Raw Skin

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.

When transpeople try to explain their experience of struggling to claim themselves in the world to others we often find it impossible.   Those who hear our tales try to map it to their own experience, their own understanding, but they come up being at a remove.

Why can’t we just make different, more assimilated choices?   Why do we have to break the expectations, be so damn queer?   Wouldn’t life be better if we were just nicer, simpler, and more conventional, putting the needs & concerns of others before our own?

They don’t feel the urgency, the pressure, the pain, the needs, the intensity for one simple reason.   It’s not their skin in the game, it’s ours.

Trying to turn down, to attenuate the sense of our own skin is not as simple as it is for others to just ignore our feelings, our experience, our knowledge.     The only way out of hell is through, not just building walls & compartments to lock away the inconvenient & challenging bits of us, putting on a nice face.

Coming out requires coming out.   If you are not striving to integrate yourself, you are disintegrating.

When we are shamed and stigmatized into the closet, the prescription is simple: the world needs less of you.   You are too much, too challenging, too queer and if you reveal that in the world you deserve whatever you get.

I have learned that the obverse is true.   The only way to blossom is to share more of you, to give more of the gifts you have inside, no matter how much that triggers the fear & discomfort of others, no matter how much that triggers the fear & shame inside of you.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
― Gospel of Thomas

Instead of being more like them, you need to be more like you.   Being yourself is the gift of a lifetime, as Joseph Campbell reminds us.

Finding people who will support you in facing your fears and being big, bold, beautiful and queer in the world is rarely easy.   Other people work on their own issues, the places where they have skin in the game, but that often means that they still have places where they resist, areas they don’t see the need to enter, places that they would rather leave in darkness.

Playing small to satisfy others is rarely the path to embrace your own authentic, queer voice.   Until they can express what they fear, what makes them uncomfortable, they can’t be there for you.   People who won’t fight with you can never fight for you.  Valuing the unique gifts of others is hard, but it is the only way you can learn to value the unique gifts that you possess.

Until you are comfortable in your own skin, you can’t be comfortable with other people shedding and growing into their own new and bigger skins.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

My history and my knowledge is written on my own skin.   That means that I am my own person, without a convenient identity group to fall in with, without a tribe who I can trust to welcome, understand and value me.

None of this is new, of course.   Anyone who read my work, who actually engaged it in an attempt to understand, will have seen these themes come up again and again.

“You don’t have to be too queer for the room, you know.   You just have to be better assimilated, more deferential, using more filters to attenuate your intensity.”

The first time I heard that was from my mother, telling me that I kept getting sent to new schools as Aspergers lost my father his job, but I was too stupid to learn to play along.

Yet, I knew the truth when I was four and found my favourite poem:

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
— Alan Alexander Milne


Lizard Strongbox

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

In a meeting with a flack, my big boss told her that my boss was being promoted. She was surprised, asking “Who knew?”   He assured her that nobody knew, but she had seen my stoic reaction and was puzzled.   “They knew!” she cried, pointing at me.   He was clear: this was the first time I was hearing the news.

She was impressed that I didn’t flinch, understanding how useful that kind of face was in dealing with the press and public.   No tell from me, no leakage of difficult and nasty emotion.

That armour was developed because I from a very young age, I needed to appear to have a thick, tough masculine hide, no matter how much my emotions were visceral and intense.   Only one person was allowed to spew feelings, lashing out at how she was not only misunderstood but also tortured by everyone, including (especially?) her very young children who should know and behave better.

I had to be able to put my heart inside a strongbox, locking away my earthy, primal lizard brain for protection.   With it hidden, I was protected from showing my feelings in a way that left me vulnerable to wild & painful attacks, and it was protected from being shredded by being exposed as tender & feminine.

Being seen as a porcupine, all sharp observations, all cerebral edge, a phobogenic object, too cutting for the room, became my lifemyth, became the way I understood my place in the world.

All it cost me was the price of hyper-vigilance, of always having to be on guard for danger, ready to toughen up to take the blow which was sure to come.  I just had to always be on alert for the next shot, never trusting my own heart and my own nature, the nature so queer it called me to cross gender boundaries in a way that was sure to stir up the shit from others.

In the long run, it wasn’t just me I was protecting.   As a kid, I took the blows for my siblings, and in the end of their life, I was here to take the hits my father could no longer stand, helping him stay safe from tough demands on his co-dependent habits.

The body keeps the score, though, and the cost of a lifetime in instant response armour shows.   Playing the smart one who can take the hits has shaped my life and my character.   My hermit choices come from only feeling safe, from understanding that my frustration, pain, rage and other feelings need to be concealed or softened so as not to inflame others who couldn’t understand how someone so tough could also be so tender, couldn’t see how they are two sides of the same painful experience, the foundation of a wounded healer.

Everything about me seems so very stout, from my memory to my shoulders to my voice, that it is inconceivable that inside lurks something so very delicate and fragile.   I, though, am reminded of that truth every time I fear opening an envelope, hear a surprising sound or feel myself step out into the simple vision of others.

My lizard brain knows safety, and from my youngest days that safety only existed when I was alone with myself.   Slowly — very slowly — I learned to go deep, to first control and then to engage & understand my own feelings, working out a context for living with myself.

That context, though, has left me being the one who has to understand others, to enter their worlds, to take the blows of their own acting out deep fears & feelings.   Expecting to be understood, let alone soothed by others is off the table, so I am always ready to hunker down, to hit the deck, to toughen up, to take the blows, to lock my own heart behind compassionate armour.

It is a gift to be strong, smart, empathetic and understanding, but like every gift, it comes with a cost.   People who are still looking for someone else to blame, to lash out at “them” haven’t yet come to grips with the profound and painful lesson of sharing continuous common humanity, of needing to make others seem inferior so they can feel superior, even if that is the narcissistic vision of superior martyrdom and entitlement.   You suffer because of them, so you deserve whatever you can grab.

When you lose surface connection, all you can do is go deep to find the undercover currents that flow between, connecting all.   Visualizing depths, though, offers views of emptiness, pain and unhealed places that most often go unexplored, undiscovered and unhealed.   See too much and it often becomes easiest to just pass on the play, no matter how much possibility or potential is on the line.

All this bouncing between my deep cognition and my lizard brain leaves one bit of me isolated, unseen and untouched by others.

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

I also learned not to like taking hits, no matter how important the fight was.   The action may have been crucial, but it damn well was never fun.   That’s why I worked so hard to learn to fight fun and fair, taking care of others, even if they didn’t know how to use playful wit & empathic love to soften the fury of their expression.    It was always my job to figure out meaning, to find truth, to address feelings, the designated whatever in the family.

Answers always lie in connections, in process, in interplay, in conflicts, in liminal ambiguity.   That’s where I had to learn to live.

That doesn’t mean I ever, though, stopped waiting for the “third gotcha.”

Shards of Callan 2019

Callan, when I see your deep emotions spark out from behind the elegant rational cloak you have fashioned, I am usually touched and moved. Sometimes it is hard to remember that even when you play the breeches role, acting as a man to serve the process, the energy behind that comes from a profound feminine desire to care for others, to deliver what they need and expect using your massive, loving, femme heart.

You know, though, that the only way for people to see that astounding inner beauty is to make it manifest, to regularly show it in the wider world. After decades of feeling erased, dismissed and hit trying to reveal yourself, though, you have both a legacy of scars and no support network to mirror and affirm you, meaning that when you feel exposed by performance, you tend to shrink back into contemplation in an attempt to heal.

I believe, though, that when you give others a chance to see that feminine heart, enough will respond positively, finding you compelling and beautiful, for you to start to get more of the engagement and affection you so desperately need, the caring that can penetrate your well of loneliness.

How you have the resilience and endurance to put your beauty out there on regular display, I don't know. But I do know that you, and much more importantly, we in the world would profoundly benefit from the amazing amount of love and smarts you have to give.

“My drag persona is a coping mechanism for the anxiety, so she doesn’t have any awareness of it.”   Compartmentalization as the basis for public acceptance, being what people expect — even if that is a clown — because abundance challenges the demands most follow to be gender accepted.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— Oscar Wilde

I don’t announce “my pronouns.”   Sure, I know what gender my heart is, know it from my longings and my choices, and I have learned how to present that, both in polished form and in soft expressions, but I don’t think I have the indulgence of telling you what you must see.   After all, I don’t want to be told what I must see.   When you tell me what you see, well, then I have a real glimpse into what you see.   In the documentary “I Am Divine,” most of the guys referred to Divine as “him,” but a few of the gals said “her.”   I know that they were seeing a spirit, a heart, and not a body.  I read crossdressers who want to know where “a woman like them” fits in the world and I think that they don’t understand how much they are, how much they are seen as a “guy-in-a-dress.” (1999)   What are the rights of a guy-in-a-dress?  Are we entitled to blithely enter women’s spaces, or is that an intrusion based in arrogant colonization?

Walk in the world with confidence & authority but without entitlement & privilege.   The power of visions exerted with absolute humility.  Yeah.

Both healer and wounded.

the quest for adorable.
What will we cut off to try and be adorable?
Does it really work in the end?

phobogenic : too much

peed my dress. “Really?”
“How do you go to the restroom?”
It’s usually okay, I look like one of “them,” whoever they are.
Mostly, though, I avoid the problem.

not, not, not, not, not, not, not like that kind of “trans.”

I’m uncomfortable with attention because I assume people are projecting onto me rather than glimpsing into my world.  I exist in the shadows my words cast, not simply what you assume the symbols mean.

“Could I speak continuously for an hour and a half? ”
“Did I?”
“Okay, then I was gracious.”

Not a salon culture where deep conversations and insightful wit is valued.  We no longer intertwine stories, rather we just float on the pressures of society.

In this culture, the people who get to speak are the people with something to sell.   What the hell do I have to sell?

Performance requires performance.   Performance is an edited version of presence; what do you highlight and what do you keep in the shadows?

Hello, I’m Callan and I’m here to help.

Transpeople aren’t different on the surface unless we choose to be.   Transpeople are different at the core, seeded with an energy that is not normative for the bodies we have.   That’s why it’s so tough to communicate the experience to those who haven’t engaged their own queerness, to those who cling to convention in the hope of having simple, “normal” lives.    How do we know that our essence is being seen, engaged and valued, not just reduced & surfaced?   How do we share our narratives with those who are using their full bandwidth just to try and invoke what they want, need and expect in the world?  If being explicit is too much information, reduced to noise, how can I trust inference and assumption?

In a life where I have regularly been told to edit myself, told that I am too much and less is better, that only attenuating my voice, my intensity, my emotions, my insight, my cerebral view can make me appropriate in polite society.   How, on my own, can I find a balance between vibrant presence and not scaring the horses?    Even when I get feedback, does it represent the fears and limits that others have internalized or does it trust empowerment and art, trusting that being brilliant & gorgeous demands being brilliant & gorgeous?   It’s easy to ask for less, for safety, for comfort, much harder to ask for cutting edge thought, bold statements of sharp truth and the kind of wit that allows shining?  Whose fears do we take as real?

How much routine effort do I have to put in to explain, justify or validate my choices to people who feel their beliefs would be abused and threatened if what I express has any truth in it at all?   How much daily work do I have to expend to try and separate myself from limiting ideas and hard-held assumptions?  How much do I need to hold myself protected against the third gotcha?   I know how closeted, disconnected, twisted, indulgent and broken transpeople can become growing up in a world that demands they kill off their queer desire, but I also know that to ask us to be either paragons or abject is to deny our own human healing.

a life full of letting go
of everything
but what you hold inside
releasing desire and ego
always ready to have externals
ripped from you
is a life without grounding
lived in ideas and words
rather than flesh and blood

when even your clothes
can’t belong to you
loving becomes disembodied
living becomes floating
lusting becomes separated
aesthetic hermit
losing warmth

New Year, New Me.
Well, New Performance

TDOR 2018: Open, Close

Welcome on this Transgender Awareness Week.

This is our second Transgender Day Of Remembrance gathering in Saratoga Springs, but we have been here forever, just mostly invisible.  We were here with the Native Americans, were here with the Spa goers, and are here with the Tech Valley crew, always a part of this community, but living in the shadows, in the pursuit of safety.

While we have a list of transpeople we know were murdered this year, including one from North Adams, we are here to remember transgender lives.   So many invisible lives, some made briefly visible by a tragic murder, but most just invisible because of how we have learned to hide, to swallow our hearts, just to try and feel safe.   It’s so easy for those of us who have a trans heart just to grow afraid watching the news today, with an administration that seems to want to erase us again, making the mainstream comfortable no matter what the cost to those it chooses to marginalize, to dehumanize.

Today, we are here to remember those trans lives, lives lived, lives lost and lives under threat.   We have always been here, but now, with the help of partners standing with us, we are claiming our voices and visibility.

Thanks to our sponsors:

More than that, thanks to you.   Thank you for coming and reminding us that even when transpeople are invisible, we are not forgotten, that we belong.

Let’s remember, together.



Remember that each of us deserves dignity and respect, having something to offer.
— We Remember.
Remember that we each tell our own truth in the best way we can manage.

— We Remember.

Remember that our value comes from who we are inside, not our external appearance.

— We Remember.

Remember that challenge and fear are cues for understanding, not for erasure.

— We Remember.

Remember that diversity is what makes our world blossom with possibility.

— We Remember.

Remember that we are responsible for welcoming others by engaging their stories.

— We Remember.

Remember that what connects us is always stronger than what divides us.

— We Remember.

Remember to reach out to those in need and to stand up for those in peril.

— We Remember.

Remember that those who run away the most need the the most love.

— We Remember.

Remember that people aren’t their shells, their defences.   They are their heart.

— We Remember.



TDOR 2018: Lives Lived

Lives Lived (for TDOR 2018)
Lives lived
must not
can not
be erased
for denial
for rage
for comfort
for ignorance
for control

Lives lived
creation of spirit
creation of struggle
creation of truth
creation of love
creation leaves a mark
on the fabric of all of us.

Lives lived
breaking beyond
conventional boxes
to essence and truth
passion and brilliance

Lives lived
who decides
they must be stolen or shattered
they must be pounded or pursued
they must be erased or expunged
they must be murdered?

Lives lived
challenging boundaries
negating walls
revealing connection
revealing truth
revealing embrace
show up the tiny fear
which demands disappearance
of hearts transcendent.

Lives lived
ripples and hieroglyphs
pointing beyond
compartments and barriers
indicating where healing is required
facing the selves so many try to hide.

Lives lived
mirrors of magnificence
spark of sublime
coursing channels
of over spilling love
met and memorized
now deep within us
no matter how
some bash to blind
some damage to destroy
some strike to suppress
some act out their fear, rage and pain.

Lives lived
carry on within us
gifts of emergence
gifts of love
sparking our own quest to wholeness
beyond the box.

Lives lived
held with tears
for loss and pain
held with awe
for bold, brave, beautiful
earthly presence
of holy forces
lighting the way
beyond the binary

Lives lived
stolen and celebrated
still giving to us
reminders of our lives
to be shared with passion
to be explored with intensity
to be expanded with vision
to be lived with intensity
carrying on
lives lived
and not erased
but still threading through
our shimmering world.

TDOR 2018: Remember Silence



That’s what we are here to remember, silence.

Silence can be very hard to remember.   Our days are filled with noise, chatter from the media, from politicians, from those around us.  Most of us have little time for silence.

In all this cacophony, how can we ever notice the sounds, the songs, the voices which aren’t there?

How can we be aware of the silence?

We gather to remember silence.  We gather to remember gifts destroyed, people damaged, voices silenced.

The list we read, the names of transpeople murdered in the last year, is bracketed by silence.  How much we wish that these people were still here today, able to share their story, their brilliance, their life force with us.

While they lived, though, to us they lived in silence.  They were not on our radar, not in our hearing, not part of our conversation with the wider world.

Trans people have learned live mostly in silence.   Every queer person knows that being too loud can get you too much attention, often attention of the wrong kind.  They know that there are people out to silence them, by many different means.

Are the voices written off as broken or abject?   Are they heard as fools, just out to mock?   How are they marginalized and ignored, the songs of their trans hearts dismissed as noise?  Worse, how are they threatened and treated with violence, social, emotional and even physical, to silence any sound which might challenge the comfort and denial of those who cling to the privilege of the normative?

Voices which cannot be heard create selves which cannot find their own healthy expression.  Until we can see our nature mirrored in an engaged, empathetic and positive way, we live in fear of who we are inside, soaked with shame that keeps us down, keeps us reaching for something to stuff the hole in our soul.

Silence means death for those who have been terrorized into believing they are broken and sick people who deserve the bad things that come to them.   When we believe we cannot be heard, we believe that we cannot be valued, cannot be contributors, cannot be loved.

This, all of this, is happening inside the silence most of us never hear everyday.  It is happening inside the silence we dump onto those who aren’t the same as we are, those whose voices challenge our ease & comfort, those who know themselves to have transgender hearts.

How can we engage something that is as invisible to us as silence is in this noisy world?

We remember.   We remember the voices silenced, and we remember that there is beauty, grace and power in the silence of those around us, those who have been trained to keep their own song hidden behind hard, twisted and protective defences.

Today, we remember silence, because it is only through remembering silence that we can begin to hear the beat and beauty inside those who have been made invisible.

TDOR 2018: Common Transcendence

Common Transcendence
It has been said that
In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar
Rituals of gender crossing
Remind us of our continuous common humanity.
Individuals with hearts connected across
Have been part of every culture in every time
And are with us today,
The challenge of continuous common humanity
is the challenge of having an open heart and mind
beyond simple binary boxes.
Scare these people straight, say some.
Make them line up neatly
so we don’t have to face any fluid and transcendent truth
which discomforts us.
Gather now to remember those flowing souls
who open their transcendence as a gift to us
even knowing the risk of being slammed
that comes from the fear and rage of those not ready to
embrace the glowing beauty of continuous common humanity.
For those who have been taken and for those still who struggle with us
we remember the trans lives which shine transcendent
illuminating the humanity that connects us all
as we come together here today.