Sex, Sexy, Sex

The reproductive sex of a human body defines the experience of a person in the world.

This is what feminists separatists want us to know.

They are not wrong.

Every person who went through puberty with a female body remembers moments when, after their body matured, they were challenged by the gaze, the lust and the aggression of male bodied people who saw them as objects of desire.

That shared experience, combined with the shared possibility and call of being a mother, is wrapped in the cultural training and expectations that society has created for being female in the world.

Every transperson has to find a way to engage this truth.   I have heard transwomen claim that they were always female, always women, even though they didn’t share the experience of going through puberty as a woman.   I have heard others dismiss the whole concept of gender, calling the difference in experience irrelevant.

My own assertion is that sex & culturalization counts, but that who we are inside, the shape of our heart, counts more.   It is the content of our character, not the shape of our skin that defines us.    I am male, went through puberty as a male, but that doesn’t mean I am culturally a man.  Gender roles are based in choices, in cultural training, not simply on biological difference.  Showing myself as a woman is a more honest expression of my nature, a reflection of my heart, my vision and my choices.

Biological sex counts, though.   There is a reason that transwomen dream of being femaled, of being seen and understood as female.    We may want to be femaled only for the night, like a crossdresser or drag queen, or femaled forever, like a transsexual woman.

Being sexy is, I have found, rooted in our sex.

The experience of being sexed in the world is at the heart of being sexy for female bodied people, be that experience scary, offputting or lovely.  That sense of being seen as sexed is at the core of being seen as sexy, where we add attitude and accoutrements to the display of our body.

Because sex is an embodied experience, so is sexiness.   Without embodiment, sex is just a hypothetical idea, be that a teeny-bopper’s crush or a crossdresser’s fantasies.    Even romance novels seek to convey the embodied experience of perfected sensuality, from high heels & tight bodices to the eventual crashing of the surf inside our heart.

Our bodies determine much of our experience in the world.   Pretty is embodied.  Sexy is embodied.   When you ask students if they thought their life would be better if their body was better shaped for their sex, they almost always say yes, whatever they perceive that ideal shape to be.

We become typecast by our appearance as we learn what choices work for us.   It may be difficult for a petite blonde to pull off intimidating, impossible for a burly brunette to be effectively cute.    The boundaries on our expression become the bounds of our identity as we learn to work what we have got and hide what we find queers the deal.

Being cast in the sexual fantasies of another person, expected to play the role that they find hot while never surfacing anything that challenges their identity requires walking a narrow line.  The world is full of pushy bottoms wanting to keep control while transferring responsibility onto another person,  demanding that their own ego be fed at any cost.

Yet every truly intimate relationship is built on creating a safe space to get naked, naked physically, emotionally, mentally and creatively.   This is why all transpeople are politically bisexual even if we have well defined desires, because we want, we need our partners to embrace all of us, even the bits where our biology and history cross conventional assumptions.

The fear of failing to meet the expectations of others who desire us when we show another facet of ourselves is common to all women, but especially terrifying for transwomen who lack the basic training that comes from being seen as a girl amongst the boys.   We are constantly reminded of the dire possibilities that exist, even if considered statistics show us to be no more vulnerable to violence than other women. (2006)

Being sexy is far from simple for transpeople.  For we older transpeople, who grew up in a far less understanding and accepting world, one where we had to struggle even to find our own limited awareness, sexy isn’t something we can go back and pick up from out of the ashes.

Without a clear and consistent sex, having the kind of clear and consistent sexuality which gives you the standing to find the power in flirting is almost impossible.   This is why the dream of passing as the sex more associated with our choices will never go away, even if we understand that the cost of that passing is losing the strength of our multi-faceted stories as we struggle to police our choices and conceal our biology & history.

It’s hard to be sexy without standing, but without being sexy we can be denied the shadow of sex: love.

Unless people find us desirable in a way that they want to have physical intimacy with, how can we bond in deep ways?

Even if they find our shimmering titillating on some level, until they identify that intimacy as something they can be proud of, sharing it with friends and family, how will we ever be received as loved and lovable?

Sex is the basis of sexy, yes, but sex is also the flip side of love.

Our bodies shape much of the way that people respond to us, for good and for bad.    In a culture where breeding is paramount — a heterosexist culture — creating a primary and deep rooted division based around reproductive biology serves the economy and the power structure.

It also, though, attempts to deny non-breedstock the power of sexiness, a kind of eugenic force to erase marginal beauty.

That denial, laced in the narrative of deceit and panic, has not only denied us the power of sexy, of public and affirmed sexy beyond being erotic freaks, it has also denied us intimate and loving relationships.

Being sexy without love, starting with the love of your own sexuality, is impossible.

Impossible.

Nine

I am beginning to suspect that there are only so many times that you can save your own life.

For straight people, the ones who take well travelled paths, this never really becomes a big problem.   They love the idea of a little bit of reinvention in their lives, something to spice up the daily.

Queers, though, who have had to blow up their lives just to try and get breathing room to survive, look at this requirement for reinvention very differently.   To us, it’s not about changing your style, it’s about fundamental restructuring, and that takes a lot out of you.

Rebirth requires reconnection.  The requirement to start all your relationships from scratch, even the relationships with people you have known all your life, is excruciating, but unless you do it, you will be stuck with their old assumptions about you.

Reconnection requires building links with people in a new way, physical, emotional, mental and creative understandings that transcend simple assumptions.

Every time we are reborn, for reasons from inside ourselves like needing to surface authenticity, or for reasons outside ourselves, like engaging loss, trauma and service, we become deeper, richer and more complex. Fold upon fold creates points of connections, understanding of linkages, more context that leads to a more penetrating, informed and knowing vision.

More rebirths creates more depth.   More depth makes it harder for other people to link to us in an intimate way, even if it also makes it easier for us to link to other people, having moved beyond the routine and unconscious to the present and sensitive.

This makes every rebirth harder because it moves you farther and farther away from simple & indulgent, moves you closer & closer to awareness & spirit.

So many people resist rebirth because they resist transformation, letting go of what no longer serves them so they can leap to a higher level.   We don’t want to feel the separation, the requirement to forge new relationships, the fact that we have to be willing to fail and fall to achieve a new level of mastery & ownership.

Those of us who commit to rebirth do it to save our own life, but every time we do it, we pay the cost.

I learned very early the requirement to take ownership of my own mind, my own heart and my own soul.   There was no comforting network for me, no easy space where I didn’t need to be hypervigilant, always conscious of controlling my choices to stay safe and to try and get what I needed.   I learned to protect others, my sister and father, long before I even reached the puberty that would finally betray my heart.

Every rebirth moves you beyond the conventional and towards the exceptional.   While people can be there for rebirth they understand, ones that they have experienced, like a child growing up or becoming a mother, transformation past those expectations demands a huge amount of self empowerment, going beyond boundaries to go places beyond the norm.

The limits of our personal reserves are the limit of our rebirths, the constraint on the number of times we can save our own lives.

When we create new relationships with people who can mirror, affirm and empathize with who we have become those reserves are conserved and even extended.   When we are unable to find people who can meet us where we are now, who instead try to fit us into their own limited understandings and beliefs, we don’t get the nourishment and feedback that we need to keep going, to keep growing.

I am happy that I have been able to help others blossom, releasing their old habits, assumptions and fears to find new and better ways to be in the world.   I am not so happy that I haven’t been able to find others to help me.

Being aware of how far I am from the comfort level of other people is very tough.   They, as my life-myth goes, don’t get the joke.  Mostly, they suspect that if I can’t pull back and package myself in a pleasant and normative way, a way that they find attractive, then maybe something is deeply wrong with me, because they are sure that they are fine.   If I would just take their advice, just make the choices that worked for them, then I wouldn’t be so damn queer.

How queer is too queer, too individual & wild, and how queer is not queer enough, too assimilated & compliant?   This is the key question in the LGBT community, based on the primary duality (1994).

No one is an island.   To live without touch, without intimacy, without mirroring, without love is to run dry, no matter how early we learned to be self-sufficient, learned to be individual, learned to save our own life. Loneliness, “the loneliness of a long lost tranny” will catch up with you and grind you down, leaving you without the resources for rebirth.

Going backwards, though, is not possible.  You cannot unsee that which you have seen, cannot unknow that which you know, no matter how much denial,  ignorance and compartmentalization that you invoke, at least in my acute experience.   Awareness is a journey that takes you beyond, so any return is of you transformed, bearing gifts that do not fit well into conventional society.

How many lives can one invoke?   What happens when rebirth takes you so far beyond the comfort of others that you no longer can get the human touch everyone needs?

I am grateful everyday for the surprises of my life, the learning and the delights that come as gifts.   Working to share what I have gained is still important for me, even if that work has very limited rewards.

But I am beginning to suspect that there are only so many times that you can save your own life.    Rebirth has always increased my spiritual life, but it has created costs in my earthly life, pushing me away from ego and Eros that might feed the flesh.

There may be another huge divine surprise waiting for me, more rebirths that take me into the bosom of humanity rather than away from it.

But there may also be constraints on how much discipline, mastery and magic any one person can invoke in one cycle.

Holidaze

Holidays are for sharing.

They are moments when we come together and share ourselves; stories we shouldn’t forget, principles we value, relationships that formed us, beliefs that strengthen us, connections that feed us, people that we love.

It is this sharing in a moment out of time that makes holy days and holidays very special and important to our deep humanity.

The simple milestones, like the summer’s first burned hot dog of the season or the ritual of leaving flowers at a grave, offer ways to honour the cycles of life, the bits that stay the same as we continue to grow, develop and take on new phases.

For me, though, that sharing doesn’t happen anymore.   When it used to, I was the one who had to make the events, prepare the dinners, create the echoes, but now, alone, well, the creations for one don’t have the resonance.

This week they celebrated the anniversary of the film “Love Actually.”   Christmas was less than six weeks after my father died, less than two weeks after my mother died.   I deliberately found a copy of that film to put on, a simple way to pay respects to the many facets of love.  What I remember, though, was my sister’s friend, the only other at the table, dismissing the film with prejudice, saying that it was bullshit, that love was bullshit, a loser’s game.   He kept saying that I must, as a guy, like these fights, and I just knew that my broken feminine heart would never be seen.

Now, on this holiday alone, I think of a professional I met last week who promised they wouldn’t be freaked out by my writing, because they saw me as sharp and valuable, but who never followed up and when I reached out dropped only a two line polite response.   Nope, freaked.

I know that I could attend a public kind of event, a lunch at the senior centre or a town parade, but I also know that I wouldn’t be visible there.   Sure, I could engage and affirm the sharing of others, but what I share, well, too much crackpot for them, too much crap for me.

The hermetic life feels like destiny, being marked for it when I had to learn to play alone as a child, without safety in the midst of a narcissistic fury. Today, I may understand the reasons for that tempest, may have context, but that doesn’t make up for the loss.

“My other clients come in and tell me why people around them are doing bad things, but you are unique in going on to explain why they have no choice but to take those actions,” a psychologist told me thirty years ago.   I was taking care of others, even others who hurt me, from my earliest days.

I share, I share, I share, but what I don’t do is expect people to listen, understand, engage and mirror what I share.   They have their own challenges.

On a holiday, though, on so many holidays, for so long, well, that leaves me  isolated and depleted.   I can’t even sneak the text of a table grace that I knew my parents wouldn’t understand to my sister so I can at least feel I shared something, even if she never really reflected what I offered.

Communities are too often formed by rejection, defending boundaries by creating alienation.   How can they be the in crowd unless someone else is on the outs, frozen into Siberia for not being one of us?  Returning the gifts that I struggled so damn hard to own, the awareness of connection, compassion and love, leaves me battered and bled dry.

I know how to be alone, but holidays, well, they are for sharing.  Sharing was never easy in my family, never easy for a queer little kid like me, but now it feels almost impossible, and any hope of that changing, no matter how much I try and find space, well, desiccated.    It’s not like I have less to share as I age, or that I have less need, rather I become more spiky and crenellated, more difficult for others.

But it’s a holiday, and while pulling marked down bratwurst from the freezer and cooking them with a tin of 2015 dated sauerkraut may be nice, well, with no one to share them with, no one to make the potato salad, ripples stop dead at the rotting garbage on the kitchen counter.

Holidays are for sharing, sharing everything from food to chatter to love, sharing all along the axes of intimacy, the breadth and depth of spirit, the celebration of milestones and journeys.

I am who I am and that’s not going to change drastically in the autumn of my life.  Being the same person, though, and expecting different responses from others, well, that seems like a bit of lovely, wishful, insanity, the kind that just opens the way for more heartbreak.

So I share, but without expectation of even the simple amenities of human contact.

May you value your sharing, those holidays and holy days that are time out of time for connection and caring, full of nourishing presence, food and love.  It may be easy to take them for granted, to skip over them like banal obligations, but when they stop happening, when they never really happened, you will miss them.

This I do know.

Lonely City

Even psychiatrists and psychologists,Weiss [Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation] thought, were not immune to this near-phobic dislike; they too were liable to be made uneasy ‘by the loneliness that is potential in the everyday life of everyone’. As a result, a kind of victim blaming takes place: a tendency to see the rejection of lonely people as justified, or to assume they have brought the condition on themselves by being too timid or unattractive, too self-pitying or self-absorbed. ‘Why can’t the lonely change?’ he imagines both professional and lay observers musing. ‘They must find a perverse gratification in loneliness; perhaps loneliness, despite its pain, permits them to continue a self-protective isolation or provides them with an emotional handicap that forces handouts of pity from those with whom they interact.’

...
According to work being carried out over the past decade by John Cacioppo and his team at the University of Chicago, loneliness profoundly affects an individual’s ability to understand and interpret social interactions, initiating a devastating chain-reaction, the consequence of which is to further estrange them from their fellows.

When people enter into an experience of loneliness, they trigger what psychologists call hypervigilance for social threat, a phenomenon Weiss first postulated back in the 1970s. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual tends to experience the world in increasingly negative terms, and to both expect and remember instances of rudeness, rejection and abrasion, giving them greater weight and prominence than other, more benign or friendly interactions. This creates, of course, a vicious circle, in which the lonely person grows increasingly more isolated, suspicious and withdrawn. And because the hypervigilance hasn’t been consciously perceived, it’s by no means easy to recognise, let alone correct, the bias.

What this means is that the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.

...

At the same time, the body’s state of red alert brings about a series of physiological changes, driven by gathering tides of adrenaline and cortisol. These are the fight or flight hormones, which act to help an organism respond to external stressors. But when the stress is chronic, not acute; when it persists for years and is caused by something that cannot be outrun, then these biochemical alterations wreak havoc on the body. Lonely people are restless sleepers, and experience a reduction in the restorative function of sleep. Loneliness drives up blood pressure, accelerates ageing, weakens the immune system and acts as a precursor to cognitive decline. According to a 2010 study, loneliness predicts increased morbidity and mortality, which is an elegant way of saying that loneliness can prove fatal.

At first it was thought that this increased morbidity occurred because of the practical consequences of being isolated: the lack of care, the potentially diminished ability to feed and nurture oneself. In fact, it seems almost certain now that it is the subjective experience of loneliness that produces the physical consequences, not the simple fact of being alone. It is the feeling itself that is stressful; the feeling that sets the whole grim cascade into motion.

...

The intensity of my reaction – sometimes a blush; more often a full-blown blast of panic – testified to hypervigilance, to the way perception around social interaction had begun to warp. Somewhere in my body, a measuring system had identified danger, and now the slightest glitch in communication was registering as a potentially overwhelming threat. It was as if, having been so cataclysmically dismissed, my ears had become attuned to the note of rejection, and when it came, as it inevitably does, in small doses throughout the day, some vital part of me clamped and closed, poised to flee not so much physically as deeper into the interior of the self.

No doubt it was ridiculous to be so sensitive. But there was something almost agonising about speaking and being misunderstood or found unintelligible, something that got right to the heart of all my fears about aloneness. No one will ever understand you. No one wants to hear what you say. Why can’t you fit in, why do you have to stick out so much? It wasn’t hard to see why someone in this position might come to mistrust language, doubting its ability to bridge the gap between bodies, traumatised by the revealed gulf, the potentially lethal abyss that lurks beneath each carefully proffered sentence. Dumbness in this context might be a way of evading hurt, dodging the pain of failed communication by refusing to participate in it at all. That’s how I explained my growing silence, anyway; as an aversion akin to someone wishing to avoid a repeated electric shock.

-- Olivia Laing, "The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone"

They Are Among Us

Imagine a meeting room at the library filled with 100 people from the community, ready to hear about the homosexuals who live among us.

A panel, lead by a board member of a reproductive rights organization, includes a medical doctor, a trained therapist, and the mother of a homosexual.

There are two homosexuals on the panel, too, one who tells the stories they have learned to entertain normal people, and the other imported from 150 miles away, who only identifies as a kind of straight homosexual, who spent most of their life presenting as normative and married, but now uses their training in corporate presentations to affirm the way they fit in with normal people.

In the edges of this, a few people who always talk to the media are there to be on camera, just waiting for the press to show up.   They are ready to explain that homosexuals are among us and we need to be nice to them, even if we don’t really understand them, because they are kind of like us.

This may be the kind of presentation that would be put on in 1967, a panel of curiosity and normative power, but any gay person showing up at this kind of presentation in 2017 would feel like a insect on a pin as these people did Homosexual 101 out of a kind of do-gooder separation, helping the abject, twisted and almost incomprehensible.

Last night I attended exactly that presentation, but about transgender.

And it made me feel like a bug.

Transgender isn’t a form of sexual orientation, but gay is a kind of gender variance, people who feel the need to go against gendered conventions to claim their truth.

Gay, though, is gender variance that affirms the underlying duality of heterosexism.   People can be easily separated by biology & history and homosexual desire affirms those divisions, keeping men as men and women as women, even if some men want to have sex with other men and some women want to have sex with other women.

At that imaginary 1967 library panel, how long until one of the people from the audience asked “So, which one of you is the man and and which the woman?”   Heck, lots of people still ask that today, applying heteronormative expectations to the varied relationships that are not as simple for gay people.

Transgender people walk in their bisexuality, though, carrying the reality of crossing gendered boundaries in their body and their choices.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.
Anne Bolin, anthropologist, author of “In Search Of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage”

I knew that was my mission statement when I heard it in 1993.   It has guided all the work I have done since then.

Transgender people express gender variance that questions and challenges heteronormativity and the identity politics rooted in those binary beliefs.

Today, though, gender variant people who reinforce heterosexism, that kind of biological determinism that supports the belief in walls between us and them, are being forced to include transgender in their public positions.

What better way to squeeze the queerness out of trans expression and trans lives than by having people who aren’t trans explain it to the world?

By doing that, lesbians can keep their position in the hierarchy while diminishing transpeople, identifying them as those we have to be nice to in a kind, liberal way.    They reinforce their own belief systems by putting transpeople in a context that marginalizes them as people who need to be helped into the LGbt community.

It’s hard to identify as gay unless you have relationships with other gay people, fitting in with their expectations in way that makes you a comfortable and attractive partner.   Assimilation comes from that kind of behaviour as you shape your own expression to be part of the group, different from them.

To know yourself as trans, though, you have to claim the power and truth of your own heart in a powerful and profoundly individual way.   You need to push past the social conventions placed on your biology and history in a way that lets you be you, not just one of the group.

Doing that demands understanding how heterosexism constrains us all, demands making hard choices.   No matter how hard we try to fit in there will always be a piece of us that stands out, crossing the norms, that can be seen when people get inside our passing distance.

Transpeople have always been forced to make hard choices in creating expression.   We have to balance how we can blend and how we have to hold onto our queerness.   These kind of challenges may seem easier today, as transkids are affirmed and supported earlier, but no one knows how these changes will play out.

When society finds comforting transpeople to hold up as examples, those who have learned to limit themselves to speaking in ways that don’t scare the horses, playing along with experts and politicians to keep expressing trans in a way that supports rather than challenges the status quo, well, they don’t really engage the shimmering and transcendent truths of trans lives.

There is hope.  On last night’s panel, the therapist did try to open the space for transcendence, talking about how she had to move beyond her expectations to grasp the truth of trans, even in ways that felt clumsy and a little painful.

But there is also oppression, feeling like transgender truth is being contextualized and put in place by those who have proven that they don’t value the kind of queerness that speaks to continuous common humanity.

As transpeople, we have individual voices, not the kind of group voice that can be kept in discipline by denying membership in a group identity.    We speak of how everyone has parts that transcend boxes, how only by taking people at their own meaning can we celebrate, value and benefit from the myriad facets of diversity.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be fit in, don’t want to try and be tame enough to be one of the gang, don’t want to try and play the game that paints us as normative, with just a little tiny twist.  “We are normal people,” many homosexuals used to say, “just like everyone else, but with a bit of sodomy on Saturday night.”

We aren’t just among, you, though, we are you.   Our difference is that we don’t show interrupted identity, this or that, rather we show continuous common humanity, this and that.  We are queer, no matter how much we dream of just being normative, and our lives are a struggle to find a balance of expression that works for us.

Being in a room where over 100 people come together for “trans talks” tells me that we are now on the radar.

Having that room dominated by people who want to put us in our nice place, using the kind of Trans 101 that creates boxes (2006), though, well that makes me heartbroken among them.

Aging Sighs

“I took care of my partner while he was sick, until he passed three months ago,” one man at my Sage Table said.

At that moment, all the women cooed in sympathy and commiseration, showing that they felt the emotional impact, wanting to convey their support to him in his time of loss.

It was a lovely response, one that I joined in, open hearts that wanted to connect with this human feeling.

During our conversation, many of my challenging moments came out too, like growing up with two Aspergers parents, or the kind of isolation that I have experienced, but at no time did my disclosures prompt the same emotional chord.

The topic of the evening was the challenges of aging and LGBT people.  As we become more vulnerable, how will we get what we need, how will we be supported by the broader community.

“Doesn’t it get easier to be more honest as you get older?” the local organizer asked.  “Aren’t you more comfortable in your skin, more clear about who you are, have less to lose?”

I’ve been telling the truth for decades, I said, but I have come to understand that there is no point in trying to tell your truth to those who aren’t ready or willing to hear it.  Negotiating the determined ignorance and deep-seated fears of those around me just usually isn’t worth the effort, I have found.

When you need someone to feel your emotion and instead you have to do education about how hard those challenges are and why those challenges had to be engaged, that process stops being tender and becomes a political act, taking the essential touch away.

The intellectual energy required to break through the beliefs of others demands either a claim of abjection or burning with concierge skills, putting your own feelings away to negotiate the fears of others.

While it may be easy to understand the fear of attack that comes with exposure — the “third gotcha” — the biggest problem for me is the knowledge that the amount of effort I put in to share my experience, my perspective and my truth will almost never pay off in the kind of support that I so desperately need and want.

Instead, I may get, even from well meaning people, an attempt to set me straight, trying to explain where I have missed the expectations of normativity, and why I deserve what I get unless I bend to the assumptions and concerns of normal people.

It’s not dealing with attackers that is the worst challenge, it is dealing with those trying to be nice and still hurting you.   You can blast back at those who strike out, but those who cause you pain while trying to be kind cannot be so easily dismissed or destroyed.

As we age, we no longer have the frenzied exuberance of youth, but do have a lifetime’s worth of context, of experiences that help us understand the probability of how interactions will turn out.   This leads us to conserve our dwindling resources, focusing them in on what has a good probability of success, either in creating change or bringing us comfort.

The stories we put out are no longer simple and clear, just moments of loss or gain, but are instead complex, nuanced tales that hold many threads of wisdom and emotion.   Instead of having to simplify them down to some level of common denominator, we often just hold them inside, knowing that those who haven’t shared this kind of experience will just find them baffling, just try to dismiss and diminish them.

Finding grown ups who can understand and resonate with what we share, those who know when to laugh and when to sigh compassionately at our narratives, well, that’s not easy for anyone, but the queerer your life has been, the more difficult it is.

Even trained clinical professionals usually don’t have the capacity to understand the convoluted challenges of a mature queer life.   The profound losses that stemmed from almost impossible choices between taking the pounding of being out or suffering the shame & denial of being hidden are beyond their grasp, as are the issues of loneliness, isolation and the wash of unending shame & stigma.

Instead, they do what most people do, generalizing their own experiences to fill in the gaps in their understanding, not being open and transformed by shared truths but instead trying to fit our experience into their view of the world.

This leads them to try and straighten us out by setting us on the straight and narrow, the path that leads to conventional comforts.

We know that path well, because it is one that we have been pushed into taking all our lives, but one that we had to turn away from to claim the truth of our own hearts over the expectations placed on our bodies and our histories.

The legions of queer people who have walked away from those who were trying to help because we knew the cost and futility of trying to educate them beyond their deep seated assumptions and fears are still out and hidden in the world today.   We have learned to play small, to keep quiet, to attenuate our energy, to oversimplify our stories, to keep our hearts and minds to ourselves.

The dream of family is the dream of people who get you on a deep level, who understand and love not just how you meet their needs, but also know and have compassion for your life.

The truth we learn is of people who don’t have the experience and empathy to sigh when they hear our stories, who don’t know the questions to follow up with, who don’t know how to lead us beyond our own reticence into emotional disclosure, into intimacy and fulfillment.

Claiming your own exceptional individuality, your own queerness, can leave you lonely, without the simple understanding and care of others.

And as you get older, the price of that, like the price of all choices in a human life, even the ones forced by social pressure, begin to weigh heavily.

It’s enough to make one sigh, even if no one around you understands why.

Set You Straight

There you go!  I was just waiting for this to come up, you proving that you are completely wrong about people like me.   

This happens all the time, people like you deliberately misunderstanding, trying to twist things to put us down.   

I really do want to listen to you, but if you keep insisting on saying what my beliefs tell me clearly is untrue, then I will just have to decide that you intend to attack me and everything I value, that you are out to destroy me and my treasured way of life, so you deserve whatever you get.

Pluralism is very hard when people are always listening for what affirms their beliefs, their beliefs about what is right and their beliefs about who is wrong.

If you are always looking to set people straight about where they are wrong, you take a reactive position, working to enforce your ideas about the way things should be rather than embracing diversity.

Queer, at least for me, is about celebrating the power & beauty of the individual beyond convention and politics.    This demands a focus not on the negative but on the positive, valuing the unique gifts others bring, where they are exceptional and potent, not where they miss the mark and fail to meet our expectations.

Learning to have a positive self definition is hard.   It is much easier to just know what you are not, how others are wrong, than to take responsibility for your own knowledge, understanding and clarifying what you actually stand for.

Listening to other people often tells me where I am wrong, where my understanding is lacking, where I have to refine my thinking to grasp a wider view.   People will make choices that I would never make for myself, but that doesn’t mean their choices are wrong unless they damage others without consent.

Being queer demands knowing, owning and being confident in what you value so that you can go through life without feeling the need to silence or disempower anyone who seems to differ from your choices, challenging you or making you uncomfortable.   You need to walk in your own skin, not just following the crowd or trying to enforce the way you believe things should be, the way you want them to be, the way that would let you avoid doing the work of facing your own twists and fears.

Staying in our own paddock, isolating ourselves with people who seem to be like us, may seem to be an appropriate way to live, but it denies us the power of diversity, the chance for growth, learning and compassion, and finding new ways to solve problems to make a better world for all.

Questioning your own barriers is harder than just extending and reinforcing the walls around your thinking, the boundaries around your engagement, the defences around your mind, but it is the only way to see beyond your little patch.   When we enter the stories of others, understanding their experience of our wider shared world, we find the continuous common humanity that bonds and reinforces us.

Setting others straight can feel self-righteous and proper, but we know that we don’t want others to have the power to set us straight, to demand that we follow their beliefs and choices.   It may be simple to believe that if we are right then they are wrong, that we are justified in calling people out, but the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth, as Neils Bohr reminded us.

Not understanding what someone else is trying to tell me is always a flag to me that I have work to do.   While they may not have considered the meaning behind what they are sharing, instead communicating it in idiom or negativity, every message is their attempt to share their view of the world, what they value and what they fear.

Even reactionary messages, dismissal and debasement, carry concerns and beliefs within them.   They always speak more of the attacker than the attacked, revealing unconsidered and unhealed places inside of them.   I may still be hurt by their acting out but understanding it in context is the only way I can find a bridge between myself and the bitterest human.

Trying to find where others are right instead of just finding reasons to dismiss them as wrong, wrong, wrong is always difficult.  Being a consumer of challenge, ready to question yourself, delivers beautiful benefits in the long term, but requires being willing to not only leave your comfort zone, but to walk away from comfort, trading certainty for enlightenment.

Listening to those who are not yet willing to listen to you, entering their world even as they prove themselves unwilling or unable to enter your world is very, very hard.   It takes discipline and skill that can only be developed by practice.   Yet, it is the only way to build bridges, create alliances and forge powerful connections that value fundamental humanity over external differences.

There are many who just seem to be listening for what they consider insults, primed and ready to call out those they see as making them the victims of slander, misunderstanding and erasure.     The way that their negative and defensive mindset creates the same kind of communication that they find so offensive is not in their mind.    The golden rule is lost, leading to polarization and the destruction of democratic community values.

For me, queer thinking is the answer, no matter how hard it is to practice.  Seeing everyone as an unique individual, not just a member of a group that I fear wants to destroy me, allows me to find common ground, to learn from our differences, rather than just to fight them as wrongheaded choices.

Really listening means being open, engaged and vulnerable in the moment, able to express why you stand where you do rather than simply challenging those who seem to challenge you.   It demands embracing diversity rather than trying to eliminate it in favour of surface similarities.

When someone tries to set me straight, I know that not only do they not value my queerness but they are still resisting the precious, unique and transcendent individuality that exists in them, the spirit that crosses lines of race and class and gender and status to connect them with all humanity.