Holly & Rainbows

Holly was there for me, opening gates for me, listening from when I met her in 1993.   I have a collection of hundreds of letters I sent to her, overwhelming her, but also knowing she was safe with my heart.

Holly was so important to so many as she brought her own tender, magical Oberlin kind of presence to us, creating spaces from vision quests to sacred ceremonies where the transcendental came to the surface.   Even that tough old bird TBB felt the power of Holly’s hippy dippy transcendentalism.

Holly, her son Evan, and all the rest who loved her are in my mind and my heart tonight.

If there was anyone who was born to be a free floating angel. though, soaring on gossamer wings, it was Holly,   May her spirit be flying free, liberated from the chains that come with a fleshly life.

In 1994, I knew what I needed to hear to be affirmed in the world, and I knew that Holly was the one who would be credible saying it.   That’s why I wrote this stump speech for her, which she delivered at IFGE Atlanta Action 1995.

I still need to hear her voice and regret missing it for so many years.   So what I can do quickly is share this text.

Blessings to you Holly, like the blessings your free spirit gave to so many here.


The Rainbow Speech
Delivered by Holly Boswell to IFGE Atlanta 1995

 

I am here today to give each one of you a gift. It is a special gift, one that is incalculably valuable, but one that you cannot see.

Before I give you this gift, let me tell you a story. It’s a story we all know, a story that is now part of the shared American experience.

Every year as I grew up, they played The Wizard of Oz on television. It’s a cultural phenomenon. We had a black and white TV when I was growing up, and I remember how surprised I was to find that the land of Oz was in color! I finally got to see those sequined red pumps!

Somehow I knew that if I could just get a great pair of red pumps and a fiesty little dog, my life would be great, but it hasn’t been quite that simple.

The Wizard of Oz is a charming story, one that I want to share with my son as he grows. It’s the story of four lovable characters who each think they need to find something to make their life whole. The Scarecrow needs brains, The Lion needs courage, the Tin Man needs a heart, and Dorothy needs a place that feels safe, needs a home.

We all remember Dorothy’s song:

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of, once, in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue.
And
the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

I love the image of the rainbow in that classic Harold Arlen song. The rainbow is an image of the beauty inherent in diversity, of pure white light showing all of the range of wonderful color that makes it up. A full spectrum of beauty, like the spectrum of genders, colors and races that make up humanity.

Millions of tiny water droplets, each shining in the light of the universe, make up the whole we see as a rainbow. It is an wonderful sight, reminding us how many small parts can make up a beautiful whole.

Now that I am older, I know that The Wizard of Oz is the story of four characters on a mythic quest. They follow the role of the hero as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, taking a journey and returning reborn, irrevocably changed. The changed hero is both who she always was and someone completely new. All the characters find that the quest changes something inside of them forever.

I know that many of you here today understand the meaning of a quest. You, too, are searching for something, something that will bring you inner peace and happiness.

The Wizard appears to give each character what they need: brains, courage, a heart, home. But we find out that the Wizard knows that they have had these qualities all along, and all he does is give them talismans that let them blossom, symbols that unlock their own power.

The Wizard gives a gift to them, but it is the gift of a teacher, of one who empowers other to search within themselves. When they believe and they search, they discover the power and magic that they have always held inside.

I am going to give that kind of gift to you today. It is a gift that you already have, a gift that you already hold inside.

If this was The Wizard of Oz, this is where the lights, sound and fury would come, but for now, as they said, “Pay no attention to the person behind the curtain!

I, with the all of the power of the universe, through the magic of the goddess, and in the full witness of the circle of humans, hereby grant you full and complete status as a transgendered person from this day forward.

You have the right to define your own gender role, to choose from the wide range of gender expression, in appearance, in language and in action.

You have the power to be who you are and express yourself in the way you want, using the full spectrum of choices that exist, not just selections from one culturally defined gender role.

From today on, you have full status as a transgendered person, able to select the best from the abundant palette of human appearance and behavior.

You are constrained only by your own spirit and mind, by your understanding of your responsibility as a member of the human race.

Let it be known that you are a fully fledged transgendered person, with all rights, privileges, challenges and joys that come with being transgendered.

I congratulate you on this official declaration of your status. As a transgendered person, you are able to shape and mold your own life as an artist, creating a life that you delight in and are proud of. You can create new forms and expression, and be a beacon in the world, shining your special colors for all to see.

As a transgendered person, you may be a leader in bringing a new consciousness of acceptance and diversity to the world, making the world a better place to live. You can even define the way that you want to make the world better, spanning a range that goes all the way from shouting to the crowds (though using TV might be more effective today) to raising enlightened children who will pass the message of love and acceptance on.

From today on, you are officially a transgendered person. You are able to find great beauty and peace. You can have great joy from seeing things from a perspective of change, from not being locked down. You are able to see in a way that those who only stay locked in one place, in one gender role, never will.

You will be challenged, for there is no way to satisfy all other people. Some will not understand, may mock or show fear through their anger. This happens to all people. Your life will change, and you will have to suffer some losses so that you can find the new successes. But this too is shared by all.

But you forever will have all of the most important things: the lessons you have learned from living life. And these lessons will be colored not from just one viewpoint, but from a range of ways of seeing, so that you will be able to understand even more deeply than most what makes being a human so special and wonderful.

You may choose to serve as a translator or mediator, helping people who are stuck understand other perspectives. Or you may just help others as they go through their journey.

You are whole and complete. You have the whole circle inside of you, yin and yang, black and white and all shades between. You hold the rainbow in your heart.

Congratulations! You are Transgendered!

This is my gift. For many of you, it is nothing new, just a statement of something that you know well and understand.

For others, you may be uncomfortable with this gift of transgender. This is not a gift you want to receive. Right now it looks more like a sofa size painting with just way too many colors on one canvas that Aunt Mabel might have bought at the Starving Artists show at the Holiday Inn. The gift of transgender may seem big and weird, and just like the painting, for which there is no room in the living room, there seems to be no room for being transgendered in your life. It’s a monstrosity.

I mean, after all, if people see that thing, what will they think of you?

We all understand this fear. Each and every one of this has tried to decline the gift of transgender that was given to us by our creator. We have run from it, hidden it, tried to limit it, denied it. We have worked very hard at fighting it.

Some have even tried to deny our essential transgendered selves while changing our physical sex. Changing sex may be the best choice for you, putting your body more in harmony with your internal gender. But even if you choose this change, you will always be transgendered, understanding the world from more than one viewpoint. You will never be simply a woman or a man, but one who has the transcendant joy of seeing the range of human experience. This makes you powerful, and while that can be frightening to some others, it will attract people who are ready to share on your level.

In many cultures, the God-given gift of transgender has been a highly valued one. Transgendered people have existed in all cultures and at all times, and their role has often been seen as one who represented the circle of humanity in one. This is often seen as a direct link to the divine.

The real gift is in accepting and working with our transgendered identity, not in running from it. We need to accept to move on, to find our bliss.

Surrender Dorothy! Surrender and accept this gift, this gift that you can give yourself. By accepting your status as transgendered, you can find the kind of freedom and joy that others have found.

We have taken that painting from Aunt Mabel. And lo and behold, we have found that it is actually quite beautiful, full of rich texture and vibrant depth. And when we are brave enough to show it to others, they also find it exquisite and marvel at our taste and our sophistication.

Some wicked witches will call it ugly, that’s true. They are not yet ready to see the beauty. Often though, a bucket of clean water, which symbolizes our own life force, can make them melt away.

What is truly amazing is how letting our true transgendered nature shine seems to bring new people into our lives, people we share powerful connections with, and who bring their own beauty and light into our lives.

My transgender has been like that. When I have shown it, it has brought beauty and peace into my life. Like any other person on earth, I have had to keep things in balance, finding a way to meet both my needs and the needs of the people that I love, but it has been more than worth it.

Congratulations! You are officially a transgendered person! As America sang, “Oz never did give nothin’ to the tin man that he didn’t, didn’t already have.” Take this gift like the tin heart, not as anything new, but as permission to trust your own heart, which you have always had, but which you may not have trusted.

You have the right to choose, the right to create yourself from all the best that humanity has to offer. You can be as beautiful, as strong, as bright, as sensitive, as spiritual, as whole as you choose to be, for you are transgendered!

You have the brains, you have the courage, you have the heart, and you also have the rainbow of humanity in your heart. You have the right and the spirit to shine in beauty and love.

You are whole and complete. You have the whole circle inside of you, yin and yang, black and white and all shades between. You hold the rainbow in your heart, and, when you let it, it shines beautifully from you.

Each of us makes up a little part of the rainbow of humanity, one brightly shining spot. By having each point of the rainbow shine, each of us shine, we create the beauty of the rainbow here on earth.

And if you shine, you can make a change in the world, helping to let others find their way to shine, helping to put the world in balance. Remember that it is millions of tiny water droplets shining in the light that combine to make a rainbow. We can all shine, and together we will make a beautiful spectrum of light.

If we all make just a little change in the world, maybe we won’t need a special pair of magic red pumps to find our spiritual home. We can build some place special right here on earth, where happy little blue birds, and all of the rest of us, can fly, to a magic place. A magic place that’s not just somewhere over the rainbow, but that is here today, shining brightly in the spirits of all of you.

You are transgendered. When someone asks you if you are a good witch or a bad witch, say proudly that you are a very good witch. Go forth and shine your rainbow light in the world! Bless the world with your presence as you have been blessed with your transgender!

Together, we make up the rainbow, bright and colorful. You are a beautiful sight, and I am proud to be one of you. Together, we will change the world!

and for the less sweet. . .

Backstage Meta

Having the zest to really commit to a performance — from a turn on-stage to chairing a business meeting to just being a mommy — depends a great deal on how safe, understood, affirmed, mirrored and protected you feel when you are backstage.

A place where you are out of the spotlight, the pressure off, hanging with people who understand you as you and not just as you role is an important part of being balanced and healthy in the world.

For example, women go to the powder room together to get backstage, out of the gaze, into a place where they can share feedback, do their private duties, adjust their costume, and basically just get a breath in a not-quite public space.

Men retire to clubs or man-caves for similar reasons, executives have their own refuges, and on and on.

A public persona is useful but it is also limiting.    Sports stars may want to provide a role model for kids, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need time to sweat, time to curse, time to release and just time to be an human.

For me, this backstage time has always had to be alone.

As a kid, facing Aspergers parents, there was no safety or encouragement at home.  I had to enter my own world, using my own thoughts, fed by the shards of information I gathered from reading and watching TV, to be out of the danger zone.    I didn’t have peers, didn’t know how to explain my homelife, didn’t know how to get into the place the kids around me were.

As a transperson, facing a world of gendered expectations, there was no safety or encouragement in the world.  I was never just one of the guys and certainly never one of the girls.

I was an individualistic iconoclast, an aberration, a freak standing on my own rather than one of the gang, one of the team, one of the cast.   That left me without any backstage space where I could be protected and polished.

My favourite work experience was being part of a team of very bright people in the early days of writing commercial software for PCs.   (I actually worked on a DOS 1.25 Columbia PC that had a hard drive without directories in the file system.)    At least I could be one of the nerds, even one of the top nerds, bringing smarts, vision and communication to breaking new ground.

Today, nerds and genderqueers are not uncommon, but that wasn’t the case back then.  I was alone.

Becoming a goddamn guru wasn’t my dream, but it seemed to be my only choice, moving beyond fitting in to a kind of heightened awareness.    I learned how to perform guru, becoming a concierge who helped people move through doors, seeing beyond their conventions.

There isn’t, though, a little guru’s room where we all go and let the human behind the persona hang out.    Asking people to help me to become a safer, better and more energized guru just left them baffled.   They wanted to show me what made them better, more denial, discipline & detachment, while what I needed was more humanity, more release, trust and childlike playfulness. (2006)

Having only the vacuum of a backstage, a place alone, left me to write and write and write, all very creative but not very nourishing.   Instead of getting the kind of engagement I needed when sharing, I got a kind of mastery of expression, so detailed, so thoughtful, emotional and intense that it has formed a further barrier to getting the kind of mirroring and affirmation that I have always needed.

Experience in the meta has made my performance as concierge, as door handler and guru much more effective, allowing me to enter the worldviews of others to offer new perspective and encouragement, but it hasn’t made that performance more satisfying and bountiful to me.   The costs are clear, the rewards just dried in the hope of gaining them in another life.

To become product, creating an accessible face that others can value, I have to be more engaging of the spotlight.   For me, that doesn’t involve mastering more performance skills, rather it requires more backstage capacity, finding spaces where I can be seen, safe and supported after I do my gig and perform my role.

This is always difficult for transpeople.    The backstage bits that most people take for granted, like being one of the girls or the boys, is something that takes work for us to police inside ourselves, modulating our performance, always tensed and ready for the terrifying “third gotcha.”

While I may know how to help others move past this fear,  that knowledge stays conceptual until I have the practice, the rehearsal, the safety that comes from knowing you have others backstage who will be there for you, working together to create the best outcome, watching each other’s back.

For me, even support groups are work, a time for modulating my performance rather than letting down my guard and having my instincts & skills recognized and affirmed.   Often, I even have to help train the clinical professionals.

I end up being more the parent, the facilitator, the guru than being another human with their own problems, because I have addressed the standard issues I carry, leaving the tough and difficult to solve challenges, the terrors that can easily freak others out.    I do know why most start to read my most recent post and quickly move on.

Denying the safety and empowerment of backstage support has always been an effective way of enforcing stigma.   We were taught to fear being identified with those who look perverted, sick or marginalized, so rather than helping with what we share we focus on how we are different, how we are not like them.   Our identity becomes based around what we are not, what we deny and reject, rather than who we are in our shimmering, complex and nuanced beautiful humanity.

Too much of what should get processed backstage in my life comes to the top, blocking my performance and limiting my potential.   After long decades of having to take care of myself, living in scarcity and fear, I know that.

Finding a safe backstage to handle my ragged humanity, though, is something I have been unable to achieve.

Loss Liminal Life

I grew up living inside the question rather than in the answer.

Doubt was the only tool I had to move between the sliding slabs that tore at me, from the Aspergers views of my parents to the conventionality of the schools, from the lovely conflicting truths of science to the power of religious belief, from my tender femme heart to the expectations placed on my growing male body and so on.

This lead me to what Dave Gray and Mike Parker call “Liminal Thinking,”   the deliberate questioning of beliefs, with their associated assumptions and expectations, to try and gain the tools that allowed me to find effective and testable theories to create understanding and possibilities beyond the conventional.

Moving through cultural walls that others believed were fixed and immutable made me a change agent, a shamanic character who challenged beyond comforting boundaries.

My sanity required living with both the hot and cold inside me.  My chill mind slowly analyzed the situation, creating a functional explanation of both organic and constructed factors while my warm heart drove me towards love, caring, passion and mystical beauty.

My cold logic or my hot emotion was never the problem, rather the scary bit was always how I held both of these powerful forces at the same time.    Those comfortable with logic found my emotional parts messy and those comfortable with emotion found my logical bits too sharp.   Either way, the liminality of my approach, being the door, between, both and neither at the same time, was so challenging that they found reasons to shut me away, silencing me outside their own “self sealing bubble of belief.

The experience of being “too” something — too cerebral, too visceral, too challenging, too intense, too bubble bursting, too queer, too whatever — lead me to create a life myth that I was just too hip for the room, that “nobody would get the joke.”    Just by speaking my own liminal truth I tended to pierce the comforting beliefs that formed the foundation of other people’s identity.   Unless they were committed to change, to growth and healing, to transformation, it was easier for them to marginalize me than to engage, mirror and affirm what I shared.

Considering myself too much, though, has become my own limiting belief.   I have learned to attenuate and suppress myself, staying mostly hidden in the world.   To tolerate the denial that requires, I have taken on aesthetic beliefs, learning to live with scarcity rather than to enter my own desires.

Leading me to an approach of well modulated professionalism and service — my “concierge mode” — others have come to appreciate how I keep my own power hidden while supporting their own needs, desires and possibilities.   My playing small has kept them comforted, even as my own needs, desires and possibilities withered on the vine.

What if, though, what if there really is abundance out there for me, if only I believe in it enough to act as if, pushing beyond my own history of pain and fear to claim a new and valued incarnation?

Is it possible that the choice to not let my full energy shine has cost me more than it would gain me?   Have I and the world changed enough that my history cannot predict the response, that there will be places where the seeds I have polished and created can now find fertile ground?

When you have spent a life immersed in the power of doubt, though, moving to belief is not easy.    While evangelists, including self-help mavens, will be happy to tell you about purity of faith and philosophers will tell you about the power of questions, few try to approach the thorny subject of how to balance belief and doubt in one life.

This is my challenge, the balance between a sharp mind and a flowing faith, between cool thought and hot emotion.     I know how to do this with other people, combining empathy and intelligence to help clarify and encourage their possibilities as they grow and heal in their own time and their own way.  Empowering myself, though, is much harder, without selfless distance and patience.

My coolness, though, is what people think they want, because it seems to be more about them.  They read my biology, my age, my authority, my smarts and cast me into the role they know that I should play in their world story. They project me into their assumptions and beliefs, demanding I pay a price if I don’t meet their limited expectations.

Enforcing identity becomes habit for most, cycling and perpetuating their own belief systems.   The right way to be is obvious and so is enforceable.  Even those who come together in the name of spirit first want to enforce doctrine, a politically based rightness which offers succour and solace for their believers.

Performance beyond boundaries is terrifying, even if holds the ultimate freedom.   Encouraging that powerful individual expression demands moving beyond our own fears and defences, even when those are the talismans we believe protect us by making our own choices blessed and holy.

It is always our liminality, where we live across boundaries, that informs our transcendence.

My liminality, my transcendence, is between my cool, edgy, controlled mind and my hot, fluid, passionate heart.    My confidence in showing the full blossom of that liminal self in the world is dented and battered from a lifetime of being a phobogenic object, the locus of so, so many projected fears.

Packaging that liminality, though, figuring what parts of myself to hide, what bits to polish to a gloss, and what just to try and keep fuzzy.  Fuzzy, though, is just not something I do well.   The sharpness and heat, well, it’s not easy to hide.

What if, though, what if there really is abundance out there for me, if only I believe in it enough to act as if, pushing beyond my own history of pain and fear to claim a new and valued incarnation?   What if revealing and celebrating my essential liminality could open the gate to a new, rewarding and vibrant life?

Might there actually be, beyond my imagining, a good answer?

Affirmation

“Whatever you say,” one young transwoman said after I shared a poem, “I think we should focus on the good and positive parts of being trans, like the affirmation I feel when people use my preferred pronouns.”

I chuckled inwardly, remembering a recent incident where I passed one of those perennial bake sale people called out to my back “Ma’amSir!”   Yeah, that just about covers it.

When we crave the affirmation of the pronouns others choose for us, we open ourselves to the dismissal they can hand out when they choose a pronoun we find erasing and painful.

How can I need affirmation from others without also being exposed to their ignorance, disdain or disgust?   I know who I am, no matter what I am called, and that has to be enough for me, or so the logic goes.

This is the approach of someone who learned early to live inside their own rationality.   Since I was more likely to get shit than sweets from my mother as she sprayed her own failure & pain, and my father loved without theory of mind, finding a way to pride in a torrent where no one mirrored or affirmed me was just hard.

Every input I have was mentally filtered.   I needed to suss out meaning rather than to just be slashed or seduced by the vagrant emotions of others.   This made me difficult to manipulate while giving me a vision of how to manipulate others, using my deliberate awareness to calibrate and calculate my responses.

Those pathways of evaluation serve me still today, allowing me to tease out content and story, but they also limit me in feeling the raw affirmation that every soul needs.   “I know you don’t love me, and that’s okay,” goes through my mind, acknowledging the limits of the giving and caring others can offer me, but at the same time, blocking what they are able to offer with sharp, cerebral assessment.

“You never let me care for you,” said I woman I have known for over thirty years, though she follows that up with the acknowledgement that her own splintered pain didn’t let allow presence of the kind I could deliver.    How could I learn to trust after parents who proved themselves immensely dangerous with my feelings and dreams?

The moments I remember as affirming my gender expression are very conceptual.

  • many crossdressers telling me that “You sound just like my wife!”
  • a femme director of our local pride centre noting “I knew you were a femme the moment you crossed your legs!  We can always tell each other!”
  • a expert sexologist a bit afraid to tell me that I acted more femme in boy clothes because I didn’t have the same defences up
  • a friend who did one of my first makeovers noting to her mom that I walk better in heels than she did
  • a coach saying “You would have been a great mom.”
  • the judges at a startup competition telling me “You have a great voice!”

These are moments when someone saw my content rather than just my presentation, when perception moves beyond mistake or mimicry — “femulating” — to authentic exposure.   For me, this is truth, not just creating a surface that passes for an intention, but a revelation of kaleidoscopic facets, an view that demands aware, engaged and compassionate observers.

Every transperson faces challenges over what affirmation works for them.   The mirroring we get is not only fractured and contradictory but we also have to face it alone, rather than sharing the characteristics with our family of origin.   What reflections do we need to cling to and which do we need to ignore or slough off?

For some, joining political movements allows them assimilation, while for others working to avoid being alone allows them not to have to engage a deeper loneliness.   We learn to stay in bubbles, learn to lead with anger, learn to placate & play small, whatever technique works for us.

Learning to engage affirmations that don’t instantly resonate with our own history, though, is very hard.   No matter how much I strive to offer positive mirroring, until they are ready and able to really hear it, really let in in through the filters built for historical defences, there is no way it can take root and start to grow.

My own lifemyth is simple: others just won’t get the joke.   They see me as prickly, odd, challenging, cerebral, deliberately difficult.   I am absolutely sure that my mother in the sky loves me, but everyone else, I suspect, finds me to be rather a pill.

This isn’t helped by a society where attention spans get shorter and shorter, leaving people to fall back on fundamental beliefs rather than being like Shaw’s  tailor.   While I know that my queer heart has the obligation to hold open space for growth, healing and transformation, the reflection of so many people refusing to open heart and mind, stubbornly unwilling to question their own assumptions, feels like a daily battering.  To them, I am a phobogenic object.

Can I ever be ready for someone to be nice to me (2001)?   How much do I have to stay defended with the habits I learned early and how much can I be vulnerable, letting people see me, trusting that they will be gracious and respectful?

Love, love, love.  And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Or is it?    Today, when I got a bit of help, finally with incentive to pick up the trash in this basement, having the new chair brought in from the car and assembled, feeling released as it embraces me in a way the old stool never could, my guard drops.   Last nights dreams come back to me, waking up in terror as my mother demands service, complaining and narcissistic, and I the ache sweeps over me.   Where is the aesthetic toughness I believe I need to survive at all?

Where does affirmation come from?   When it arrives, how can we be ready to engage & accept it, rather than just ducking down to stay safe from the kinds of burns we have gotten in the past, just trying to repeat what we can already accept?

To really open to affirmation is to be vulnerable, vulnerable not just to the nice, good and expected, but also the challenging & surprising and even the acting out of the fears & chosen limits of others.

Where, then, is the love we can embrace & trust?

Motive Enemy

“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
— Anne Bolin, anthropologist

The moment I heard Anne say that at Southern Comfort 1993, I knew it was my personal mission statement.

Democracy — and community — only works when we first respect what we share.

For those who want to build a separate power base, though, setting the focus on difference is their strategy of choice.   By creating a common enemy, an us vs. them scenario, they let fear & separation dominate rather than leading with connection & sharing.

This assertion of correctness and incorrectness allows us to dismiss and demean other people who we know are just wrong, destructive and evil.

I am entitled to assert my beliefs because they are correct.   My feelings tell me when my beliefs are being assaulted and mocked, allowing me to identify and lash out at demons around me.

You are judging me, or mocking me or whatever, so I get to judge you!   I reduce you to a symbol of what I hate, stripping you of your humanity.

To make this work, instead of just seeing the choices that people make, we judge the underlying drives and motives that we assign to them.   By projecting an intention onto their actions we are able to identify our foes, the enemies who are causing all the problems around us.

The assumption of intention becomes gospel.   I know what you meant, what you were thinking, how you failed me, and it is disgusting and immoral.

As long as the only context for understanding exists in our own belief structures, our views will be constrained by the meaning we cling to for comfort and for affirmation.

In a pluralistic society, we can’t assume that everyone else believes like us, that their choices are based on our expectations & assumptions.   This is the essence of queer thinking, that everyone is an individual with wide range of influences so cannot be judged on how they are different from us, only on the kindness and morality of their own choices.

Today, though, we live in a world where snap judgment is not only accepted, it is encouraged.   From the raucous world of internet commenting to the assessment of celebrities to the political goals of those who seek to create fear, uncertainty and doubt for their own power, there is an pattern where everyone gets to assert their opinion on anyone else, based on personal contexts and our projected assignment of motive & intention.

The blanket permission to judge from a position of assumed moral superiority is the hallmark of our age.  While this has always happened in societies,  never was it as easy to do as leaving a comment on the internet, or so affirmed by media who understand that sensationalism sells and responsible, deliberate choices are held to be a denial of the people’s perfect rights of instant and final judgment.

Anything that challenges our judgments can be dismissed as immoral manipulation, merely propaganda spread by those who have a motive to destroy what we hold dear, valued and sacred.    Because we are sure of their intentions, either malicious, manipulative or ignorant, not only do their messages have no standing, they mark the messenger as corrupt or duped.

When everything that challenges our beliefs is either attack or noise it becomes impossible to build bridges.   The walls we create to protect ourselves and our families become bigger and harder because we believe that they are real, marking the separations between us and the hostile forces arrayed against us out there.

This powerfully divisive mindset makes it very hard to remind others of our continuous common humanity.    Dignity, respect and kindness are hard to offer those marked as other, as enemy, as the people who are causing us all our problems, the ones creating our pain and suffering.

Preachy preachers play on this mindset, speaking for separation and the obligation for others to change and become like we already are to be virtuous and worthy of respect.

Teachy preachers play against this mindset, speaking for connection and the obligation for us to change, dropping our own barriers and becoming more open to the fundamental dignity of all creation.

The most important reason that we don’t “fight like family is because we convince ourselves that we are not family with others who are mired in stupidity or evil.    Until they apologize, get right with us and our beliefs, show not only respect but also fealty & obeisance to what we know to be true and proper, then what can they be but an enemy, someone to be put down?

From the White House down, assigning motives and then judging others on those projections seems to give permission to violate the Golden Rule, attacking others without the dignity and respect we demand for ourselves.

Us versus them defies the truth of continuous common humanity that I have found is the only way to respect the tender trans truth that lives in my heart.

That’s why, in this culture of instant and thoughtless judgment, my heart feels so battered and broken.

Creating Community

The most important thing I taught my family was how to fight.

They knew how to slash and act out, how to hit below the belt, but what they didn’t know was how to challenge with wit, with consideration, with love.

Families are supposed to be safe spaces that welcome us home, offer comfort & caring to bind up our wounds.

Unless, though, they also serve to be a place where we can consolidate our lessons, evaluating what worked and what didn’t, allowing us to experiment with new ways of being and find our own strengths and grooves, well, they don’t serve to strengthen and empower us to leave strengthened and enlightened.   The only way we can learn to stand up for ourselves, honing our expression, is by doing it.

The idea of confrontation not as battle but as process is vital to enabling growth and healing.   Instead of trying to be the winner, staying defended and hard, we try to become new, practice finding more effective and elegant ways of being.

When a kid wins at something, their next move is usually simple.  “Okay, now you try it!” they tell their pal, wanting to share the success and achievement, preferring to keep everyone growing together.

Fighting with love keeps us fit and engaged.   It helps us move beyond ineffective responses and gain mastery through insight and practice.

We know in our hearts that people who won’t fight with us won’t fight for us.   In families, we may challenge our siblings, but when they are challenged, we jump in to help, protect and defend them.   Only we get to beat them up because we know that only we do it with safety and love, always ready to help them up and bind up their wounds.

Not all families fight with this grace, of course.  In dysfunctional families the goal of battle is winning, shutting down challenge.   This may be done by force or by chaos, but it always comes from a place of resisting change and healing, trying to keep the family serving the demands of one person rather than expecting everyone to be present enough to engage, grow and transform.

While I grew up in a family where this kind of dysfunction was at the heart, by committing to my own practice I was able to come back with the patience, insight and wit to train my parents in fighting with heart.   While they never got to the point where they could fight for me, they knew that I was always fighting for them, even when I pointed out their own less than effective choices.   They learned to enjoy the give and take, at least within the family.

Much of my growth came from working in entrepreneurial businesses where everyone needed to bring their best and smartest to make shared success, measured and shaped by market forces.   We work together to find solutions rather than trying to place blame on external forces. This is a very different approach than the so-called egalitarian process that attempts to force social consensus through shaming pressures, which tends to let the most resistant person in the room hold the agenda.

Empowerment and challenge brings out the best in us when it is alloyed with the awareness, kindness and grace that threads through the healthiest families.   As much as we dread people having high expectations of us, we also know they are always better than people who have low expectations of us, those who assume we are abject, broken and incapable.  People who see the best in us will work with us to find our strengths while those who see the worst will leave us to our failures.

No matter how much teenagers may complain, families are never simply styled as egalitarian democracies where shaming social pressure to enforce compliance shapes what are called “unanimous and correct” agreements.    Instead, families are structures where what you bring to the table counts, where those who have more share it with those who are still needing to grow.

This can be tough for transpeople.   We don’t emerge to fit nicely into a community role.   Rather, we emerge to claim our unique and powerful truth.

Our lives, as artist Greer Lankton reminded us are “all about me, not you.”

Coming from the stance of rejecting expectations makes it hard to pin down what a grown-up, mature and well-integrated transperson actually looks like.  There wasn’t any example in our family of origin, and we see few examples in structures of power, success and support in the wider world.

Do we eventually just blend in, assimilating into some desired and reasonably normative role?   Do we find role models who embody bits we want to include in our expression?   Do we find new and innovative ways of being part of community, offering some kind of unique role?

Emergence as trans requires another adolescence, another process of experimentation, of trying on, shaping, abandoning and including a new set of choices, approaches, strategies, behaviours and mindsets.   This process includes clinging to bits that feel safe even if they don’t really work for us anymore, thrashing about naked, being inexpert as we try what we have not yet mastered and generally being a bit self-obsessed.

We tend to hear everything people say as about us and not about them, which means we are very easily triggered.   How can we not see the world that way after internalizing the amount of shame we are fed to keep us heavily self-policed?

How, then do we learn to be effective players in community as transpeople?  How do we learn to share leadership roles, taking our part of the responsibility for both group actions and caring for others?

We need to  learn to fight like family.   You will know the people who are really your family by their ability and willingness to tell you the truth while still leaving you feeling loved.    Only someone who cares enough to confront you because they really know who you are, they have really listened to your crap and and they believe you can be better and more powerful really loves you.

Agreement is nice, but deeply caring engagement is better.   We don’t need people to always agree with us, always sing the same song, rather we need people who will stand by us no matter if we are a bit cracked or off key.   You know, like real, solid, loving family does.

When someone really sees and mirrors us with open authenticity, rather than projecting their issues on us, trying to cast us in their movie, making our choices about them, they give us the gift of respect and empowerment.  It’s a gift that we should work to return, deepening those relationships with our own vulnerability.

To build connection, community and allies, getting beyond our emotional buttons and learning to fight, to fight like family, with and for each other, seems vital.

A Mother’s Journey

I really don’t mind being the grown up, the parent, the mother.   It’s a lovely way to share and take care of the people that I love.

I do mind, however, always having to be the grown up, the parent, the mother.    I was adultified very early, having to take care of parents whose emotional intelligence was stuck in their own narcissism or sweet involvement.

And being the mom without others seeing and acknowledging that role, without the respect, understanding and dignity that comes when people value the importance and the cost of that role.

Mothers build families, or at least that is their role.   They manage the care, feeding and training of those under their care to help them grow and mature, learning how to manifest their potential in relationship and in the world.

My mother, whose theory of mind was limited by her Aspergers mind, was much better at being upset and making everything about her than she was at helping those she loved flourish.    That mindset drove me into my own world, even as I tried to help those I love.

The approach of manipulation was not the right one, no matter how much it felt defensive and required.   By letting go of my own desires, though, I learned to let go of my desired outcomes so I could work the process, getting the best available while acknowledging that everyone heals and grows in their own way and their own time.

The cost of letting go of my own desires, though, is high.   I wasn’t seen to be playing a feminine role, wasn’t valued by those around me who didn’t want to feel they were surrendering their agency, my choices and sacrifices not understood.

Taking care of growing kids offers a certain joy as you see them mature and blossom, but taking care of aging parents or even stubborn transpeople committed to rejecting expectations offers very different and very limited rewards.

Attempting to help offer new viewpoints, new techniques and new structures to those who are determined to be as individualistic as cats that already have formed behaviours, well, that is a challenging and thankless job.    One is guaranteed to meet both resistance and abuse, stretching over years.

When I stand up and challenge experts in a public meeting,  transpeople are drawn to me, seeing me as saying what they believe needs said, as fighting for them.    When I try to teach by challenging their own personal assumptions, expectations and choices, though, they quickly shut me down, holding fast to the comforting defences, beliefs and structures that they think allow them to survive in a challenging world.

The public image of what mothers should be is tender, kind, embracing and sweet.    For women, those attributes are part of the packaging, from sweet voices to rounded bodies, petite frames to pretty faces, while the true power lies beneath.   Mothers have to be fighters, fighting with and for their families and their communities, the power of a tiger covered in warm fur.

For people raised as men, though, the image is inverted.   They need to be tough, hard and steely, though with a considerate and tender heart.   When those seen as male bodied are seen as fighting, the assumption is that it is their masculine privilege rearing up, not that they are just revealing the ferocious heart of a mother.

I was never one of the girls, a female body marking the perceptions of my nature, my training, acceptance and valuing based on the potential of my reproductive biology.    Finding an effective balance between taking power and playing along is almost impossible when you never know how you are being seen, what is being assumed and assigned to you.

Never having been a child, facing the requirement that someone do the emotional, theory of mind work while being denied the joy, possibility and play which allows a heart to blossom, well, that cost is something I carry with me everyday.   There was no choice; my role was compulsory no matter how much it hurt and constrained me.

This leaves me making families not out of the fresh clay of newly developing young minds but rather trying to build them out of already formed chunks of granite, spirits hardened into rocky outcrops.   To these rugged hearts I try to bring divine surprise, seeing choices in a new way, beyond calcified beliefs and expectations.

Not only is this almost an impossible job, it also comes without understanding and respect, facing resistance rather than engagement.   Nobody wants to grow up to be like me, wants to model themselves, rather, if I am lucky, persistent and good, they may open their mind or heart a little bit more.

The cost, though, is high.  I really don’t mind being the grown up, the parent, the mother.   It’s a lovely way to share and take care of the people that I love.

I do mind, however, always having to be the grown up, the parent, the mother.    I was adultified very early, having to take care of parents whose emotional intelligence was stuck in their own narcissism or sweet involvement.

And being the mom without others seeing and acknowledging that role, without the respect, understanding and dignity that comes when people value the importance and the cost of that role.

The depletion, rawness and stress accumulates without discharge or support.   And the only way to enter the world seems to be containerized in packages that meet the expectations others write onto my history and biology, girded for defence, ready to take the pounding and erasure.

My calling is to help others learn to fight like family, with respect and grace.  I have done this work, but only with limited results.   The obligation to start from scratch over and over again in a society that does not want the jewels I found on my journey, returning a gift that they see as valueless, well, that is too wearing.

I’m sorry that my current writing is not easily accessible for those just meeting me, but I don’t know how to stay that shallow or simple.  I am not an evangelist, a missionary with one basic message, rather I am a voyager, a theologian, trying to set out maps of territory that is unexplored because of fear.  These are the places I had to go to claim back my own spirit, even if no one gets the joke.

I don’t mind being the grown-up, the mom.   But having to only be that, never letting my heart dance in the light of others, able to let down my guard and be cared for, well, that’s much too much.