of the creator, the karmic questioning of a restless soul rather than the dogmatic polish of one who is sure they know the answer and just want you to get it too.

Still, I understand the religious urge in people, the peace and comfort that comes from the beauty of ritual.   Old school churches vested their ritual in liturgy and art, in music and architecture, but the American way was to vest ritual in preaching, in the music of the human voice and the architecture of rhetoric.

To me, watching Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart was like going to a cathedral.  It wasn’t the tent or the arena they preached in that was sacred, rather it was the preaching itself that carried you away.   As an auditory person with a feminine heart, I understood this transfiguration, why a profane preacher in a public event felt possessed of the spirit as he poured out his passionate words.

Feeling a part of something larger than us is wonderful.   It is why so many volunteered for Extreme Makeover Home Edition or on building Neolithic monuments over the years and worked harder than they would have worked for pay or for themselves.

Demanding allegiance to doctrine to feel that connection seems only to use that impulse to build organizations.  We may have to pay for the religious experience somehow, pay for the tents and the TV time and the travel and all, but Michels tells us that quickly the key goal of any organization is to perpetuate itself.

I have come to believe that the key difference between atheists and believers is not the presence of God, rather it is the presence of an interventionist God.  I have written about why many preachers feel the need to reject evolution to maintain the belief in a direct, interventionist God.   Atheists, on the other hand reject the idea that somehow God can directly help or punish us, reject the idea that there is a God who concerns themselves with the details of an everyday human life.

An interventionist God becomes a tool for preachers to use to demand compliance and offer rewards without any real proof.  A universe with spiritual modalities cannot be used that way, even if it still offers us a sense of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

Still, for me, being swept into the majesty of great and energetic preaching is a delight, even if their twisted logic and unfounded assertions often set off alarm bells about manipulation beyond clear thought.   The emotion and vitality of a confident and certain preacher lets me feel their energy, rather than just evaluate their arguments.

I understand the comfort many get from the certainty of their message, even if I know that comfort is both false and dangerous.  But it is another reason that being a missionary just comes hard to me, because certainty has never been in my heart.

Whole Enchilada

We live in a time where the expectation of personal customization runs rampant.  Have it your way.  Roll your own.  Order à la carte.  Install your own skin.   Only take what you want.

That idea can tend to lead people to expect that life is a pick and choose kind of experience, one where you can take only the bits you desire and leave the bits that you just don’t fancy.   It can lead them to believe that they can get the good parts without paying any costs for them, get what they want without any downside.

The notion of an ideal life without trade-offs, a self-selected life without the requirement for compromise, a designed life where we only have to get what we want without paying the piper is a fraud.

“Every gift is also a curse,” I said to Performance Guy.

“Maybe we can work to eliminate the bad side while keeping the good side,” he suggested.

I laughed.  “If you cut the coin in half, do you really eliminate one side of it?  Or do you just create two coins both with two sides?”   He saw my point.

I have seen many transpeople who have a theoretical view of gender in the world.   They want to design their own gender expression before they manifest it.

These sketches, of course, all follow the same pattern.  They keep all the bits they find desirable and good while eliminating all the bits they find challenging, oppressive, costly and bad.

A therapist once told me that she told a transwoman client of some of the costs of living as a woman in the world, including challenges in the workplace.

“Well, that won’t apply to me,” the client said, waving off the comment.

“Well, then maybe you won’t really be living as a woman,” the therapist thought.

In the end, immersion is immersion.   If you want to get into the role, you take the whole role, or you don’t really take the role at all.

Staying in the hypothetical and imaginary is fun, but the real world is shaped by real choices which always bring real reactions and real responses.   We become constrained by the laws of earth where all is connected and every choice for something is a choice against something else.

The best part of that constraint is that it helps us become real, become connected and become profound.   The only way to achieve mastery is to try and fail and try again, getting smarter and more competent with every choice.   The actual is always richer, more nuanced and more powerful than the hypothetical because the actual has to exist in many dimensions, has to carry the tool marks of its creation, has to be embodied and manifest.

“A girlfriend called me last night,” ShamanGal told me, “and she just whined for a half hour about what had gone badly this week.  I could never have imagined that I would have to sit through that when I imagined being a girl, but then again, I couldn’t imagined I would have liked it too.  It felt good to be there for her, felt good to let her share, felt good to know that she would be there for me when I need to vent.”

She is learning, bit by bit, the costs and the joys of becoming real rather than hypothetical, of owning the whole life of a woman rather than some kind of edited claim that comes from a distanced view of what is good and what is bad.   By surrendering judgment and letting go of prejudice her life becomes real and therefore much more full of vulnerable and vital truth.

It was The Velveteen Rabbit who taught me that surrendering to love could make us real, and The Red Shoes that taught me that owning my own messy passion was much better than trying to substitute nice commercial passion that will eventually force us to dance their tune.

For me, the thing that LGBT people used to share is the experience of being shamed into the closet.  We had to fight to get out into the light so we could get the feedback and exposure we need to separate good from bad, to grow healthy.    To think we can judge the good from the bad without actual experience, just based on the way we think life should be, seem to me to be a path to crippling ourselves before we even learn to walk proud.

You want life, you get all of life.  You get the whole enchilada.  “Life is a banquet and some poor suckers are starving to death,” TBB likes to remind me.   We starve, of course, because like some children, we only want to eat what we judge desirable, what we think we should like, rather than exploring, tasting and feasting on what is really offered to us with gratitude and gusto.

Reality is a wonderful thing, even if it is beyond our expectations, our imaginations or our desire.  Only by engaging it rather than just trying to pick out what we judge to be the good parts can we actually get a whole life out of it.

Every coin has two sides.  Every choice has a price.  Every gift is also a curse.  Every action comes with a lesson.

Thank God.

Come Out Queer

When I signed up for trans, when I chose to self identify as a transperson, I signed up for queer.

It was at that moment, back in the mid-1980s, that I stopped trying to be normal, or at least to appear normal, and chose to acknowledge myself.

What was the first thing I was told at my first trans support group meeting?

I was doing it wrong.

I came as a guy-in-a-dress, engaging in gender play.   My own hope was that I could stay stable in my assigned gender role but just be more androgynous.  I didn’t think I could be ambiguously gendered, as I knew I didn’t have the body for that, but I could own more of my own feminine heart through wielding feminine symbols.

Back in the 1980′s, feminine symbols were rather extreme, big hair, eyeliner, shoulder pads, platform shoes, all that, but that seemed fun and potent to us back then.   It was a time of contrast and extreme in fashion.

Walking into that meeting and using my given name, not trying to appear femaled, but instead letting the body I went through puberty with be obvious, well, that seemed like the honest thing to do.  I was a product manager in integrated software back then, and integration was my grail, that kind of actualization and integrity that comes from embracing the ambiguities and contradictions of truth.

My quest for a decade was how to be trans without deception, how to focus on revealing myself as whole rather than concealing one part of me or another to fit into a predefined role.

That was the core of queerness to me, that standing proud as an individual, unique, quirky, not tailored to fit in one box or another.   I wanted to move beyond the social pressure to conform to the personal expression of the essential queerness and connection of all people.   We are all fundamentally the same and all essentially different, so let us celebrate both our continuous common humanity and our bold, personal specialness.

But in that first support meeting, they told me I was doing it wrong.   Their first question was if I was a transsexual or a transvestite.

Transvestites, you see worked to assume a kind of role, with layers of dressing and a femme name, and I wasn’t doing that.

Transsexuals worked to reject gender and blend in, planning how they would disconnect from their past so they could show their true nature, and I wasn’t doing that.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help me be a proper TV or a proper TS, explaining what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.  They wanted to tell me, in other words, how I could be more comforting and less challenging to them.

I rejected all that shit.   I let my freak flag fly, embraced my own queerness.  That choice shaped all my actions in the community, where I worked to affirm people’s choices rather than correct them.

Learning to embrace  took work on my part as I saw other transpeople whose expression squicked me and they had to remind me that my discomfort was my issue, not theirs and I had to work on my own feelings and thoughts rather than changing them.   My growing up and getting clear was about engaging the lessons others offered me, not about separating the world into those who were doing it right and those who were doing it wrong.

For me, the transgender journey was a walk away from the pounding of social pressure, way from the demand to fit in by appearing normative, away from the threats to be separated and cast out unless we denied our nature and modified our choices for the comfort of the community.  That was the kind of abuse and oppression that I saw as the problem.

To have people leave behind the demands to actually explore their own heart and mind, to create a new and integrated way to be in the world, well, that was the heart of the transgender journey as I saw it.   It still is.

My fight has always been against the groupthink of imposed identity politics, the demand that others do the right thing or get ostracized, the pounding of others to fit into assigned roles.    I did that in the 1990s in coalition building retreats where I asked the basic question if our goal was to build a strong LGBT voice or to build strong LGBT voices.   The goal to me was obvious.

It never mattered to me who thought they had the right to demand that others surrender their voices to the official doctrine of the group.   I have seen many, many people with many positions take that pose and they were all wrong.   That was my position on the first day I came out as trans, and it is still my position today.

Recently, the legendary Jayne County got suspended on Facebook because she used queer and reclaimed language to offer and inclusive invitation to an event.   I have certainly done  that and been punished for it, but I know that unless we have the freedom of language we do not have the freedom of thought.   Silencing other people for their word choice may seem simple, but all it does is obscure belief and understanding, not erase it.

And a letter has been passed around to be signed by hundreds of transpeople who consider themselves cool and proper to attack  a few transwomen for expressing their views in public.   To me, this seems like an updated slam book, a junior high school thing where kids who consider themselves cool get to pound on uncool people for challenging and flaunting the norms that the cool kids sacrifice so much to conform to.

The first point in this slam is that these transwomen do not speak for the community.

Of course, that is correct.  What one person speaks with absolute, inerrant authority for all other transpeople?   None of us have that power, nor would we want it, because all it would lead to is being attacked by people who believe we are wrong.

When I came out as trans, I came out for queer.  I came out to celebrate and value the power of the individual standing against the social pressure to be normative which forces people to deny and damage their own beautiful hearts.

From my first trans support group meeting, I was told how I was wrong, how I had to modify my behaviour to fit in, to follow the norms, to do it right.

Over the last 30 years, I have pissed off lots of people who wanted me to agree with them or to be silenced, but I didn’t take all this shit to stop speaking my tiny shard of truth just to placate them.   I may try to be gracious in my language choices to help facilitate communication and connection, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love reclaiming words and concepts to help reclaim pride and expression.

My basic trick is simple: I speak for myself.  I don’t make any claim to speak for others even if others have chosen to believe that somehow, my words should reflect their expression and not my own.

I speak for myself and delight when other people speak for themselves, speak boldly proudly and queerly about their experiences in the world, when their share their own tiny shards of truth.   When they do that, they expand my vision and my understanding of our shared world and that is a wonderful gift.

Anyone who wants to get together with the other cool kids to demand that people surrender their voice to the group, that they follow the accepted trans expression or be silent, well, those people are resisting queerness, resisting the glory of empowering individuals to speak their own queer truth in the world.

Over the decades, I have come to understand myself as a woman, come to appreciate assimilation and the power of the shared knowledge of women.    I have come to know that the real power of women, too, is not to surrender their voice to the group, but to speak boldly for their own personal shard of our shared truth.

When I signed up for trans, I signed up for queer.

Amen.

Execute

In the end, success in life isn’t about who comes up with the best ideas.

Success is about who, in as many moments as possible, chooses brilliantly.   Life is about execution, not about concepts.   And I say that as a gal who loves concepts.

Knowing the concepts may well help you to make better choices.  As Eisenhower is reputed to have said “Plans are useless, but planning is crucial.”  No plan ever survived its first encounter with real life, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

That’s why generals understand that usually every campaign falls or rises not on long term strategy or up close tactics but rather on plain old logistics, on having the power to execute your visions.  Successful plans must always be deeply grounded in the realistic and the possible, not in the ideal and the desirable.

The only way to make brilliant choices is to learn from the choices you make that were not so brilliant.  Understanding failure not as a stopping point but rather as a teaching moment lets you sharpen your understanding, lets you hone your skills.

The only moment we have the power of choice in the world is the moment between stimulus and response.  Once we make our choice, the effects from that ripple out into the world beyond our control.   The only way we can affect what happens is to choose again, to use the next moment to make another choice that magnifies or modifies our last choice.  Choose again.

At the heart of all success in the world is brilliant execution,  excellent, precise, considered, professional, polished, wholehearted execution.   The better you understand what can be done, the better you get at being able to accomplish your plans, the more success you have.

The mark of an amateur in the world is not starting from am understanding of the real situation and the present resources that exist to execute any plan.   It’s easy to sit in a room and blue sky the world, imagining best case scenarios that someone else should make happen to get to your dream goal, but once the rubber hits the road, those plans always sputter out.

Unless you are allocating the resources, unless you are paying for it, it is always the people who actually do the work who shape the results.   Telling people what to do, what the ideal result and process should be is just a little fantasy trip unless you are supplying the muscle or the cash.   This is a challenge in community engagement where people want control without buy-in, want to tell others the right things to do without contributing the resource to help make it happen.

The minute you zoom into the future you zoom into a world outside of your control.  No one riding a surfboard needs to imagine how they will show off to their friends after the ride, because the moment they do that, they lose focus and pretty much ensure that their ride will end with a splash.

What can you do in this moment to head towards a better outcome?  Sure, knowing what good outcomes might be is a nice thing, but the choice to be made is now, the next move, the next step, and the responses will not always be what you might expect.

How do you execute with confidence, grace and competency that will leave you proud of your choice right now?  How do you be open, aware and humble enough to see the results of that choice and alter your next choice to be more effective?

Mastery is never a theoretical thing.   Mastery comes from having a deep enough understanding of the situation and the possibilities to make choices that appear brilliant and instinctive to others.   Mastery is the synthesis of lessons, of huge amounts of success and failure, that allow us to be in the moment executing with excellence and humility.

When we are caught up in our own challenges, our own fatigue, pain and scars, it becomes very hard to execute at a high level.  We become bound up in our humanity, tripped up by our frailty.    We end up choosing to serve unspoken or unhealed needs rather than serving some idealized success.  After all, nobody has infinite resource available in this world and any choice for one thing is a choice against something else.

Our choices are shaped by our priorities, which are always present but often not explicit.  Because we can no more see our own hearts or minds than we can see the back of our head, one of the only ways to understand what we think and feel is by studying our own choices to determine our deep and hidden priorities.

We succeed at what we value most.  That success is always rooted in our choices, defined by the way we execute in each moment of our life.    Success isn’t based on how brilliant our ideas are, rather it is shaped by the choices we make.   And the choices we make are completely based on what we value enough give attention and effort towards, what we set as priorities for our limited and usually diminishing resources.

Choosing not to be in the moment with our choices but rather to run ahead of them into our own fears and expectations takes away both the power to make better choices that are more effective and the lessons we can learn about ourselves from understanding the choices we do make, understanding why we make them.

Success is about choosing well.   Choice is power, and respecting that choice is not always rational or to plan is the only way we can own any control of our own choices.

Because in the end, our life is defined by what we choose to execute on, not on what shoulda, would or coulda been true.

Artists Make Horrible Missionaries

The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts,
for two forces are at war within him –
on the one hand the common human longing
for happiness, satisfaction and security in life,
and on the other a ruthless passion for creation
which may go so far as to override every personal desire.
— Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul [1933]

I’m a horrible missionary.    I hate going out on the stump to create an impact other people’s memory by repeating the old well honed and effective performance.

It is exploration that is a blast for me, not affirmation.  Doing the same polished shtick over and over again to get audience affirmation doesn’t seem really attractive to me.  I’m primarily a writer, not a performer, more interested in ruthless creation than in gracious repetition.

I can perform, of course.   All writers are performers on some level, managing voice or voices in text.  And I did lots of live television,  helping people tell their stories, plenty of presentations, conveying information to a group.

But is my delight in transporting an audience over and over again?   No.

My delight is going someplace new, unknown, coming up with new connections and sharing them.  For me, creation is the joy, even at the cost of comfort.

 A musician must make music, an artist must paint,
A poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.
What one can be, one must be.
—  Abraham Maslow

[Artists] love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form,
just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis.
Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional,
they always push on to newer worlds.
— Rollo May, “The Courage To Create

Perhaps there’s such a thing as a well-adjusting artist, someone who is constantly adjusting himself.  But there is no perfect tense to an artist, no well adjusted artist — they are not finished.  An artist who is perfectly finished is probably done.
Similarly, Wilde was not, for example, a homosexual — he was not a badged thing.
An artist is always in the process of changing.
—Stephen Fry, novelist and star of a film about Oscar Wilde.

The defining function of the artist is to cherish consciousness.
— Max Eastman

Artist as Guide:
The popular idea that the artist’s primary motivation is to communicate with others is false.  The first necessity of the artist is to communicate with himself in order to establish a reconcliation of the various forces in his own psyche.

The end product, when successful in the achievement of this goal, will enable others to communicate with themselves.

This transference is the appeal of art.
— Davis L. Smith, 196

Great craftspeople please an audience.  Great artists challenge themselves.

And they make horrible missionaries.

Listen. Repeat. Ally.

You want my simple formula for being an ally to transgender people?   Easy.

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

Transgender people are not a class of people all trying to share their own identity.  We are each an individual trying to claim and express our own truth in the world, a truth beyond what convention assigns based on reproductive biology.

Our power, our truth is in our story.   If you want to be an ally to us, your first obligation is to actually listen to our story, to hear it and engage it.  There is a reason my first opening to any new transperson is usually “Tell me a story.”

Our story isn’t some theoretical discourse.   Our story is a very personal tale of deep self knowledge, a fight against stigma and denial, and a struggle to build a true, healthy expression in the world.   We don’t need to be challenged to carry the full responsibility for the choices of every person who you might define as trans, we need to be supported in owning our own story and our own choices.

When you listen to our story, you can get those truths.   You can learn the details of our lives, the challenges we face, and the hard decisions we have to make to respect both those around us and the truth in our own heart.

In fact, it’s only through those details that you can find out what is real about any transgender person.   We have had to break the mould to be ourselves, had to walk away from expectations placed on us to be boldly ourselves.

Listening, really listening to individual transpeople is just the first step, though.  The next step is to repeat those stories in the world, to pass them on.

When you share the stories that transgender people entrust to you, you open up the space for free and authentic expression in the world.   You show others that transpeople are not beyond understanding or comprehension.   Your telling their stories lets others see the humanity and beauty you see in the transpeople that you know and care about.

One of the biggest challenges for any transperson is facing the challenges and questions about transgender from those who see the non-normative as a curiosity, something to entertain and amuse them, something about which they feel obligated to pass judgment.   We don’t need more judgment, even yours, rather we need more understanding of the human cost of being trans in the world, both of being trans and out or of trans and closeted, as both have a high cost.

It is only by telling the stories of transpeople that you can experience for yourself what they feel everyday facing these attitudes.   By standing up for transpeople, making their stories heard in the world, you both make things a bit easier for them and begin to understand their challenges.

If you want to be the ally of a transperson, it is simple to start with their stories:

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

All of my support of other transpeople begins with these two steps.   I know that we each have a profound and individual story, that my story is just my story, not the right way to be trans in the world, and I know that if I want others to be my ally, I have to start by being an ally to them.  How can I expect them to hear me if I can’t listen to them and repeat their story in a way that they affirm?

All of what I want from an ally begins with these two steps.   Having someone else listen and then stand up for my stories, help negotiate breaking the ice and developing understanding, giving credibility and empathy with others by sharing my stories, well, that seems to be a great start.

Being an ally starts with suspending what you expect to hear, with letting go of your own preconceptions to listen to trans narratives, and then continues with repeating those stories in the world, first back to the people who were vulnerable and open enough to share them with you, and then to others whose hearts and minds can also be touched by them.

1) Listen.
2) Repeat.

If you want to stand with us and make space for us to grow in the world, just start there.

Legos and Ramps

When I look back at the last twenty years of my writing, much of it available on-line, I see a ramp.

It’s me going through that spiral of enlightenment that takes one simultaneously deeper and higher, the kind of sacred immersion that lets you see personal details so close up that they reveal themselves to be the building blocks of universal experience.

It’s me getting closer and closer to the infinite, which lets patterns emerge and reveal their forms, truths that other people can identify in their life even though they have no words for them, having never been immersed enough to clearly outline their shapes.

The few other people who follow my work often comment on how they see their own challenges in it, on how they wish these ideas were out in the wider world so they could use them to explain their own struggles to others.

This ramp, though, is just like the process that built it.  It isn’t one seamless thesis, taut and whole, rather it is created with thousands and thousands of little bits, ideas stacked like pebbles,  words shaped like waves, concepts built like geological formations, built up here, removed there.

It is a ramp made of mental Lego bricks, placed together over two decades, one by one, a bit at a time.   The shape is ramshackle and erratic, full of jagged edges and switchbacks, constructed not from a plan created of whole cloth but rather from the experiences and lessons of a lifetime.

How do you invite anyone to climb such a ramp?    It isn’t the destination of the ramp that was the point, rather it was the process of building it, the revelations that come from the serendipitous and hard won connections made, the ways it mirrors and illuminates the challenges of the world in bits of created language.

“So,” people ask me, “tell me quickly what you write about.”

I build a vast ramp to understanding created out of bricks that, like adobe, bind together sharp thought and mushy emotions to reflect the revelations I struggled with on my journey though life.

It’s a great thing, my ramp, and for those who have the time and will and capacity to study it, I have shared everything I hold dear.

But I have no illusion that many people at all will want to study it.  They have their own constructions to build, their own routines to follow, their own challenges to battle.

This is, of course, the essential challenge of the return of the gift, as Campbell describes of the the quest of the hero.   How do you come back fundamentally changed and explain that change to people who have never taken that quest and fought those dragons with “Thou Shalt” on every scale?

I have a packet of essays from my journey, a literary construction of the ramp I followed, to get deep and get transcendent at the same time.   I am very proud of my hard, wearing, costly work, very centred in my own understanding and construction.

But do I think anyone will believe it is beautiful and attractive enough to admire it, to want to examine it, to engage the twists and turns?   Well, maybe a few will, someday, but they will only take what helps them on their journey of building and move on.

And this leaves me in the same world with everyone else holding a story, owning a ramp, that just puts people off as queer and ugly, leading to someplace they couldn’t possibly go if they want to be part of good and polite society.

Can I simultaneously stand at the top of the ramp, exploring and being where I have worked so hard to get and at the bottom of the ramp, cajoling others to take the first step towards a new a transformative understanding?  Can I both be the graduate prof and the elementary teacher?

I have to admit that I find that duality very hard to achieve.  To get pulled down to the base level every time I face someone who wants to reject the big, ugly ramp being built next door is the kind of wearing process that fundamentally creates the abuse of stigma.  I may know how beautiful my ramp is, how strong and functional it is, and how it is the work of calling that leads me right past gender to enlightenment, but fighting the ugly fight everyday will just wear you down, take up your resources and bruise your heart.

TBB would remind me that other people’s concerns are none of my business.     She is right, of course, you need to just live your own life and let your freak flag fly.   We need to make the most of life, it isn’t a dress rehearsal.   Still, everyone has neighbours, everyone needs community, everyone is just human.

Everyone needs.  And women certainly need.

Welcome to my magical ramp.   It explains itself, not in the bricks used to construct it, but in the meaning that they hold inside.

I am the shadow my words cast.
— Octavio Paz

You just don’t get it?   You want me to simplify it so it doesn’t require accepting gifts from outside the norm?

I don’t know how to do that.   And I’m fairly sure that I don’t have the strength or the will to find a way to make it easily palatable.

But isn’t it pretty?

Oh.

Entitlement Gap

What is a healthy level of entitlement in the world?

What is a healthy level of entitlement for me?

Am I entitled to anything?

I watch people around me and I often see what I think is an unhealthy level of entitlement.  These people are so self-centred that they just push themselves into wherever they want, losing any sense of boundary or community in their own tunnel vision.

These people are entitled to what they want so they feel free to roll over anyone and anything to demand it.  It is ugly and ungracious behaviour.

Too much entitlement, the kind that leads to too much blindness to the world around you, is not good.

I suspect, though, that too little entitlement is also a problem.

When you don’t stand up for your place in the world, when you cede the social space to other people, when you feel the need to shrink and hide to be appropriate in the world, well then I suspect you also have an unhealthy level of entitlement.

My history is clear.  I have been taught to put others first, to step back, not to stand up for myself.   In my family, you never complained, because it was always seen as more embarrassing and inappropriate to challenge anyone publicly than to just swallow something that was just not good.    Since I was the target patient, I was often pounded down for my standing proud, often taken to task for my bringing any attention to the family.   It was made clear to me that I am the asshole.

It’s easy for me to rationalize choosing not to enter entitlement based on my very negative response to those people who just are rude enough to ignore others to get what they believe that they deserve.    They make entitlement look bad and nasty.

Entitlement, though, isn’t simply a bad thing.  Just like any other human attitude, entitlement needs to be kept in balance, part of a holistic view of the world.  If we only stand for ourselves we miss the point, but if we never stand up for ourselves, well, we also miss the point, fall out of balance.

What I am entitled to enough that I am empowered to stand up and fight for it?

For me, that’s not a long list.  I know how to fight for others, especially my family, but fir myself, well, I don’t feel entitled to make a fuss and demand anything.   Garry Marshall used to tell his young performers on the Happy Days to act like they belonged where they were.  I am unsure I belong anywhere at all other than at the keyboard.

The part of me I feel least entitled to show in the world is my playful imagination, my dancing creativity,  my flirty flamboyance, my swirling beauty.   My feminine nature, in other words.    My heart was clearly on the not entitled to express list.

Sadly, that isn’t all that is on the list.  I am too smart, too fast, and too observant.   I see too many connections, too many unclear thoughts, too many bits of attitude that comfort rather than clarify.   I have learned that people usually don’t want to see what is clear to me, that anything obvious to me that they are dissembling about is usually hidden for a reason, not just because they haven’t glimpsed it yet.

Being a shining beacon in the world, one who people remember, who they can’t take their eyes off, also makes you a shining target in the world.   Kids throw bricks at streetlights so they can feel like their acts go unobserved in the same way that people try to shut down observers who seem like they are seeing those parts of us we don’t want to face.

I have learned that people accept me treading gracefully in their world, but that I am not entitled to demand that they enter mine, not entitled to expect them to see though my eyes.   That is just an unreasonable ask, too much entitlement to assert.

It’s not that I am at all ashamed of who I am, though I do know it may read that way.  It’s just that I have been trained to believe that I am not entitled to put my own stuff in anyone’s face.  I know that doing that makes me responsible for their reaction, if not in an abstract, theoretical way at least in a practical, public way.  I become responsible for their fears.   I can’t stand where I have gotten to, instead I have to think about going back to tranny basics and being the one who is gracious and measured enough to let them play out their own fears.

After all, I’ve been identified as trans for well over a half century now, with therapist visits in 3d, 5th and 7th grade, I’ve been out and going to support groups for thirty years, since the early 1980s, and have been verbally out to my parents for twenty years, since the mid 1990s when I did a keynote at Southern Comfort Conference. I have worked through lots of issues over the decades.

Such a long history in my life,  but still, every time someone new sees me, they start from the beginning again, because they have to do the work in their own head, have to get over their own damn stuff.   Every time someone encounters me for the first time, they drag me back into their fears, into their ignorance, into the miasma of crud.

Having to start from scratch with every new and squicked observer drags me three decades back into the mud in a heart beat.   My sister thinks that being pulled back into someone elses fear may be “inconvenient.”   Little does she understand the price, the burden.

Being hauled back in an instant to an attitude that plays small because I feel denied entitlement leads to behaviour is a problem if I want to make my voice heard, if I need to create a space for myself in society.   I need to be able not fear appearing imperious and cut through the noise to take my rightful and appropriate place.

What is a healthy level of entitlement in the world?   What is the right amount for someone with decades of mature experience, or the right amount for someone just newly out in the eyes of another person right this moment?

Am I entitled to assert who I know myself to be, or do I have to cede that I am really my reproductive biology?

Am I entitled to show my heart, or do I have to respect the opinions or ignorance of others?

Am I entitled to just act, or do I have to leave space for the fear and beliefs of others, especially the ones they hold for their children?

Am I entitled to be smart and mature, or do I have to remain isolated and abject for the comfort of others?

Am I entitled to feel safe in the world, or are others entitled to put me in my place in whatever way that they wish because I asked for it?

Am I entitled to be seen as myself, or is being tolerated as a freak the best I can ever hope for if I don’t keep my transgender nature hidden one way or another?

Or is any sense of entitlement I might have just rude and misplaced, just me setting myself up to have to walk through the world in armour?

What is a healthy level of entitlement for me?

 

 

Extrahuman Experience

At a freethinker gathering last weekend, one gentleman suggested that people go to mega-churches for entertainment; theatre, music, and so on.

The experience of gathering for worship, though, has never been a purely cerebral event.   It is a relatively new and relatively small idea that rational discourse should form the heart of any service.

We gather to remind each other that being human isn’t just about blood & sweat, about piss  & shit, about mud & muck.   We remind each other that humans can transcend the menial & the routine to create great and transcendent moments.

This is why worship has always contained ritual, music, theatre, poetry, stories and art.  It is why churches have stained glass windows, illuminating human imagination with sunlight and carrying lessons we consider beautiful and valuable.   From tribal masks to Gregorian chants,  evoking a sense of wonder that we can miss in everyday life has always been part of our coming together to celebrate something higher.

While I love freethinking, the opposite of stuck thinking, the notion that rational thought is the only way that humans can lift themselves out of the swamp seems very parochial to me.

We can’t just rationalize our way out of being stuck, can’t solely open our minds.  We also must open our hearts and our spirits, feeling the energy of beyond and creating the celestial out  of earth, fire, air and water.

To expect others only to engage and respond to rational thought is denying the energy of imagination and play that has created art and magic through all human time.

It may well seem easier to police thought than to police expression that touches something deep and visceral in humans, but thought alone will never rescue us from the mundane and everyday.

Worship has always been about coming together to be reminded of the extrahuman possibilities of life, to celebrate the transcendent truths that can lift us above our animal functionality.    We may celebrate stories, learn lessons about new ways to make better choices, be refreshed and invigorated by art & music, or just be safe in the company of others who also acknowledge the goal to be more centred and spiritual humans in their life, to stand with them to create sacred space and caring.

Not every coming together has to celebrate doctrine, and in fact most don’t.   Many events may be quite secular, outside of churches or even belief, just moments out of time to connect with our shared better nature.

Gathering to celebrate what lifts humans into creators, to affirm the fact that we have and we can come together to change our world and build community, to honour the struggle for truth, beauty and grace, well, that seems important to me.

It is much more than entertainment, and much more than just rational discourse.

It is humans coming together to reach for something bigger than their bodies, bigger than their biology, bigger than themselves alone.

And that, at least to me, is magical.

Judgment Cool

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s easy to see the serenity prayer as part of a struggle to see the world as it is.   It is a request to support our surrender to realities in the world, whatever they are, facing them with will and grace.

To see the serenity prayer, the surrender prayer as I sometimes call it, as a call to let go of the luxury of judgment,  well, that is often much more difficult.

Judgment is the system society uses to demand assimilation.   If you don’t act like us — if your choices aren’t cool, like ours — then we judge you to be a failure, judge you a freak, judge you not worthy of being connected to other cool people like us.

The path of the adolescent is the path of judgment.  We empower kids to judge each other and create social pressure for compliance with the norms of society, forcing kids to come into line or face the judgment and the price for being uncool and therefore undesirable and essentially unlovable.

A key part of this process is giving our own ego the mandate to judge us harshly, so that it can help us avoid discomfort by demanding that we do everything we can to be accepted, to fit in with the others.

If you fear that somehow, deep down, you might be a freak, someone whose humanity is unique and bold, and you feel the need to keep that in check, it is easy to get addicted to judgment.

The opposite of surrender to what is real and present in the world and in us is judgment about how things should be, about what is cool and what is unattractive enough that it should be separated and minimized.

Once we learn to approach the world with judgment, our ego wins.  We spend our energy avoiding anything that might not be cool rather than spending our life force being present and enthusiastic in every moment, even the moments that might be corny, geeky or revelatory.

Getting hooked on judgment is learning to deny vulnerability.    Vulnerability is trusting that we can expose our self as we are, fearful and struggling and a bit twisted, and people will see, understand, value and connect with our essential humanity.

If we fear too much that we are going to be judged, we can never never connect on a deep level, and if we know how strongly we judge others, it is easy to believe that others will be as shallow and as judgmental as we are.

It is easy to get hooked on judgment because it is easy to rationalize the judgment.  After all, what could be wrong with just knowing what is cool, with choosing only what we know others will also find attractive?   Isn’t that just the way humans have always worked, letting desire shape their choices, going after that we judge to be nice and leaving behind that judged as icky?

Judgment breaks down the world into easy binaries.  Good or bad?  Attractive or ugly?  Cool or dorky?   Once we split the world in half it is easy to dismiss what challenges us as being on the wrong side.    Since we already have judged the right answer, all we have to do is find a way to judge others who challenge that answer in order to find a reason to devalue and dismiss them, to judge them of being unworthy of our engagement.

Judgment plugs our ears from listening and blocks our eyes from seeing what is around us, even what is in our own heart.   Once we only accept what is acceptable though the filters of our judgment, the truths can become invisible.   All we care about is how to fit the new situation into the binaries we already hold, bleating out “Good or Bad?  Beautiful or Ugly?  Up or Down?  Help me know what to think!”

Judgment stops us from going to unknown places, even unknown places in our own mind, because it stops us from going anyplace that we haven’t already judged acceptable and cool.   If we judge that our thoughts and feelings are not worthy, how can we ever engage and embrace them, even if they are what can ultimately free us?

One of the key spiritual teachings is that rather than working to have what you love you need to learn to love what you have.   It is only by seeing the value beyond the surface judgment of cool that we can begin to see what we really should be grateful for in the world, really have a base for growth and healing.

If judgment is your habit, though, and you have learned to justify judgment as just good and valuable discretion, it becomes simple to decide you are suffering when you don’t have what you judge as cool.   You can easily dismiss what you do have, no matter how good and precious and abundant it is, just because you indulge in the judgment of only embracing what you think you should have, only accepting what is cool enough to feed your own sense of entitlement.

Judgment is a way to shift the obligation for satisfying your own needs, shifting your personal responsibility for your own choices, onto others.  After all, if they just did what they should do, just did the right and the cool thing, well, you wouldn’t be suffering where you are now, would you?

If it is always the failure of others to deliver properly, to come up to your judgmental expectations of them, then how can you possibly ever find your own perfection in the world?  Doesn’t their failure to meet your standards justify your blowing your top at their crude and messy stupidity?

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The serenity prayer, the surrender prayer, is prayer that asks for help in engaging in the world without judgment.   It is a prayer that we can embrace the world as it is, that we can accept ourselves as we are, and then work from there to make our life and our world a little better.

As compelling as the idea of judgment may be, as much as we are taught that judgment is our entitlement, allowing us to separate ourselves from “those idiots,”  as much as we have internalized judgment as the proper and justified way to engage the world, all judgment does is separate us from the world as it is, denying us the true connection, growth and affirmation that waits for us when we get clear and vulnerable.

Judgment is the crutch of the immature who need to reject the world in order to keep their own comforting separation from it.   Holding judgment stops us from the firs step to growth, accepting what is, blocks us from really seeing and hearing what is, even stops us from listening to our own inner voice, replacing it instead with what we think we should believe.

The world as it is holds beauty, challenge and possibility.   We as we are hold beauty, challenge and possibility.  Judging that world to be too ugly to accept is what really keeps us separate from our own heart, our own divinity, from the love and beauty and tenderness that isn’t cool, but is profoundly and beautifully human.

To embrace healing requires rejecting the cool habit of judgment.  For many of us, though, as much as we have internalized that ego judge, that is still a surrender too far.

Bad Human

“Have you ever seen the show Amish Mafia?” someone asked me

“It’s amazing,” he went on.  “They cheat and they lie and they fight.  It shows they are really human!”

Is showing that we actually engage in bad behaviour required to show that we are human?  I am willing to believe that even the most righteous and well disciplined Amish person is still human, basically because I never met anyone who wasn’t really human.

When a mythmaker wanted to repopularize King Alfred, he reissued a hagiography written by one of his courtiers.   The problem was that the story was a little too positive, too glowing, so he added in a story from another source which told of the king being berated by an old woman for letting the cakes burn by the fire.

Every British schoolchild now knows how King Alfred burned the cakes, just like American schoolchildren know how George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and did not lie, another mythical event.

We seem to want to know where other people have weaknesses, otherwise we think they are hiding something, that they are just too good to be true.

It is one thing to want to humanize someone by proving them flawed, though the need for that still escapes me, as everyone is human, but it is another thing to create TV shows dedicated to showing people acting badly and then justifying that spotlight by saying we are only proving that they are human.

Aren’t they human too when they do the boring, gracious, measured acts that build community and create safety?

We live in a world where sitting in the living room and watching others act badly has become a guilty pleasure.   We rationalize our viewing by saying that it just proves that people really are the ratfinks we always thought they were, but secretly we are delighted that their bad behaviour takes us off the hook for our own unhealed and untranscendent choices.

When our choices are seen next to the well edited and wild videos of others acting badly, we can believe that we look angelic, even if we still act out regularly.

Is the only way we can prove that we are really human to act in bad, self-centred and thoughtless behaviours?   Is ill-considered and vulgar crap what distinguishes real humans from phony ones?

We live in a world that loves the lowest common denominator.  Everyone can laugh at a good fart joke, but appreciating the sublime wit of a sly syllogism?  Not only do some people not get the joke, but they can also feel angry that anyone would make a joke they don’t understand, can feel like that kind of thoughtful jibe is so offensively challenging that they have permission to act out in an attempt to cut the other person down to size.

George Washington lived by a canon of rules for civility and decent behaviour.  Would having video of him getting drunk and puking in someone elses tricorn hat make him really human?   Or would it just let us dismiss any pressure we might feel to follow his lead in living the life of a good human on good behaviour?

Isn’t the point of touches of humanity in historical myths that we too, as frail and fallible humans, can work to achieve greatness?

I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of Amish Mafia.  Proving that even a few of people in a most devout and ordered culture have lapses doesn’t really prove that everyone’s devotion and discipline is really just a fraud, even if if their bad behaviour does entertain you and make you feel self-righteous.

I don’t believe that anyone needs to prove they are really human, or that the fact that someone is making mostly good choices means that they are a fraud, hiding something.  I trust that they are just human and that they puke and shit and bleed just like any of us, even if they decide not to let that mess define them.

We are not humans living a spiritual life, we are spirit living a human life.  The human part is real, fragile, wounded and hurting, is erotic, sweaty, intense and tired, all that.

But sometimes, the spirit is strong, too.

And that is also human.

So Safe

“I knew,” Performance Guy said to me, “from the first moment I engaged with you that you were going to be safe to work with.   I knew you would work to make us both look good, knew you weren’t going to try to act out, knew you weren’t going for points or status.”

TBB knew the same thing.   We were on stage together within hours of our first meeting, me playing the stooge and slipping her funny lines, then the next day when the headline act didn’t show up and she had to vamp, she pulled me up again and we filled the night.  She knew I had her back and I knew she had mine, safe space that she created for so many people who attended SCC_ATL.

“He always felt so safe with you there,” my sister said of my father’s last years. I was in the hospital everyday, even overnights in the ER, just to be the buffer between him and the world, interpreting through Asbergers, spending years keeping both my mother and father safe.   I am very proud of the safety I provided for them and still provide for my sister.

I don’t think there is any creativity without safety.   We can’t risk taking leaps, risk falling on our face, risk failing unless we know that someone has our back.  We all crave the safety of small communities where everyone knows each other, knows how to be a good partner and knows that other people are precious and need to be kept safe and strong.

That’s why I have always been committed to holding safe space.  I did it when I shepherded  the local trans support group through the 1990s, did it online and did it everyplace I could.   It’s why I get so distressed by people who want to take charge but end up being touchy, ready to snap and deny if they don’t get their own way, if they feel threatened.

I know how to be safe because I have faced my own fears and failures and found my centre.   When someone does something that you find scary or challenging, it is often hard to stay safe for them because your own stuff is coming up.

One theory behind therapy is that the clinical professional has worked through their own stuff in a way that means they don’t get all squicked at their clients sharing.  In reality, though, every counsellor has their limits, which I found out by often running into them.   They usually had problems going to the hells I had to pass through to claim myself.

I wouldn’t trade being the safe one for anything.  It is a real part of my spiritual calling, a very real manifestation of the maternal heart that beats inside of me.  It is who I am.

That said, being the safe one, the bigger person, the one who transcends, the one who turns the other cheek, the one who rises above, being the parent is a real costly role.

I recently was reminded of The Drama Of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller, a book that details the cost of being the child of a narcissistic parent whose essential self becomes denied and lost behind the obligation for care-taking.  We didn’t get to feel the safety of the family to learn trust and spread our wings, instead being clipped and damaged.

My own safety being denied, I committed myself to being safe for others.  Imaginings of beauty, creativity and personal exuberance got lost behind keeping my family safe.  During the last decade when I took care of my parents, I was clear: I was helping my father take care of my mother so that she wouldn’t crush his aging frame with her self-centred expectations and demands.

If you never learn to feel safe enough to blossom, you tend to end up wilted on the vine.   If you have a feminine heart but have to play the stoic, cerebral defender without ever being the one who is given the safe space to open her emotions in relationship, well, that just leaves you profoundly lonely.

Being the exceptional one, the safe one, the bigger person, the one who transcends, the one who turns the other cheek, the one who rises above, being the parent is a real costly role.

At least, though, if I couldn’t make it out alive, I could make sure other people did, helping them feel protected loved and empowered, leaving them safe enough to bloom brilliantly.

It’s was the least a mother could do, even an invisible one.

Arcing Trans

“Aren’t there any mature transpeople who can appreciate what you have to offer?” Performance Guy asked me.

There are very few models for what it looks like to be a mature transperson.  First, trans is a transitive identity, one that marks change in your life.  When we are out and visible as trans it is usually because we are in transition, going from here to there, with trans as our primary identity.

Living with trans as your primary identity, though, is a very limiting thing.  As Kate Stone said at TED,  “I’m proud to be trans, but ask me about my work first!”   When people can’t focus on what we have to offer, on what we have created, on what we are proud of all because our trans expression creates too much noise for them, that is a problem.

Almost nobody wants to be known as a professional transperson, being stuck in the trans spotlight and never getting to move past it and just get on with their other work.    Being trapped in the jelly sounds awful to us, even if we are proud of who we are.

This is one key reason why the people who are speaking about transgender, the ones who are at the point of the interlocking communities around trans are almost always adolescents, people in their own transitions.   This makes the structures in the trans community very gelatinous, full of distress, pitfalls and acting out, because in many ways, being a professional and being a  person in the throes of transition are contradictory positions.

To gain power as a group, it is important that group members continue their affiliation and involvement as they mature.  Models for how a grown up person like us acts are crucial, as is the leadership that can come from someone who has been there, done that and made their own mistakes.

In the interlocking communities around transgender, though, mature transpeople feel the need to enter another phase in their lives, making their trans nature less prominent, while incoming transpeople feel the need to work through their own issues, playing out the kind of growth and learning that befits as second adolescence.   Adolescents, remember, are often rejecting the lessons of maturity, not embracing them.

Again, the theme of trans becomes transitional, a series of phases and turns, rather than being a continuous path.  Janet Mock makes it clear that she left trans behind when she entered college with a femaled body and a change of paperwork, only coming back to it when she felt the need to be able to own her story rather than to silence it.  Even now, though, she is uncomfortable when the first and often the only thing people see about her is her trans nature; she knows that she is much, much more than just that.

The practicality of this episodic nature of the trans experience is this: once we have gotten out armour on to enter the next stage of life, we don’t open it up again.   We learn how to stabilize ourselves in the world, come off the journey, and do the best we can to remain fixed and stable so we and the world can focus on the gifts we have rather than our trans nature.

Those of us who have achieved position and status rarely feel the urge to get involved in the trans community unless we are politicians or therapeutic professionals, for whom the requirement to be out and engaging around transgender is continuing.

There is no real cohort of mature transpeople because almost by definition, becoming mature in this society means leaving trans behind, or at least minimizing it so much that it becomes almost invisible.   Once we get in the armour, we stay in the armour.

I learned early that the most powerful force in my life is theology, the need to understand how story, belief and connection can lead us to a more centred and potent truth.   For me, the journey of the seeker is at the heart of my life, and everything else, including my deep memory, my search for connections, my speaking in tongues (my Jonathan Winters energy) and my trans nature are all facets of that journeying.

Like any seeker, I use my own experience, augmented with all the other wisdom I can find, to search for deep meanings, universal truths and patterns that repeat across time and culture.  My work is to keep understanding the experience of individual humans in the world and how it can be contextualized in a way that reminds us of our continuous common humanity.

These lessons are what give my life vitality, but they are not the kind of lessons that most people want to engage everyday.   When people find a way to stabilize themselves in the world they rarely want to take another journey into the darkness to enter their own unhealed places and find cosmic connection.

Even people who think of themselves as seekers are usually looking for answers rather than questions, for solutions rather than challenges, for the comforting spiritual routine of preachers rather than the revelatory spiritual incisions of theological shamans.

I love who I am and what I do.  It is a gift given to me by my mother in the sky, it is a burden given to me by my mother in the sky.

But it doesn’t come with safe and affirming community built in.   It is far from a standard issue path for transpeople.

While there are transpeople who have learned to value my insights, especially those who have a personal relationship with me where I can help them understand their lives, giving them words and concepts that help them grow, getting to that point is not easy.   Even the ones who do choose to hear me wish that more people did, that my offerings were in greater currency so they could be better understood in the broader world.

Mature transpeople are hard to find in this world.   Once we get in the armour, we tend to stay in the armour.   And transitioning transpeople often have no truck with the views of maturity as their struggle leads them to be rebels, fighting old expectations.

To me, though, I have trouble imagining life without the seeking part, because to me, all life is transitory.

Right?

 

Rivers Of Sewage

Both TBB and ShamanGal have expressed to me that my post “Jewels In The Sewage” really resonated with them.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised, because when I wrote it I was just attempting to express my feelings in the best way I knew how before crawling under the comforter again.   Yet, it reflected their memories of trying to express their personal transgender experience in the world and having that sharing of their hard won and precious jewels go unvalued and dismissed, into the ears of listeners and then out the other ear again.

“My sister-in-law told my brother that he shouldn’t bother reading the trans narrative I had annotated,”  ShamanGal told me.   “She said that she already knew other transpeople, so she already knew everything she needed to know about trans, and that was enough for her family to know, at least according to her.

“My mother was upset by this.  She knew that my sister-in-law couldn’t possibly know the real experience, the depth, the challenge, the struggle that she had seen me go through as my mother.

“So many people think they know what trans ‘really’ is so they can ignore my sharing and just replace it with their own assumptions and beliefs.   This isn’t just normative people, either, it’s often other transpeople who don’t want their trans doctrine challenged, so they just cast the jewels we offered into the sewage to be flushed away.”

My piece was triggered by my experience with a group of self identified freethinkers.   Freethinking is the opposite of stuck thinking, of holding on to the conventional, comforting, doctrinaire and wrong just to avoid the need to open your mind to the possibility that you can learn from other people.

Much of the conversation at that restaurant table was about the frustration of connecting with family members with whom there was much shared love and caring, but very little shared intellectual understanding.  “I have to keep my ideas in a private group on Facebook,” one man said, “because if my father reads them, he would blow his top, arguing that I have gone crazy.”

These people were willing, in their own way, to open themselves to the ideas I offered, but what they were unable to do is open themselves to the feelings I brought, to open to the emotional and personal experience of experiencing the world as a transperson.   To me, with a profoundly feminine heart, that felt like rejection too, because I have learned that the isolated and intellectual approach I learned to take to sustain some kind of masculine position in the world avoided the real power of empathy, vulnerability and connection.

My story is devoid of meaning without the experience of heart, and devoid of understanding without the experience of intellectual exploration.   Is this another way that I ask people to go beyond comforting binaries to engage and understand continuous common humanity?   I fear that it may just be.

One of the most exhausting and draining things about my trans experience is the continual attempt to share my experience in the world and then to feel heard, valued and supported for that sharing.   I want to give my gifts and have them embraced.

My response to this decade’s long search to find words that open connection to others is primarily emotional.   The actual process is intellectual, the attempt to construct language that conveys my experience and feelings, but the limited success of that process is physical exhaustion and emotional drain.

ShamanGal is missing the daily work routines that had to stop while she recovers from hip surgery, no matter how limiting she found them when she had to do them everyday.  There is flow and momentum in being part of a team, sharing confidences & concerns with others in a small, day by day way, being called on to solve problems, and being valued for what we contribute.   This makes a big difference to self-esteem, allowing the motion of the shared effort to give us a base to extend ourselves, rather than always having to start over, climbing a new hill with every new challenge.

The blend of thinking and feeling is key to any human endeavour, especially a shared one.  Heads or hearts is not the answer, never the answer, rather the answer is always heads and hearts.

My long and heartbreaking attempt to share my experience of the world, to feel heard, valued and supported for that sharing has been one of the most exhausting and draining things in my life.   I may want to give my gifts and have them embraced, but for me, and for TBB and ShamanGal too, it often feels like the jewels we bring from our costly journeys just end up in the sewage, not valued or honoured.

Just taking an idea from us, or offering a bit of sympathy while holding on to comforting separations, like the false division between head and heart, leaves us without the ground or the breath, without the energy or the support to participate as complete people who are both essentially trans and fundamentally human.

We have fought like banshees to own our wholeness, to integrate who we are.  To then have to see ourselves chopped up to fit other people’s expectations of walls leaves us sad, with a sadness is very wearing and awfully taxing, taking away energy that could be used to reach out and try again and again and again and again and again.

Picking the parts of us that you can engage and throwing away the rest is just tossing so much of the pure and hard won us into the sewage.

We share ourselves, offering our very essence.   When you reject that which might challenge your ideas or our empathy, you tell us again, as we have been told since we were very small that we are wrong, broken, mistaken about our hearts, and not worthy of acceptance.

That is not only rude and shortsighted, it also hurts us.

And just being more rational about why others get to reject us will never get us over that hump in our hearts.

Screaming

Jewels In The Sewage

I sat at a table in a crowded diner this morning, jammed in at a too small table, my big body twisted and under strain.   Around me were some freethinkers who came together on this Sunday to share breakfast, to talk and be in community.

And at that table in that busy restaurant, the gentleman next to me asked me, with grace and curiosity “You identify as trans?  Do you mind telling me what trans is?”

I could answer him earnestly, exposing my heart, showing myself to this man I had just met, or I could pass off the question, making the point of my journey here this morning moot.

It had been a hard day before.   My sister asked me to write a defence for her committee, she had asked me to write a pitch letter to get sponsors for their upcoming show, with no source material at all, and those had taken many go arounds.  She had asked me to fix her computer so she could use it now, and more than that, she had sobbed on the phone to me about how difficult it was to cope with the stresses of her life and the fragility of her body.    I felt for her, as I have been taking care of her in the face of our family since I can remember.

I skipped the dyke dance — the LGBT Spring Fling — to work on the computer, a tricky job with both Windows 8.1 to be installed, an OS I never touched before, and restoring her Windows 7 system that she knew and understood.  It was a battle of updates and restarts, wearing and challenging.

In the midst of that, I got a call from ShamanGal, who felt like her life just wasn’t satisfying enough.   I had to channel Mr. Cool, the detached persona who got her through high school, for whom nothing was ever good enough to help her find a laugh, to help her trust that it was the details of joy that made a life, not the commitment to separating from her feminine heart that she used to get through 20 years of living as a guy.

“It’s not the frivolity of women that makes them so intolerable. It’s their ghastly enthusiasm,”   John Mortimer’s creation Horace Rumpole said, but the same forces that work to deny transpeople a connection to their heart also forbids us to surrender to our own enthusiasm, our own spirit, our own life force, our own “possession by a god.”

It was after 1 AM when everything went south, with updates failing and being rolled back.  It was such a struggle to understand, to figure it out, but it was busted, failed, blown, a night of myself surrendered for failure.

When I woke up after a few hours sleep, I had to get dressed to go, had to gun the gauntlet of the cul-de-sac, had to squeeze myself into that tiny space.

And now, tired and shattered, I had to be social, open, vulnerable if I wanted to get any value out of all the effort and energy I had expended to be here.

Across the table was a woman who worked as a pastor, and as she told stories about her life, with social justice work, family, and husband, I started to see a life that I would have loved, one where she could just follow her calling and build a whole life because she didn’t have to swim through the sewage transpeople have to face everyday.

I had spoken to a transwoman I knew when she was a transkid, now mature and centred.   While she does not live in her head, like me, she does have a great and aware heart.  She spoke to me with compassion, understanding how unfair this society is to transpeople with the burdens they put on us.   Even when we end up as sex workers, we end up being caretakers, serving others needs to just try to get the scraps we need to live.

No one at this table of freethinkers understood this scarcity of affirmation, love and possibility in a visceral and deep manner.  Still, they asked me to share and I tried, right there in that noisy place full of normies who could just barely get the joke.

I heard myself be wise and witty, come up with good and resonant statements from my cramped and squeezed little chair, getting shards of my story out.

What it felt like, though, was what my life has often felt like.  Without deep understanding or respect, without empathy or space, without time and attention, I was asked to throw my jewels into the sewage of life, tiny sparkling bits of me that others may or may not find useful, but that none of them understand how to value.

They cannot understand the price paid in abandonment and pain, in struggle and denial, in challenge and in battle that I paid for those jewels, how much they cost me in life energy and loss.   To them, they are just bits flecked out at a restaurant table, not the insanely hard won treasures of a lifetime of being slammed to stop me from challenging comfort and convention.

They were kind to ask their third grade questions, and I answered as well as I could, with sparkle and with wit, but it was my blood and treasure they asked of me, wanting me to easily expose the very scars of my existence, the very tendrils of my heart for chatty table talk.

My jewels have always been thrown into the sewage, for that is where the world has wanted to throw my heart, at the cost of a life that has been denied into the very margins of the gutter as I was asked to live it in-authentically and without the joy of genuine enthusiasm.

I know others want to be nice, but I also know that scars on top of scars make it hard to feel warmth.   And somehow, trying to squeeze out my tender, battered and tattered heart in little pieces that satisfy curiosity without the space for compassion and understanding is hard.

If I never share the jewels of my heart, I can never offer my greatest gift, never have my essence seen and affirmed.

But just tossing them into the sewage and hoping someone will tenderly see them as precious, will value the price I paid for them, well, that feels like another chance to be long lost and lonely.

Cuddly, Prickly

In my day, there were no cuddly trannys.

To be out and trans, you had to be quite an iconoclast, someone who could walk through a hail of arrows to claim the right to walk in the world as yourself.

No, I come from the time of prickly transpeople, ones who were so battered and bashed by the abuse designed to drive us into the closet that we were lucky we could still stand up at all.

When I walk into a trans event today, I become really clear that I am still one of the prickly trannys, one of the porcupines who is still too challenging, too iconoclastic to engage.

God made porcupines.  And some of us are the porcupines, a bit bristly and
sharp.  Because we are not cuddly, does that mean we are not made by God?
Calling Is A Bitch, October 2004

I am a porcupine, a shaman, a knife.  I know that.  I bristle, I x-ray, I cut.
To Love Me, September 2007

I learned to love out transpeople just because they were contrarians, standing tall for the message they heard in their heart against the pounding of a conformist world.

When I shepherded a trans group, the most important thing to me was being open to all, inclusive and expansive.  This, frankly, was not and is not the tradition in the interlocking communities around transgender, where things get “cliquey” as affirmed by a gal I mentored when she was a transkid.

Kate Bornstein asked why transsexuals tended to stay away from other transsexuals.  “It’s because we scare the hell out of each other,” she decided.

To me, the power of trans is in seeing beyond comforting and illusory boundaries between us and them and moving to understanding continuous common humanity.  That’s why I resisted the imposed separations between crossdressers and transsexuals and drags, between young and old, between those who love men, those who love women, and those who love both, between those who are flamboyant and those who are mild, because I knew it was hearts that counted, not expression.

My view is still a very prickly one.   Today, there are even more separations around transgender, based on what organization has chosen to work with transpeople.   Transpeople have more choices in where to get support, choices that allow them to avoid having to engage other transpeople who they find too prickly for their own comfort.

Engaging me and my ideas requires others to open their mind and their heart to another version of transgender, one that isn’t to their taste.  For me, this requirement is exciting and powerful, allowing me to get a bigger picture than I ever could through my eyes alone, allowing me to get a bigger understanding that extends far beyond the limits of my own experience.

My first request to most new transpeople I meet is simple: “Tell me a story.”   I ask that because I really want to understand what they value, what delights or challenges them, how they see this world that we share.   One of my foundational skills is the interview, asking questions to help someone tell their stories and explain their views of the world, and while that process may help them, I usually do it because it helps me understand them and understand myself a little more.

If you are pretty sure of where you are and of what you believe, though, asking someone to show you how they see the world is just asking for challenges you would probably rather not engage.

Cuddly is easy, comfortable, warm and similar.   Prickly is challenging, exciting, unnerving and different.   I always thought trans was about prickly, about that process that supports people in leaving the conventional and bounded to find the essential and potent, that journey that explores the inner map to toss out expectations and find what is truly, deeply and profoundly ourselves.

This isn’t the centre of trans community today.   In my experience, many people are looking to tell other people where they got it wrong rather than to embrace the cause of a very personal quest to claim individual identity.    Many people are working to find comfortable group identities for belonging rather than bold and unique identities for standing proud.   Groups try to teach transpeople the right way to be trans, while in my day, anyone preaching the “one right way” was one of the prickliest transpeople of all.

In my day, there were no cuddly trannys.

And while that didn’t make loving them easy, it sure as hell meant they each had something special and unique to offer.

After all, aren’t porcupines cute?

3d Grade

Janet Mock is a beautiful, well spoken woman whose tale of a trans kid coming of age in Hawaii is heartwarming and encouraging, especially when you see the woman she has become.   She started to write her personal story to reclaim it after almost a decade of passing and a white cis-gendered editor laced it with political and social context to give it substance.

Now Ms. Mock is one of the personalities she wrote about in People Magazine, being in front of the camera and drawing crowds like she did last night here.   People love connecting with her story, seeing how it mirrors their own.

“When you write, you usually write at seventh grade level,” she told the crowd in response to a question, “but when you write about trans, I think you need to write at a third or fourth grade level.   People just aren’t ready for more. They aren’t there yet.”

As someone who has been identified as the grad course in trans, I can’t disagree with her assessment.  I know that my work does not draw an audience.   That makes me feel sad and lost.

Still, there was a woman there last night who I mentored when she was a trans kid and she was very glad to see me.   At least, she said, I have something to show for my work.

Horribly Beautiful Voice

“Your stories, ” Performance Guy told me, “are horribly beautiful.  I really mean that.  They are both horrible and beautiful.”

Voice is a tricky thing for everyone in the world, but especially for trans women.  Our larynges went through male puberty with the rest of us, so our vocal range is lowered and deepened, which gives us a diminished vocal range to start with.

The construction of a voice is a very complex thing, though, usually created without much conscious thought.  We mix our family, our town, our loves and our fears and end up with us.

For transwomen, though, the creation of voice has to be a very considered thing, done with deliberate effort.   We get videos and tapes to practice with, go to programmes like the one Jack Pickering runs at The College of St. Rose, get help wherever we can to stop getting that raised eyebrow in person, or that “Yes, sir,” on the telephone.

No matter how much we end up following the rules, like upmodulating our tones, ending phrases on a high note in a sing song fashion, slowing down our speech, adding breathiness, making statements sound like questions, right?, and all the other techniques we can find, the simplest solution is just to not speak unless we have to.

Women live in a world of chat, so if you don’t trust your voice enough to use it easily, you quickly become cut off from that experience of womanhood.    I know that for myself, I have often avoided speaking at a cash till, just to try to avoid any possible moment that my voice might betray my carefully constructed expression.

Just cutting off what sticks up and identifies your differences can seem like a simple idea until you understand that it requires throwing away your story too, all those years of experiences that mark you as trans and different, that real truth that shaped your life.  I even know of transwomen who worked with their therapists to create a new life story for themselves, one sanitized and safe, severed of all the nasty man bits.

Note that this passing behaviour works both ways.   When we are trying to pass as men in the world, which may be somewhat easier because we have the stereotypical body for that role, we also end up having to avoid any choices that might reveal our feminine hearts.  Men without gender issues have no problem wearing shorts, for example, but as a child, I hated shorts because exposing my legs felt like exposing my femininity.

Playing it safe by playing it small can be a real dead end for transwomen like me.  It takes the power we have and hides it away, leaving us living in denial rather than in freedom, joy and happiness.   If I have to think about editing myself before I say anything, mental constipation quickly ensues and I never get the joy of having someone respond positively to an authentic and vulnerable expression.

I know, though, that my view of the world can be difficult for others to handle, especially  those people who haven’t had to work through both their own fears and the fears that others dumped on them.   I am often seen as too high voltage, too fast, too intense, too revealing, too intellectual and just too scary.

All this has lead to the creation of my Callan voice, which is measured, thoughtful, appropriate, considerate and enlightened.    It is a clerical voice, gracious, safe and somewhat pedantic, a voice that works both in person and in writing, where the wit, whimsey and nuance of the spoken voice is suppressed.

The Callan voice is comfortable to me, but it is also well considered and very polished.   That process can take the vitality out of a voice, and Sebastian Faulks reminds us that in the novel, it is vitality and not virtue that creates connection with readers.

With my Jonathan Winters energy, I certainly have many voices, but the demands of being judged as a woman in the world almost always leads me to suppress them.   I use that energy sparingly, just a touch, so as to avoid being seen as overwhelming.

It was when I started to rant that Performance Guy really encouraged me to store those expressions.   “Do you have any idea who I am?” I imagined saying to those who chose to put me down.  “I am here to remind you of our continuous common humanity!   Your fears are your fears, and they don’t just hold people like me back, they hold you back, too!”

The rant is a very vital expression, but it is also a very verbal one, depending on cadences, tones and expressions that rarely translate well when removed for placement in text.    That works both ways, it both being hard to capture a rant in text and being hard to create a rant on a keyboard.

The challenge of trusting the energy of a horribly beautiful voice in the world is a real gutbuster.  But it’s the only true voice that I have.