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.

Bliss Mistake

Yesterday, I wrote of the pain that Lisa Simpson’s writers believe she holds because, unlike the rest of her family,  she doesn’t live in her impulses.

So, when is Lisa happy?

Lisa is happy when she gets out her saxophone and jams.  At that moment, Lisa radiates pure creativity, even if other people find her wails to be just noise.

Or, as Joseph Campbell would say, Lisa is happy when she follows her bliss.  She goes on that journey beyond “should” into zen and she finds her centre.

Lisa doesn’t live in bliss, though.  She lives in a family with Bart and Homer and Marge.  She lives in a school with Nelson, Sherri & Terri, Milhouse and Skinner.   She lives in Springfield.

Maybe, someday, Lisa can get out of town and find someplace where her creativity, her bliss, not only lifts her but also connects her with a community.  Maybe she can find a network of musicians who get her soul and reflect it back to her.  Maybe.

Campbell calls this is the challenge of the return of the gift.  If Springfield really wanted great jazz sax playing, they would already have it.  But as the late Bleeding Gums Murphy knew, jazz is something inside, not something you do because the world really wants it.

Following your bliss opens up the world to you in sublime beauty.  You get to see the connections, the nuances, the patterns, the vibrancy of everything.

Following your bliss, though, doesn’t get you a high-paying corporate job.  It doesn’t even get you a low-paying corporate job.   You do the menial to support your journey, even if doing it means you have to think outside your bliss.

I need to feel where my bliss and the world intersect.   I have done the journey, but I still live in society.   I require what other humans can give me; affirmation, respect, love, money.  The hermetic life has limits, even if we do the deep and difficult practice because it opens us to bliss, moving beyond separation and to connecton in the tiny details of a human life.

Not going out to find that intersection between bliss and community while I was still young, fit and exuberant was my big mistake.  Not that finding a place for a big-boned, big-brained, over-theological and battered transperson ever would have been an easy task, though.

Let me give you a gift that I wish I had when I was younger.

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.

I want you to take those yeses and put them in a safe place.   When you come to a come to a place where you really believe you hear your bliss speaking, really feel the urge to leap, really want to act out of connection, hope and promise, but you feel doubt, questioning, and self-sabotage coming up on you, I want you to get out one of those yeses and use it.

From me, to you, Yes.

Yes. you can open yourself to the world and find connection.

Yes, you can trust your deepest heart knowledge, even when others around you are showing fear.

Yes, you need to find the lessons that your exuberance can teach you.

Yes, you have to care more about blooming than you need to fear losing.

Yes, you can endure loss and rebirth to find joy and abundance.

Yes, letting go is the only way to become new.

Yes, risks will always bring rewards if you let them, even if those rewards are just knowledge and awareness.

Yes, pain is not the enemy, inaction and fear is the enemy.

Yes, you are the perfect, messy, human child of your creator, your mother in the sky.

Yes, you were born with what you need to be happy if you just create your own love around you.

Yes, other people can help you get clear, but in the end, yes, you have to live your own bold life.

Yes.

When you are about to make a bliss mistake and choose to play small and closed in and fearful, take out one of the yeses and use it to move beyond your history and biology, use it to move to creation.

Because you sure as hell are going to have trouble finding people around you who are ready to say yes, yes, yes, yes while they live in their own pragmatic and blinkered fears.

Beyond Impulses

MATT GROENING ([The Simpsons] Season 3 DVD Commentary): I think Lisa’s a great character … She’s the one character not completely ruled by her impulses.

JEFF MARTIN ([The Simpsons] Season 3 DVD Commentary): And as a result, she’s in pain, all the time. Or it’s never far from the surface.
The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History. John Ortved

sometimes i cringe that some of the most incredibly useful things you ever say come at such a fantastic expense on your part.
Gywneth, November 2008

People find the things I say incredibly useful.

They spend time listening to me.

And after a while, they want to know when the pain stops, when things get less intense and brighter.

I’m really loving “You’re The Worst,” a sitcom on FX about two incredibly smart people who live somewhere between their powerful impulses and their sharp vision.   They are pulled in opposite directions and they are always, in some level in pain.  This makes them both completely compelling and totally exhausting to be around, which is why they both have histories of short, intense relationships.  Even Aya Cash admits she wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time around her character, talking about the acting challenge to make Gretchen likeable.

I know that I am stubborn, sharp, suffering and exhausting.   After all, who has spent more time around me than I have?   Seeing through my eyes is wonderful and clarifying, yes, but it is also intense and challenging, laden with pain.   Just ask my sister, who has known me for almost as long as I have known me.

My impulses are untrustworthy.   I know this because I was told this from as early as I can remember, because I was told if often and told it loud.  I challenged authority, spoke truth to power and have a trans heart, all offences against the establishment.

Someone had to transcend impulses in my family, and somehow I knew I got the short straw.   I was the target patient, the one out of step, the Lisa.  Only queerer.  Much queerer.

Four pounds of short-dated beef bologna got left at the checkout by me on Thursday, and it broke me.  Hadn’t been out in two weeks.  Sure, it was only $4, and I won’t starve, but I didn’t really need one more example of loss and failure.  Fall comes and the lifeline is below sustenance, starved by twenty months of forced denial.

I’m the Lisa, though.   The one who is expected to forgo impulse, the one who has to eat her own pain.  And the one who is, in the end, intolerable.

Between out of bounds impulses and the pain of denial, where do I breathe?  Where is charm beyond struggle?`

Imagination Regret

Edith Piaf (Catherine Tate) with her therapist (Rebecca Front)
Sky Arts Playhouse Presents Psychobitches

What do I regret?

Today, I would say that I regret having to become so defended, which in my case means developing my brain so much that I became intellectually musclebound, that I was never able to just create my own stories.

My dreams often amaze me because they are such rich and detailed stories, almost cinematic.

In them, I never feel hesitant or resistant about acting on my feelings.  Because they exist in my head, I don’t need to do the hard, hard, hard work of passing everything through the fine pore filters in my brain before I express it.  The feeling is so freeing.

In the real world, I even know how to bleep myself, dropping out the sound when I say a curse word in normal conversation, a filtering habit if ever there was one, and far from free.

Dreaming shows me that I have these organic tales inside of me, but squeezing them out in the midst of my defended and attenuated life, well, that is far from simple.

As transpeople, especially transpeople who have some age to us, we lived through lots of time when closets were needed.   We kept company with our bear, stayed defended and felt the pain of having our opportunities and possibilities be stolen from us.   So much to regret.

I can’t reclaim my youth, my lost girlhood, my depleted exuberance.

Sometimes, though, I think I might just be able to scrape some storytelling out of the barrel.

I have talked about how I see Sex And The City as an allegory of chakras.  Samantha leads with her crotch, Charlotte leads with her heart, Miranda leads with her head and Carrie leads from the crown.   Each of them has all the bits of course, but for archetypal purposes, they represent different approaches.

I used to call that crown chakra “spiritual” but I don’t any more.  I think all of them are linked to spirit, that spirit connects through us.

Now I call that crown “creative.”   That’s what Carrie is doing, taking what is around her and creating art.

For me, life is better when I am writing well.  I write because I believe that I am creating something true, something potent, something of value, even if it doesn’t have an immediate audience.  Lots of work has had to have the audience catch up with it, because the process of mellowing art and the growth of the zeitgeist means that raw today can turn into tomorrows delicate.

Can my creativity exist when it isn’t shoehorned into a bounced trans narrative?   I suppose that I will never know until my life isn’t shoehorned into a bounced trans narrative, crammed into a too small coffin.

I know what I regret.

I know the lessons I have learned from the experiences that brought me regret.

But sometimes, in my dreams, there is still a world where I am not bound by social pressure and history.   Sometimes.

Is it possible to imagine the freedom of my imagination beyond being brain bound?

Entropic Vortex

In the end is entropy.   Without external energy added to the system, everything dissipates.

Zeroth: You must play the game.
First: You can’t win.
Second: You can’t break even.
Third: You can’t quit the game.
The Three Laws Of Thermodynamics

Being responsible for the functioning of a ship in the sea, for the safety of the boat and all who sail on her, TBB has to be good at making and implementing decisions. People rely on her to get the right things done, to understand the situation and ensure that all the systems which protect and support the crew are functioning properly.

In other words, she fights entropy everyday.  It is her energy and the energy she marshals that fight decay and dissipation to keep sailors safe at sea.

This fight is just an extension of her life as a project engineer and a parent, making choices to care for a family, working very hard to offer structure and safety to her children and those she loves.

My life was a also a battle with entropy as I took care of others, such as during my parents last decade.

Since then, though, as my inputs of energy get smaller, my system entropy increases.

TBB is right; we can’t just wait for the world to change around us, we have to change it ourselves.    Only a blend of attitude shift and action can really create change in our lives.

When I tell TBB what I see stopping me, her kind and compassionate answer is simple: Change it.     Make the phone calls, get the work done, spend whatever resource you need, commit to change.

For TBB, betting on tomorrow is the only way to live a life.  She can remember choices she made that were very expensive for her at the time, but now she understands them  as choices she needed to make at the time, choices that reaped rich rewards in learning and connection even as they cost her pocketbook dearly.

A plan of action and then execution.   For TBB, this is the only way to fight entropy, the only way to make tomorrow better or even just tolerable.   Order the hardware, fix the car, write the letter.

To make tomorrow better, you have to start by actually making tomorrow better.   That is the only way to fight dissipation, the only way to challenge entropy, the only way to claim a new life.

I always need to hear these lessons again.  The last year and a half have been a trip into entropy, so I need to value the external energy people are kind and smart enough to gift me.

The struggle is still the struggle; do we wait for the momentum of change, or do we push to change what we can, starting in small and tender ways?  How do we find the wisdom to know what we have to be serene enough to accept and what we have to be strong enough to change?

You must be the change that you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

And as the entropic vortex keeps sucking me in, the one that comes with the slowing down of age, TBB reminds me that claiming action is the only way to make a better life.

Plutonium

I understand that one reason my work is so hard to read is that it deals withe the plutonium of a trans — of a human — life.

I just go places that most people choose not to go, into experiences and emotions that are easier to avoid, to pass over, to ignore.

This doesn’t just affect the content of my writing, it also affects the form of it.  Like women who have had to learn to work with feelings, I need to use techniques that keeps it non-explosive while still being explicit.

A rant, a screed or a tantrum may convey emotional content, but it doesn’t allow us to explore, understand and own that content.  It’s just a blow up that usually is designed to share the pain we feel by spraying it all over other people, acting out our drama without parsing it.

My process uses a blend of thought and poetry to convey emotion, lacing it with humour.  i know that makes my work seem dry and intellectual on the surface, even as you get a whiff of brimstone from the seething emotional lava underneath.

I work with the plutonium of the heart and that takes some care and precision.   I remember a 2008 post I wrote about a very difficult incident in the family, and I shared the audio recordings I made while I was going through the pain, the screams and wails of pain and process, with Gwyneth.

“I never understood your process before,” she told me, “because I all see is the product, the result of your process and not the raw emotion that goes into it.”

I know why my work is inaccessible to most people.   They either see it as cerebral and dismiss it as mental masturbation or they see it as rousing too much pain and emotion to take in a blog post, too much to engage day after day.  They have their own challenges, you know.

Some people do get it when they can — like Ms. Rachelle — but most people find my stuff weird and twisted,  stuck between too much thought and too much emotion.

But hey, that’s where I live.   And that experience always helps me to be a safe and useful person to help throw light on other people’s choices, which is great if you want healing and horrible if you just want to get on with it.

Emotions are the plutonium of human life, the stuff that fuels the good and the bad behind our rationality and our rationalizations.

And I have spent lots of time in their toxic glow.

Trans Con

A big challenge for transpeople is that we don’t just live in our own confidence, we live in the confidence of others.

To many people, transgender expression is just a con trick, a confidence game designed to deceive them.   We are just poseurs trying to deceive them about our sex and that means they must always be vigilant and protected around us, always ready to take us down a peg.

ShamanGal went for the typical birthday lunch at work.   In this case, though, it was her birthday.   When the cheque came, the guys all paid their own bill and left, leaving SG’s girlfriend a miffed over cheap guys who didn’t choose to split the birthday girls tab.

As a transwoman, SG knew the score.  Her girlfriends see her as another woman, but the guys have decided to see her as a guy-in-a-dress, not on either team.   The might pitch in for one of the guys, or for one of the gals, but for one of the trannys?   No thanks.

SG just came out to a woman at work because the fact she was trans was important to understanding the story she was sharing about how another co-worker treated her.  The gal was surprised by her history, but not disapproving, because she is used to valuing other women for their choices, not for what is in their panties.

Still,though, when SG thinks about going back to a masseur she went to while she was passing as a guy, she imagines bringing her court order of name change, of demanding they comply with the paperwork.

This is a very Emily Howard choice. Our documents say what they say, but they don’t make other people experience us as a woman.

We have to gain their confidence in order for them to see us as a woman.  We know, though, that if the facts of our birth status come out, that may erase all the confidence people have in our expression.

The more others see our choices as feminine, charming and attractive, the more they may feel the need to wall us off, to defend themselves or even to attack us.   This is why we often stick to making neutral or small choices, just so we don’t trigger the fears of others.

How can we ever build our own confidence in being able to turn our thoughts into actions which create success if we have been taught that other people have been trained to see us as liars, that they are actively working not to be conned by us?   The more credible we become, the more aggressive they have to be in their resistance to us.

As long as our biology and the training we got because of that biology always trump our choices, how can we ever have hope that our actions can change our experience in the world?

There is no way that we can change our world without confidence.   It is ShamanGal’s increasingly confident & assured woman choices in the world that allow other women to see her as not only one of them but also a leader who has valuable knowledge to share.

Gaining the confidence of others who are determined to stay fixed in their own gender identity by rejecting action for the “truth” of biology, who are out to silence anyone who dares to mock the gender system that they paid so much to gain status in, well, that feels like a Sisyphean task, impossible and therefore not worth the effort and cost.

While our confidence can help us achieve mastery, the primary benefit of confidence in the world is how it engenders other people’s confidence in us.  When we are confident, others become confident in us, giving us credibility and trust.

When we are seen as confidence tricksters, though, others feel entitled and even obligated to blast away at us, working to remove our standing and safety in the world.

The world changes.   More and more people are understanding trans expression as truth expression, not an attempt to deceive people about our sex but rather us working hard to share the deep and tender truth of our heart.

That doesn’t stop heterosexist assumptions and policing of the gender system, with plenty of “really a guy trying to fool us, so he deserves whatever he gets!”

Transpeople know how to play small, to stay neutral, to not take power, to not believe in their power to change their own world.   We know how to have our own confidence broken by the bear who lives in the closet with us.

We don’t live in just our own confidence, we also live in the confidence of others.

For transpeople, that can be a very scary place.

Loveabear

I spend an enormous amount of time alone, here in this crammed and mildewed basement.  It’s just what I do, what I have always done since I was very, very young and I learned that the only really safe and affirming place was in my own head.

Through all these decades, though, there has always been one friend I can count on to be there for me at any time of the day or night, ready to listen to my woes and comfort me.  I knew that when nobody else was available, at least they were, engaging and affirming.

Yes, my friend the bear has always been here in the closet with me, taking hold of my problems, understanding my pain & frustration, and affirming my choice to try and get out of all the shit other people dumped on me.

I am lucky to have a very smart bear.   He knows that I don’t take to threats or to ideas of separation, so he never mentions that.  By simply reminding me that most people will never get the joke so I will just waste my energy if I try to engage them, he helps me remember how comfortable I am here in my little bunker.

Bear knows just what to say to take away my confidence, to cramp any belief that even if I do turn my thoughts into action that I will have a chance of success.

We love the bear in our closet.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t keep letting him run our lives, wouldn’t keep letting him ruin our lives.    The bear is the only one in our lives who always understands just where and how we hurt, always respects our fears, and never asks more of us than that we indulge whatever sensation that will distract us from getting on with life.

The bear just wants you to put your feet up and do what you enjoy, putting off the things that you need to get done.  He convinces you that you are passionate about staying hidden and doing your own thing more than you are about making your world better and betting on tomorrow.

The bear always treats us like the scared child we were when we first met him.   He knows what mommy and daddy did to us, how other children were cruel and inconsiderate.

Who wants to be told to put on their big girl panties, get out there and try again, again and again and again until you succeed and start to build confidence that you can turn thoughts into action?   Other people have high expectations of you, seeing the possibilities in you, and encouraging you to reach for them, but the bear is much more reasonable, agreeing with you that there is nothing more important to avoid discomfort and loss.

You are right to be frightened, right to lay back, right to focus more on how bad the world is, your bear always assures you.  The world is one big hole and the doughnut around it is beyond your easy grasp and probably stale & sour anyway.

The bear loves us just as we are and knows that growing up, gaining mastery and getting mature stuff just isn’t for us.   It’s all more trouble than it is worth, and besides, if you begin to get rewards of connection, affirmation and respect in the world, you won’t be able to spend time with good, old bear, right?   After all, you and the bear have been besties since junior high school when between your family and social idiots you first learned to hang back, play small and stay in the closet with the bear.

I know my bear well.   He speaks to me in the voices of all the people who ever told me I couldn’t.   When I try to find people to help tame him, telling me that I can, they tend to slide away from me.

My bear knows me well.   He knows just where my buttons are still, even after I have worked for so long to unwire all the simple ones.   He’s smart and sensible, always having recognizable and resonant seeds of truth to share with me, truth pulled out of my own experience.

To move beyond him I must be confident that new and surprising is possible.  I must have hope that ignoring him is worth the effort, that changed choices can bring changed outcomes.  This hope has to be so strong it gets me through the inevitable bumps and thumps of failed attempts to claim the new, opportunities to learn and get stronger, chances to become more vulnerable, more integrated, more actualized, more powerful and more happy.

That sounds like work, work I might fail at, work that I and others have failed at in the past.

Only bear understands how much despair and loneliness I really feel.  My bear loves me just as I am, small and broken.

Isn’t that enough?

Wrestling The Bear

There isn’t much that tires you out as much as wrestling an invisible bear all day.

That’s just the way the bear in the closet likes it, of course.  As long as you are in there wrestling with him, you don’t have any energy to get out in the world and turn your thoughts into action.

It’s the bear’s job to eat your confidence.   That’s the primary way that he protects you. Yum, Yum.

One big secret of success is that confidence begets confidence.   If you do what you need to succeed in one area — making the risks,  taking the knocks, having the persistence that it takes to achieve the mastery that creates confidence & looseness — you become more confident that you can succeed in other areas.

Once you know how to succeed in one area, you know the template needed to succeed in other areas.

If you try to take shortcuts to success, though, the world will be happy to show you where your old lessons haven’t quite got you to the knowledge.   Success always requires being open to learning, always demands more hard work, even if you have done it before.  Every success can get you more clarity and awareness, though, so you can begin to see the patterns in new problems, a great benefit we get from a world where separation and struggle are always with us.

It is only by manifesting our power, by taking action in the world, experiencing the results of our choices, learning from them and then trying again that we can become confident and powerful.

The bear in the closet, though, has problems with that cycle.  By reminding you of what has gone wrong in the past, of what could go wrong in the future, well, he is sure he is just doing his part to keep you safe.  As long as he keeps you wrestling with him, well, you can’t be out there in the big world where anything can happen, including good things that might take you away from your old, cuddly bear pal, the one who keeps you safe.

One reason your bear is so sure that he is doing the best thing for you is that your bear talks to other bears.   His ears perk right up whenever he hears another bear speak, someone else’s bear sharing all the fears they have picked up over the years.  Bear knows that other people’s bears are really scary.

As women, we share with each other.   One of the times we need sharing most is when we have spent too much time wrestling the bear and are feeling stressed, down.  Very often, though, instead of getting tips on how to tame the bear, how to claim beyond fear, we end up getting our bear fed.

“Oh, yes,” other women say, “there are lots of scary things in the world.  Let me the tell you a story about a friend of my friend Maureen, who had the most awful thing happen to her.  You have to watch out for things like that!”   That’s pure emotional food to the bear in the closet, bear baiting as a parlour game.

What bonds us as women, we are often told, is our experience of facing oppression, abuse and fear in the world.  We are told that our challenge is facing the bears in the world, and we assume that means men, often described as “bears with furniture,” when the real bear that keeps us small and scared is the bear inside our own closet.

Other women aren’t wrong when they warn us that there are bears in the world, big scary bears which can do us dirt.  When they miss the point that it is the bears in the closet that are the most damaging, demanding we lash out at others who touch what we fear then pulling us back into the darkness to appease our own bear with offerings of food, drugs and other behaviours that will keep us small, scared and wrestling the bear in our own closet.

The bear who tells us that unless we are perfect we are nothing, tells us that if we know our own weaknesses and flaws they will overpower all our strengths when people see us, tells us that our identity lies in our fear and letting go of that will disconnect us from the bears of other people we love, well, that bear is what we wrestle with all day.

Is it any wonder we don’t have the energy and wherewithal to become new in the world when we spend so much of our life feeding the bear in the closet?

How do you feel worthy and strong enough to break away from a bear who has been your companion all your life?

It’s easy to know how to make the bear happy, how to get him to tell you that you are safe and protected in the dark cave with him.

Making yourself happy, though, well, that’s a much tougher challenge.

Decoded Confidence

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

Choices must be made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bear In The Closet

Nobody goes into the closet alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender(ed) Hormones

Fascinating podcast from Bitch Radio

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

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

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

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

Big Hole, Big Doughnut

Sure we’re all born to suffer and die.

But before you go, try the pâté. 

It’s wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

optomistcreeed

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s wonderful.

Opposite Discipline

The opposite of discipline is distractability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tranz Made EZ: 10 Rules

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

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

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

What’s the easy way to do trans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Désolé

Desolate

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

To walk beyond social convention is to walk into desolation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are desolated.

Suppression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I call this phenomenon induced or selective depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Got Be Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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