Hit The Wall

In my life, I have hit my fair share of walls.

I often think about where I went wrong in this life, where I might have made better choices that would have lead to better outcomes.

Others, though, just want a quick way to judge me.

“If you’re so smart,” my mother would snipe, “then why aren’t you rich?”

For her, financial and social success were the easiest to measure, the standard benchmark, the one thing she knew how to value & brag about.   Your children had success when other women can get the success.

If you believe that money is the only scorecard and the key to happiness, well, aren’t the wealthy the smartest and most successful people of all in this world?   Doesn’t just looking wealthy give you credibility and status that no one in their right mind can challenge?

Choosing to value something more than cash can seem almost like sacrilege in a consumer culture.  Money can’t buy you love, but it certainly can buy you something that feels a lot like it, as the marketers are more than happy to tell you.

The choice to turn away from external success wasn’t really my plan.   I just needed to focus on something else, something inner, something deeper.

To be in the big world people expected me to be a man, making tough choices and taking the blows.   What they were looking for is what they already thought they wanted; a transcendent corporate shaman was not in the job description.   I knew I couldn’t pass as born female, but my very femme heart had trouble both trying to open and staying in some kind of box that met people’s assumptions & expectations.

It’s one thing to be a woman in business, with all the challenges and benefits, but another to be a warrant woman in business, a guy-in-a-dress that we all indulge for his whimsical choices in clothing.  Today getting hired as a transwoman is a much less daunting challenge than it was back in the 1990s.

To go on my journey past assumptions, I had to not be expected to play into them everyday at work. Compartmentalization was the antithesis of integration and vulnerability.

Time and time again, though, I ran into walls, huge stoppers that felt almost impossible to transit.  Instead of crossing them, I explored them, scouted the territory to see what they were made of, understanding the foundations of the public ideas that meant to keep trans hidden, closeted and marginalized.

Those observations are the basis of my understanding of the terrain transpeople live in.   When I am at a panel discussion about trans, the audience often comes up with questions that the experts can’t answer, queries about the bounds transpeople face.   I stand up and give my perspective, helping people understand trans beyond the conventions, and people find it useful, even if they find me too queer to be comfortable.

What I usually end up saying, though, is what I needed to hear when I faced those walls.   I was doing it alone, going from zero to one, but when I meet someone else who is facing similar challenges, going from one to two, I can help.

What I needed, what I cried for, what was lacking was mirroring.

Two thirds of giving help is encouraging, so having the courage to show your own trans heart, to be sure that someone else has seen it, has helped you polish it a bit, just makes it so much easier to stand and reveal.    You have the connection to someone else who understands and values you, reflecting your grace, which helps keep you pumped up while others are taking shots and trying to cut you down for their comfort.

Nobody knew how to say yes to me, to say yes to my queer, yes to my intensity, yes to my big femme heart.    Mostly fears played out, sharing the shaming of that inner jailer who warns that if you are too big, too much, too present, you will just scare the shit out of the crowd.

Time and time again, I hit the wall and it stopped me cold.    My walls were big and stony, well set and very deep.

Are there times when I wished I just cut away from the wall rather than being stopped by them?   Do I sometimes think it would have been lovely to go corporate, to make my bones, build a comfortable and commercial life?   Sure.

Service & contemplation, though, were more important to me than stuff & status.  I had learned early to live without social standing, to rely on my connection with something bigger than a web of judgmental humans.  This baffled the humans — why wouldn’t I just play along? — but it made sense to me, the only choice that did.

So many people want to cluck their tongue, shake their head and say “My, my, if you had only made another choice, a better choice, one that would have put you on a more positive path.”   What they miss is that to make another choice you would have had to be a different person at that point with a different outlook and different values, willing to battle for something different.

We make the best choice we can in the moment, and while that choice may, in retrospect, appear to be less than idea, well, if we could have made a better choice we would have.  It’s much easier for others to twit us for what they see went wrong than to stand by us and help us have the breath for the risks that might just help us go right.

If I had made other choices, I wouldn’t have been who I am.

I like to believe that what I offer has value, even if many don’t see it.   The traditions of human cultures is often to value those who bridge between worlds,  those who bring insight and compassion.

Hitting the wall, wall after wall after wall, has defined my life.

All this crashing experience has not made me an expert in hurdling barriers.

Rather I have become an expert in walls, expert in how they pop up to stop us, what they are built of and what we can do when we hit them.    I have the knowledge to help others deal with the walls that confront them, offering the a hints and encouragement to get over them.

It is comforting to think that my hitting the wall can offer others who come after me smarter & easier ways to breach the walls, to move on, to claim the space & success beyond.

As for me, though, a life time of wall hitting has a cost.   Someone has to get out of here but not all of us will.    The walls, well, they were always intended to stop.

Feminine Value

People heal & grow in their own way and their own time.    Even you.

This truth is difficult for those of us who see where healing is needed and want it right now, on our schedule and on our terms.   When someone just doesn’t get it, makes what we understand to be bad choices, keeps missing, we get frustrated, angry and hurt.

People heal & grow in their own way and their own time, it is true, but people do heal & grow.   They have the capacity to learn, to choose again, to mature, to become new and better.

To be there for them while that happens, though, takes an astounding amount of presence and patience.  We have to take the blows as they act out, have to keep strong, have to help them move one step at a time, even if those steps seem sideways or backwards.

Being there while those we love grow and heal, through the messes and through the years, well, that’s the job of mothers.    Balancing doing what we think is right and delighting in the divine surprise of seeing & helping someone else blossom into their own person, well, that’s a high calling.

Women understand that attending to the mundane, mixed with just a touch of magic, is vital to creating a new and better future.  Our future lies in those who will shape tomorrow and those people are being taken care of by women today.

For me, this nurturing nature is at the heart of the feminine.

In a go, go, go culture, where success is measured by what you can win today, it is easy for the slow, gracious hand of the feminine to be undervalued and even ignored.   In that culture the imposed is more valued than the organic, how we make our big mark on the world is more important than how we tend to growing good, healthy and vibrant children, organizations, communities.   We are expected to announce our presence with authority.

Coaches are trained to ask “What are your goals?”  rather than asking “What do you want to grow?”   When you reply that you want to work the process, to be present and engaged in the moment, open to the possibilities, that organic approach is unfathomable.   A vision you can impose onto the world is what they value, not a presence that cares and facilitates growth & healing.

Women’s work is undervalued because it seems so small: changing a diaper, listening to a story, finding an outfit, feeding a family.  That work, though, underpins the possibilities of the world, creating stronger, healthier and more aware people.

It takes a lifetime of small and sacred acts for us to become the change we need to see in the world.

For a change agent, it is always easier to engage your own change than to do the really, really hard part of the work: staying open to see, respect & encourage the change of others.   We cannot really change, though, unless the network we live in changes, for if there is no movement, we will always just be pulled out of place.

When one person emerges a whole family emerges, goes the old saw.   For social animals, transformation comes in tribes, not in individuals.    Until and unless those we are connected to also embrace change, we cannot be seen, understood and valued, cannot be mirrored in an affirming and loving way.

Like Shaw’s tailor, I have to hold open the space for transformation, measuring others anew each time that I meet them.   That take a kind of openness & vulnerability that most people have never cultivated, instead working from the neatly walled expectations & assumptions which comfort them with an illusion of separation & agency.

This is the challenge of every mother.   Who is your child today?   What is new and what have they let go of?   What do you have to engage and what do you have to let go of?   It’s not all going to be easy, fun or good, but it is all going to be very important, at least to them.

One vital reason I stayed trans-natural was that I saw the kind of defences that my sisters had to put up to walk as visibly trans in the world.  They needed to armour up to keep their tender trans heart protected.

As a femme, this is something I could never do.   Head down and going for the goal is just not my way.   Being connected, engaged, open and of service to those I loved was vital to me.   I didn’t need to teach them how to go for it in the world, I needed to be ready to bandage up their cuts and scrapes, to gently help them find the new and better, to be there as they healed & grew in their own time and their own way.

If someone won’t fight with you, they won’t fight for you either.   Every kid knows that, knows that sparring is an act of love & commitment.   We know when we are being used as a punching bag and we know when someone is helping us develop our skills, our awareness and our power.

That fight, though, isn’t a one bout and out deal.   It is a continuous, caring presence, a circling back to basics, a mirror that reflects that which we cannot yet see in ourselves, a passing back of the gift of God we need to stay connected.

The value of the feminine is in our enthusiasm for the reality of growth and healing, for change which brings the new and the better.  Every kiss is an act of hope, every tear an affirmation of persistence.

The price for this commitment is very high, but who would we be if we didn’t hold open our heart for those who need us?

And while others may just see my body and assume whatever, who would I be if I didn’t open my heart to a world that needs growth & healing?


I deflate too fast.

This is a world that rewards the bouncy, those who rebound quickly.   Get your feelings hurt, make a faux pas, have a set back, whatever, then learn from it and keep moving on, take the next step and live.

For many, trying to find a technique to bounce back is the theme of a life.   The power escapes them and yet they understand how important it is, how it shapes and defines the course of a life.

Many look for tools that should make them more resilient, more bouncy.   What they find on offer is a sheaf full of mental tricks, perky aphorisms and sincere mottoes which are intended to help us rationalize the slights away.

Those rationalizations, though, can only try and build a shell over a sagging heart.   Attempting to teach a way to stuff the hole, put a finger in the dyke, patch up the breach, well,  it may be of some assistance in limiting loss, but it can never teach us how to win, how to refill and restore our buoyant equilibrium.

I deflate too fast.   When I run up against pins and needles in the world, the unconsidered, uncaring, unknowing and uncompassionate bluster of others, rather than just keeping on, the boldness seeps out of me and I want to remove myself to safety.

Knowing how to put up a shell, how to not let people see that they got me, keeping up a performance is a strategy that I have come to own.   Pierce my heart and my head comes into play, a smart shield ready to push back, to keep me standing.   “Thank you sir!  May I have another?”   I know how to appear tough., how to show leather.

Inside, though, I deflate.   That tender, feminine heart just loses form and integrity hidden behind a wall of will.

Reprogramming your responses, unwiring your emotional buttons can make you more effective in the world, no doubt.   The cost, though, is usually bound in the compartmentalization required, the way we learn to cut ourselves off from feelings and heart.   We seek to impose “should” on the world, wrapping our feelings in iron, but rather than bouncing back, we often just hit with a big thud, clunking along without being present.

The only way to regain your wind, to breathe in what you need to survive whole and vulnerable, without battlements, is to have the connection to something bigger which refills and nurtures you.

Our connections, the network of tubes and pipes that ties us to who and what we value most, is what keeps us full, pumped up and resilient.   To be dendrites in a web of humanity is to be recharged and replenished, making our heart swell, making our soul robust.

So many people just don’t have those connections, the ones that keep them full of emotional energy.   That’s why we fall back on tricks, on defences, on rationalizations, on should & would & could rather than risking the chance of a blow out which will leave us incapacitated.   Stuffing the holes seems easier than doing the hard work of connecting.

For the most bouncy people, their connections are in their grounding.   They know themselves to be part of the earth and the swell of people on it.   From their earliest days they felt included in circles of energy, the gift of life, love and exuberance passed from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart.

This kind of connection is powerful and basic, the kind that humans who grew up in a tight, consistent community have always taken for granted.  They know themselves to be wired in, to be part of the network, always having someone to smile at them and start to refill any sags in their heart.

These people build community around them, becoming the aunt, making others feel a part to build team support and caring.   Rather than using the threat of separation to motivate others they know that over the long term, people who will be kind, considerate and helpful to each other make a better place for all.

I very much admire these people, but, I have never really felt like I am one of them.    I may strive to make others feel connected and cared for,  but my personal connection has never been to the ground, to the earth, to other people, to community.

Instead, I learned early to be connected to the sky, to my cosmic mother who lives there.    A relationship with creation was my only hope for survival, so when I felt deflated, I got off on my own to hear the voices which travelled inside of me.    The voices outside were terrifying and dangerous, but I was sure that I was a loved child of God.

It is my relationship with the universe that feeds me so that I could do what I saw as the incredibly hard work of being in relationship with people around me.   They may have had some sense of my body, but being trapped as just flesh felt putrefying to me, crushing my spirit and my dreams.   My trans heart kept me floating above, supported by a big mind facing a family that didn’t know how to see, value and build connection.

My connection to creation was my gift to those I loved, offering them a context, a sense that there was always something bigger and more vibrant than the tortured skin which could nourish them.   The network of stories that we hold about what lies beyond, about transcendence and transformation, about renewal and rebirth were my strength and the gift I wanted to share.

I live, though, in a world where embodiment counts, where connection to real, flesh & blood humans is an important part of any life.   Seeing how others tend to those connections, finding strength and warmth and grace and energy in them, makes me feel distant, isolated, alone.

From the minute we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow until when we leave this realm our story is all that is left of us.  Aging requires us letting go of our fleshly connection to the earth and grabbing on to our spiritual connection to something larger and more lasting.

Dreaming of being more grounded is lovely, but forces work against that.  Even my feet, my connection to the ground, have turned against me, the result of many decades of denial of the requirements of the flesh.   What is a woman, I ask, when she can’t even love her own shoes. her interface with the soil?

I deflate too fast nowadays, my own husk now thinned for a tighter connection with spirit.   Being on a mission from God, a deeper calling, is almost never a good way to connect with the ardently embodied, those who feel connected though social conventions & mores,  defended by lovely assertions about how things should be.

The divine surprise is not accessible through those layers, so unless what I offer seems to meet with their expectations & assumptions, I must be off the mark and without value.   They wash in the blood, the spirit something vaguely terrifying.   They not only don’t understand how anyone can live with a primary connection to the sky, they can’t understand why anyone would want to.   My isolation, introversion and struggle is beyond their experience, beyond their comprehension.

I know why I live on the cusp and I know how that life has been a blessing to those who had need of letting go and becoming new.   I hold their spirit, not their flesh, so I can affirm what is inside of them that they both fear and desperately need.

My own flesh, though, is going through the usual weakening of age.  It cannot just carry me without attention and tending, cannot endure the neglect that I put it through as I desperately tried to stay inflated for others.

I deflate too fast and when I do, I can feel every ache & loss, every blow that cut me hard.   It would be nice to be more bouncy.

The connections to others, to family and friends, though, were never built, so I cannot fall back on them for the breath I need now.  My backwards life, spirit first and body later, may have had blessings, but it also has costs.

Our bounce, our true bounce, comes from how we feel filled up by a world of connections and sharing.  That is something to value, indeed.

In Their Place

Women who search the internet for porn have the hots for the mythical creatures called vampires while men have the hots for the mythical creatures called shemales, at least according to Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who probed a billion search histories to make this claim.

Straight men love boobs, penises, people who are trying to look sexy and who are ready to have sex with them.   Getting that all in one package, well, how could these guys possibly resist?

For these guys, shemales are wonderful, erotic and incredibly attractive when they are in their place, when acting out on a porn site or offering their services through a smutty ad.

What happens, though, when you see one of these creatures break through the fourth wall and ends up sitting in the cubicle next to you in the office?   How do you handle the conflicting messages inside of you?   How do you not get your private desire spilled out in front of your co-workers?

Attention always contains tension.    Growing up under the male gaze, women know this absolutely.  That tension, though, is often hard for men to manage, especially when their sexual urges cross with the demand to be professional and collegial.

Women, for many centuries, were kept in their place by a system that wanted to avoid just this kind of interaction.   Their place was in the home, at the stove, and bent over a chair, not in the office.

Compartmentalization has always been a classic patriarchal solution, chaining people down so they stay in their place, be those people foreigners, peasants or of a different hue.    It allowed men to stay at the top of the heap with others supporting rather than challenging them in the places where they claimed ownership.

As long as transpeople stay in their place, well, live and let live some say.

It’s when they enter our space, the spaces we have marked as ours, that they ask to be put back into their place.

In Minnesota there is a religious group that doesn’t want to deny transpeople the right to use the restroom, they just want every transperson to ask permission first.   They want us to acknowledge that it is their space we are entering and that they and only they have the right to decide who is entitled to use it.

Many voters are angry that others have invaded their space, taking the place away from good, real Americans like them.   These foreigners need to know their place, like the harvest field or the motel bathroom, and not get uppity or challenging.

What happens when one of them, the kind who should know enough to stay in their own place, ends up next to us?   Aren’t we entitled to show what we believe, to put them back in their place with our words and actions?

How do we shove that bloody shemale back through the screen, into the porn sites where they belong?  How do we keep them from polluting polite, healthy country, making sure that the tender children are never exposed to the idea that being trans in public is ever acceptable or proper?

When we feel the attention of others, we often feel the tension inside of them.   They are feeling something inside of themselves triggered by our presence, something they don’t want to have to expose, something they could conceal much more easily if we just stayed in our place, whatever they think that is.

That tension can be explosive, sometimes leading to breakthroughs and sometimes leading to breakdowns.    The walls get breached and either hearts and minds open or defence lashes out, striking at whatever, whoever seems irritating.

Keeping other people in their place, though, so you don’t have to face your own inner fears and demons, so your life can be cleaner and easier, so you can retain comfort & power, so the compartments you have built inside of yourself never get revealed for the fragile and oppressive constructs that they are, well, that’s just not fair, compassionate or even reasonable.

If you strive to keep other people in their place, that gives others permission to keep you in your place, even against your will.  You stand for separation rather than connection, for hierarchy rather than liberty, for maintaining the status quo rather than growth, healing and empowerment.

I have felt others try and put me in my place, slashing out to get me to move back, out of their sight, out of their mind, and out of any position to challenge them.   They want to maintain their neat structures which place them in charge and demote others.

We make a better corporation, a better community, a better world when we encourage people to find their own place, rather than pigeonholing them into roles based on some surface criteria.   Diversity benefits us, sharing the best of each.

The place of transwomen isn’t just in drag shows and porn sites, even if those boxes would make your life easier.  Our place is as people offering their gifts and effort in the wide, beautiful world.

And if that makes you uncomfortable, well, do the growth & healing to deal with it.

Woman Choices

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If you believe that we are what we choose, then that definition is clear and perfect.    If, on the other hand, you believe that woman and female means the same thing, it will sound stupid to you, but gender is about much more than sex roles, it is about complex, human communication. (1998)

Woman choices aren’t fundamental, they are essential.   Both men and women can cook a meal, for example, but women do it in a womanly way.

Gender isn’t in the prose of what we do in the world — get up, use the loo, eat breakfast, go to work, lead a meeting, meet friends, change a tire and so on — rather it is in the poetry of how we do those things, the style, focus and flair we give to what we do.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

For people outside the role, it is easy to think that those choices are only about clothing, about the uniform we wear, but if you have ever seen a man in a dress you know that the way we wear clothes is much more important than what we wear.   Anyone can wear a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, but women wear them differently, and not just because they are mostly female bodied.

In the new film Hurricane Bianca, Roy Haylock brings his creation of Bianca DelRio into a wider world, fighting for queer dignity.   Ms. DelRio and her associates are clearly drag queens, gay men in dresses, glamorous clowns.

As Karma Johnstone, though, Bianca Leigh plays fairy godmother, encouraging and informing.   Ms Leigh is a transwoman who emerged some thirty years ago, also a performer in Manhattan but very clearly not a gay boy underneath.   She makes the choices of a woman and does so with grace, elegance, dignity, style and wit.

Instead of just playing to his own understanding about what a transwoman is, a problem that a film about drag queens could easily have, Matt Kugelman, who exists in the celebration of diversity that is NYC, just chose to be inclusive.   This is a lesson many other filmmakers could benefit from.

One of the most depressing books I have ever read is “No One Understands You and What To Do About It” by Heidi Grant Halvorson.  It is a lecture on how people stereotype others, projecting their own expectations and assumptions onto others.

One of her examples is that people who are seen as creative are also seen as being untalented for management, as proven by experiments.    The actual success of creatives in management has no effect on these judgments.

Women can be as smart, intense, mouthy, compeditive and strong as a man, but those attributes are seen differently when they are wrapped in the choices of a woman.   The underlying stereotypes both empower and constrain.

Ms. Halvorson struggles to find a silver lining in this by encouraging her readers to use those quickly identified stereotypes to their own advantage, creating a presentation of self that will manipulate the short thinking of others to their advantage.   In other words, she sells you some of the skills of a con artist.

My most inspiring book of the year, “The End of Average” by L. Todd Rose explains why those stereotypes are just wrong and wrong headed, why they do not model the real characteristics and capacities of people.   As gamely as Mr. Rose argues the point, though, Ms. Halvorson is happy to tell us that most people aren’t listening, using emotional cues rather than conscious ones.

When Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman, they work well for her because she has been effectively femaled.  “I would never have clocked you!” says Haylock’s character in the film.   I may have read her instantly, but then again, I am in the habit of looking beyond.

For many transwomen, though, that kind of presentation just isn’t possible.  This is what I decided in the mid 1980s when I looked at my body, shaped by the male puberty it went through, and decided that trying to be effectively femaled was just out of the possibility for me.

I wrote about this contrast between Jhana Steele and Kymberleigh Richards in the authoritative “Guy-In-A-Dress Line.” (1999)  Since then, Ms Richards, in her role as LA transportation advocate has been shut down by Fox News when her trans nature became obvious on-air.   Her choices were deemed to be disquieting to their audience who wanted emotional ease.

As much as Ms. Halvorson tells us that we need to use stereotyping to get our message across, when our message is about the jagged nature of humans that Mr. Rose speaks of, well, the cognitive dissonance just causes heads to explode.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.   I have been doing that for decades now, in my own way.   Letting go of the manly choices I tried to make, the defences I created in an attempt to hide my feminine heart, my trans nature was hard, but the immersion in woman culture was crucial.

You cannot embrace woman perspective and choices while still holding on to man thinking.   You cannot own the feminine in a masculine way.  Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, transgender is about changing your mind.

My choices, though, are yet read against the stereotyping of my body.  The awareness of that clash threads all through my own actions, how free and safe I am to show my choices in public.

All my millions of words, all my sharp rationality, all my deep therapy, all my lucid elucidation, well, they are the fruit of a tree I planted when I came out back in the mid-1980s and I decided that trying to feel safe & seen as a woman was just never, ever going to work for me.

Instead of blossoming as a woman I blossomed as a theologian, and that cerebral journey took me to a place where I don’t fit easily into everyday human interactions.

This path took the dissonance of society and buried it deeply in me, having to police simple choices, like what I want to wear, replacing them with the  considered, disciplined and constrained choices of æsthetic denial.   The separation between myself and the assumptions & expectations of others got wider and wider until it became a gulf that none of us could cross.

My choices were smart, aware and kind, but they were never the simple, emotional and instinctual choices of a woman.   The heart of a woman was at the basis of all of them, but they all had to be filtered out past a comb of androgyny,  always considering the stereotypes written onto my big, male body.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.    These choices are informed by heart and by training, by having learned what has worked in the past to be powerful in the world.

“Men and women take power in very different ways.   As your gender has shifted, how has the way you take power in the world also changed?”
— Callan, Southern Comfort Conference, 1993

Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman — a woman of transgender history — in the world.   She looks amazing doing it.

My vital permission to make those choices, though, has never been easy or secure.  Instead, I keep writing the same stuff over and over again, going deeper and farther away from the sweet momentum of an everyday human life.

The choices of a woman shape a life, an entire life from girlhood to goddess time.  The choice to have to hide, deny and fear your own womanly heart also shape a life; you can even hear that in the stories that Ms. Leigh tells.

That choice has shaped my life differently, watching it move past me as I was unable to claim myself in it.

I hear myself speak about the experience of a lifetime and feel the slippery separation as others need to slide away from my tale, returning to what they already know, holding on to what they need to hang on to.   If I had been able to claim a life, though, well, that would have different in some unseeable, unknowable way.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If making woman choices isn’t effective in the outside world for me, and making man choices is false role play, then what choices can I make?  It is the challenge I identified twenty years ago: tell the truth and be called a liar, lie and be seen as truthful.  The Guy-In-A-Dress Line still cuts through.

In my world, I know who I am and my choices are always grounded in that truth.

In your world, though, well, walls, boxes, assumptions & stereotypes abound.


Too Self Aware

One word of advice to all those ripening transpeople out there who are just about ready to drop into the world:

Don’t get too self aware.

Being trans in the world is hard enough.   Being trans and too self aware, though, is just a killer.

If you can go out into the world and not be aware of how awkward or different or contradictory you look & sound, your life will be a damn sight easier.

I had to learn to be self-policing when I was very young.  I knew that my mother’s narcissism, anger and pain could be set off by the slightest misstep on my part, ending up with me getting blasted as responsible for her  profound unhappiness, so I learned to be very, very, very aware of the choices I made in the world.   Like a dog who can sniff out the hormone fugue which comes before an epileptic seizure, I became hyper-vigilant for the slightest whiff of a coming explosion.

While there are benefits to this kind of instantaneous analysis, to this kind of permanent defensive crouch, the cost is very high.

Not being as painfully self aware, well, it now seems to me to be a much better choice, much easier and much less stressful.

I recently saw a transwoman talk about how coming out helped her quit smoking and lose 50 pounds, finally owning happiness.   While I was happy for her, in looking at the dress she chose, how it didn’t seem to flatter her body shape, listening to her presentation, I saw things that I would not have been happy to show.

For her, though, her lack of self-awareness, her constrained self-scrutiny allowed her to just stand in the spotlight and say her piece, letting her get her positive message of liberation out into the world.   I found this refreshing and admirable, reminding me of how my acute self-awareness came at a very, very high price.

The challenge for anyone performing in the world, even just as a gal on a first date, is how to be present with abandon and awareness at the same time.   We have to get the feedback to know how we are being seen so we can engage * adapt while also dancing like nobody’s watching.   We need to be fresh, loose and fluid while also being considered, considerate and measured.

Like any multitasking, we can’t do both of these things at the same time, so we have to master ultra fine time-slicing, able to switch so quickly between participant and observer that we appear seamless and graceful.  By switching quickly we cover the spectrum.

This is one reason women often travel together, watching out for each other, having each others backs, allowing someone else to be the observer so we can more effectively immerse in the participant role.   As a transwoman, though, we aren’t connected into networks of other women, instead being on a very individual journey.

Knowing that I had too much self-awareness, I  searched for assistance and affirmation of moving to what seemed instinctive approaches, but my mastery of the meta, my coaches omnipresent awareness of my queerness and having them constantly probe my defences did not help lead me to a place where I could be confident and comfortable letting my self-awareness drop.

For those of you who can go back to a childhood where self-awareness was not a vital requirement, or at least you learned to trust your performance and not stand in fear of having people without emotions trash it, that’s a very good thing.

You need to be self aware to remove the stick from your butt, but too much self awareness will just end up leading you to hide, to stay away from just letting go and letting God.   Like most of life, a binary solution won’t work, instead you need adaptive balance, flexible analogue thinking, a neural network kind of approach.

It is very easy for self-awareness to slip over into situational awareness which can slip over into other awareness.   Living as an empath, looking to read how others are seeing you, how you are coming across and what they want to hear takes up a lot of energy.  It also keeps you of service to others and it may also keep you safe, but it doesn’t keep you bold & free, doesn’t lead to surprises, to lovely or challenging surprises.

Too much of anything is a problem, leading you past effective balance.   We are all jagged, though, with strengths and weaknesses, too much of one thing or the other, with predictable consequences.   Every gift has a price, every blessing a downside.   Being muscle bound has a price, just like being flabby does.

I don’t know how to move beyond painful self-awareness.   It’s not something most people understand because they never had the reason or the inclination to get caught up in examination, questioning and doubt.   I have been told that even when I try to be loose and free, my awareness shines right through, creating an instant separation between me and those who are not used to living inside the cerebral, therapeutic, reflective process.

Don’t get too self aware.   Take the wisdom as it comes, yes, but stay playful, engaged and trusting, doing the best that you can in the moment and trusting that your beautiful humanity will shine through.   Perfection is impossible, but true presence & commitment allows people to see your jagged truth, your desires and your learning, allows them to connect with you on a messy and real level.

Don’t get too much of anything.   Too defended, too dramatic, too arrogant, too compliant, too whatever.  Find balance as much as you can while being yourself and claiming your own mastery.    Getting that balance in a group, though, a family or an organization or a network or such, seems to be a good idea; we all need encouragement and someone to help us feel safe and seen.

My awareness teaches me this lesson of moderation, but it my isolation seems to deny me the ability to own it.

Conversation Beyond

The most beautiful part of any transperson is inside of them

You can’t see who we are just from looking at the outside.   This is true for any human, of course, but for those of us whose heart drove us to beyond the conventions of assigned gender, our story and our vision is always far past current expectations.

This means that the only way we can be appreciated is by being engaged, by taking the time and effort to see beyond our current façade.  While we may resist showing you all of us, instead policing our expression to show only what we believe you will like, what will not scare you or cause you to reduce us to some fundamental box, in safety we blossom and reveal our tender trans hearts.

Finding places where we can show who we are, where people are ready to hear and see beyond their expectations is the only way we can possibly get the understanding and affirmation that we need.   Any time that it feels like we are just operating inside of the assumptions of normativity, the need to self-police is kicked up, restraining us from offering all that we have inside, stopping us from being our best self.

I know how much of a question mark I am when I walk in the room.   Passing by me may leave me just another big woman, but sitting across from me, scrutinizing me pretty easily reveals that my history has some twists in it, some queer ripples under the surface.

Who the hell am I if they can’t tell from my appearance?   Am I trapped in my own delusion, am I out to bullshit them, am I dangerous or warped?   What can I offer, who will I push on, how can they trust me?  So many questions can swim beneath the surface, even beneath the awareness of those who hold them.

The only way to resolve this tension is for me to reveal myself.  Showing who I am inside can lead to others seeing me as a full, safe, engaged, valuable and interesting person.   It can also lead to them seeing me as odd, different and dangerous, far outside of choices that they would ever make for themselves or even would approve of, beyond appropriate morality.   It’s a crap-shoot.

For me, just passing through the world and trying to stay unnoticed isn’t really much use.   Trying to convince people that I went through puberty as a female is also unsatisfying, as it demands that I keep my head and my voice down even as my body is still speaking loudly.   I gave up on trying to look normative a long time ago, even if that doesn’t mean that I want to be seen as a performer or a freak.

I know who I am.   I am not slim, young or cute.   I am not someone who really understands how to be part of the party, how to play along, engaging in comfortable small talk about conventional topics like real estate, jobs and children.    My life has been awfully queer, from my parents to my theological bent, and while that means I can offer unique gifts, it also means that fitting in nicely isn’t something I have ever, ever been able to do well.

Becoming part of the conversation, a member of the group, one of the community, a player on the team is important.   Doing that while trying to keep our inner life & history invisible means we can’t really be a part, a member, a player, can’t be fully present.

Joining a conversation where the the language doesn’t include any words, symbols or concepts that can express what lies inside of us, that can communicate our experience of the world, is a frustration beyond explaining.   Worse, people who don’t have any idea what we are talking about have no idea what we are talking about, no structure or context to understand.   They often assume that the limits of their knowledge are the limits of the universe, that anything they can’t get must be meaningless, pointless, valueless.

I have spent my life engaging in conversations about what other people know, about how they see the world, about what they need, about their concerns.   I know that every business book will tell me that meeting consumers expectations, just with a little twist of innovation and quality is the key to gaining customers.

A conversation beyond, though, is what I need, what I desperately need.   A monologue is useful, important, vital, but it doesn’t serve the requirements of a social animal, the needing to be seen, heard and valued.   It is what every transperson needs, what we search for, what feeds our growth and healing into the zone of transcendent possibility.

When I meet people, especially transpeople, I usually ask them to tell me a story.   I don’t care what story they tell me, because just by what tale they pick they will reveal themselves. I want to have a glimpse into their conversation with the world, want to hear what they value, what they have to say.   Unless I listen to them there is no way I can ever get all their beauty, ever understand what doesn’t show on the outside.

The divine surprise is always outside of my expectations.   It is most often revealed by conversations that go beyond my assumptions or my comfort zone, by getting a glimpse through the eyes of another and seeing connections that might have eluded me otherwise.

Without a breath of the beyond we are doomed to small routine, to limited vision, to stunted dreams.

I need conversations that go beyond, for beyond is always where the future is, all the love and living that waits for us beyond the limits of our fears.