Animating Force

Being in the moment, being present in a way that moves beyond expectations, assumptions and projections, is the key to finding the divine surprises which life can offer you.   Engaging these surprises offers the miracle of shifting perceptions, seeing our shared world in a new way which can lead us to integrated and actualized choices which honour love and connection rather than imposing our own fears and prejudices.

Being in the moment, though, does not mean rejecting or forgetting all the moments which have come before.   Our rich array of experiences and knowledge inform our understanding, offering context, even as the feelings and inputs of the moment illuminate our history, making sense of our path in a new and insightful way.

I am the outcome of my journey,  yes.   My family dynamics, the demands of the culture I grew up in, the defences and strategies I formed to operate inside the challenges of my life shaped me in profound and permanent ways, no doubt.

I am also, though, shaped my the spark my creator put inside me.   Call it genetics or spirit or acorn or essence, like every human, I was born with a unique heart.  Infants bring key elements of personality with them, a nature that can only be honed by nurture, never erased or lost.

We don’t have great words for these essential characteristics because they exist before voice and culture touch us.   Much of life is a struggle to balance the wild strains of our nature with the tame assimilation of our days, discovering ways to use and control that essence in a way that society will value or at least tolerate.

I may reject phrases like “I was always a woman,” because I know womanhood to be very much a cultural construction, laid on top of biology, drives and cultural artifacts, something one must be trained in, but I do understand what transwomen mean when they use that structure.

Feeling the pull of a feminine heart, a womanly essence, even as one is compulsorily pressed into the role of man because of a few bits of binarized anatomy is painful and destructive.   It forces us to grow layers of defence and rationalization around our primal spark, denying our heart to get what we need and to avoid being clobbered.

My experience has been profoundly reactive.   I learned to be hyper-vigilant, to escape into my own mind, to lead with my smarts though deeply perceiving what was going on around me so I could shape strategies for effective defence and power taking.     Coming in as a guerrilla fighter, keeping my head down, exploiting my apparent weirdness gave me freedom of action beyond the taming demands of others.   Not being one of the gang allowed me to stay in my own strengths, though always at the cost of isolation & loneliness.

It’s easy for me to think that my defences are who I am, as they have always been created to allow me to both conceal and integrate my essence into a social role of eccentric, idiosyncratic iconoclast.    That role was deliberately constructed to give me cover in working with others, in presenting myself to the society that I had to swim in.

My essence, though, the animating force which has always been in my heart, has never been destroyed, even if also has never really been publicly exposed and valued.    It may only be part of me, along with my biology and my history, but it is the part of me which came first, the part I learned to fear, doubt and hide, the part which has always come to the surface in my needs & desires, the part I could never rationally explain or justify.

Between all the bits, the projections of who I “really” am, the acting out of my needs, the flights of creativity, the sharp edges of my mental model, and all the other assessments of me, from “stupid” failure to care taking savant, flows the blood that pumps through my original heart, endowed with the spark of creation, of essential essence.

That animating force has always been feminine, no matter how much I have fought it.   It took joining a butch/femme community to discover that my teenage search for love was quintessentially lesbionic, even if the shape of my body and the demands of gender resulted in regular failures.   Ah, Tweety.

Trusting that force, though, has always been difficult.

My choices, as complex and nuanced and shimmering as they may have appeared from the outside, were driven by my animating force.   I knew that I had to both honour and protect my tender heart.

I was smart enough to know that any assertion which challenged gendered presumptions would mark me out as a trouble maker, as broken, as sick, perverted and such.   Knowing that I had a big bulk of a body and a love for women meant I knew I could never become invisible as a transsexual woman.   My only choice was queer.

Queer I did well, always defended by a pragmatic knowledge, a sharp ear and a compassionate vision.  Those aspects may have felt as womanly to me as my gender neutral jeans and polo shirt, but I also knew they didn’t totally shut others down, didn’t create walls between myself and them.

My message in expressing transgender has always been to show a part of myself which is hidden by normative assumptions, to tell the truth that there is a part of me which is more feminine than masculine.

That essential piece, though, is deep in my animating force, in the spark of life with which I came into this world.   To know me, to understand me, to make sense of me, it is more useful to see me as feminine hearted, and now, after purging shame and finding my voice, to see me as a woman.   A queer woman, certainly, but a woman.

Like any transperson, I have spent an enormous amount of energy and effort to de-noise my presentation, to conceal bits of me which others find jarring, challenging, twisted and wrong according to the conventions of their belief.    When I reveal my heart, having it dismissed, denied and degraded is very painful, which is why transwomen often get very good at staying in a bubble, letting the crap slough off with high levels of latent inhibition, an approach I deliberately resisted.

Resisting my animating force, though, is resisting the energy of life that comes from my centre and courses within me.  Resisting the spark keeps me small, decorous and lonely, but somehow, it can seem better than the stigma & flak one gets from claiming that force which leaves deep and profound damage I need to retreat to heal.

Finding a way to claim that animating force, even in a society which doesn’t hold space for other than expected binaries seems vital to owning my own life, to respecting my own heart, to revelling in my own energy.

I know all the ifs, ands and buts.   I know my biology, my history, the taunts of all the people who claim that the walls between male and female can never be broached, be they religious fundamentalists or TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.)

I also know that many of the bits of my character which people write off as masculine, from my engaging in creative & caring conflict to a memory full with human moments of story come from my deep and feminine animating force.   As I have been trying to say for decades, it’s not the package that defines humans, it is the content of our character, even if that baffles people who like simple and rude sorting & dismissal.

We live in a world where we are asked to deny our animating force, to remove the handmade red shoes of our soul and replace them with machine made pumps that will dance the will of those who market the status quo.

I learned how to handle that challenge by staying in my own world, sharing my soul only in a subtle and dry way.

To come back into myself, though, to create the connections which I want & need, I must go back to my animating force, beyond the fears and assumptions of a society steeped in binary thinking.  The world operates on “and,” not “or,” so the separations we create to comfort us are just blocking illusions, as any true shaman knows.

May this coming year help me a find a project which puts my fear & hurt behind me and helps me return to trusting & exposing my own animating force.

And I wish the same blessing for you.

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Complicated

On a recent BBC TV drama, a transwoman is told by her wife that if they “really loved their sons” they wouldn’t be so selfish as to continue emerging.   The character cuts their long hair and goes back to man gender cues.  Their encouraging boss then finds them in her office, wearing her scarf and lipstick.  Soon, the sons show up and tell the transwoman that they just want them to be happy, as long as they stay the father, prompting hugs all around.

According to this tale, trans is so simple that putting a scarf around your neck and applying lip stick allows you to be true to yourself.  It’s about the clothes, not about tricky gender markers like being a parent rather than having to be a dad while also being a woman.   Guy in a dress is fine.

In my life, people have wanted me to be simple. I, in turn, have struggled mightily to cut back the noise, to create clear and engaging language to explain my needs, my desires and my view of our shared world.

Simplification, though — and as Ries & Trout remind us, “marketing is essentially the art of oversimplification” — has turned out to be a futile exercise for me.

My trans heart learned early that there was no refuge, no sanctuary for me beyond my own inner world.    If I was hurt, battered and broken, my only choice was to retreat into myself to try and effect healing.

Exposing my injured spirit to others would just prompt them to tell me to cut back, compartmentalize, grow a thicker skin, fit in better.   If my struggles were simpler, they told me, I would have less pain.

Expecting them to enter my inner world was stupid and dangerous, so I had to learn to better and more effectively enter their world, their consciousness, their awareness.

I did that work, doing my own inner therapy to heal as best as I could, entering their world, playing their game, being present for them.

Today, though, that seems barely enough.   I know that there are still a few people who want to give me gifts, but my complicated view makes that difficult for them because I see things, strings and crocks, that are just not in their vision.

Over the past thirty years or so, I have come to understand transpeople by the defence strategies they use.    By the unique shape of their armour I can see the beating heart underneath.

We stay within our armour because we know that if we get injured deeply, cut to the quick, we will have to retreat within ourselves to do the healing.   There is no peer group, no support network, no safe space where we can get naked and be bound up with love and care.

In my romantic fantasy, a bedroom is where we can take off our armour with a partner who is there to care for us, two people revealing for healing, exploring for passion, affirming for possibility.   I know that doesn’t happen easily, but it is still why I tear up at people committing to each other, signing up to know, to share, to heal and grow as partners.

The reality of relationships is often much less than this, needy people playing games with demands and projection, which is why I stopped trying to ask others to be present for me if they didn’t have the will and the passion.   Æsthetic denial has a price, but less than the cost of having your heart broken over and over again because of projecting your own romantic illusions, dreaming of the “special relationship” which will finally save you.

When I hear a transwoman express her fear over ruining the Christmas prime rib, wasting $40, I know how close to the bone her life has become since she decided that emerging with her trans truth was worth more than comfort & ease.   Her scars are visible to me, even with her long-term partner, and they touch my heart.   She has had to become a warrior just to survive.   While others may not see the price of that — after all, she brought it on herself — I know too well the struggle to keep carving out a place for us and others like us in a political world that would rather simplify us to comforting invisibility.

I know that others want to be present for me, just in a way that simply fits into their own priorities.

Complicated, though, is what I know myself to be.   I have had to learn to love my own complications, my own folds & crenellations, my own facets & twists, my own shimmering & iridescence.

That complication is the gift my creator gave to me, the liminality which allows me to be both and neither simultaneously,  crossing worlds to live in beautiful questions.

While others may see that nature as a cluster of sharp shards too spiky for ease, I see it as truth.

No scarf and lipstick is going to make my life come together.   Either/Or is beyond me.

And that is why I am alone at Christmas, my voice silenced to just an internal chatter.

May the complicated parts of you be the gift you embrace this holiday season.

Too Much, Too Little

“I have to watch myself because I often put other people off by being too _________.”

What do you believe that you have to tamp down, to keep small and hide for other people not to find you off-putting?

It’s those aspects you have been told that you have to police which form much of your anxiety, fear and denial.   It’s the reason you feel the need to modulate, cut back and control your choices to follow the rules, to fit within the lines, all so people will like you.

What do I most fear showing?  Simple.

I fear being overwhelming (1998).  I know how easy it is for me to open my mouth and fill the space with challenging, intense, theological, liminal and potent words.   People can be baffled, frightened, insulted or just see me as a total jerk.

If less of me is more, then I should hold back on revealing myself, right?   My æsthetic denial and expectation of scarcity tells me that if something or someone might be useful to me, going after it is the absolutely wrong thing; instead I have to let it come to me.

This strategy leaves me alone and cold most of the time. STFU — Shut The Fuck Up! — does not lead to making lots of new connections.  It doesn’t even lead to making the most of the few connections that you do make.

I could, of course, give a complex, detailed and exhaustive explanation of how I came to this state, but I have already filled an enormous and obtuse blog with the blow-by-blow.

Just because I am aware of the torrent of thoughts, feelings and voices that course through me all the time doesn’t mean others are ready to engage or even to hear what I have to share.  That means I need to be my own editor, which also means that, like any contentious self-policing queer, I end up cutting out much of the good, relate-able and connecting stuff.

My life-myth is simple: nobody gets the joke.   They won’t see what I have to offer beyond their own limited expectations, their own tunnelled assumptions.    I may know how sharp, connected and gifted I am, but they see the lumps and bumps of the idiosyncratic & iconoclastic package, which never fit the standard conventions.

For me, attention was always something to be avoided rather than being encouraged.  To be revealed was to be unsafe, open to attack for what others projected onto me.   Unsafe was my expectation, never really one of the gals, never really one of the guys, never really one of the gang.

I learned to take power from the edges rather than from the front, using guerrilla skills to ask just the wrong question which opens up a new way of thinking.

Offering too much information can be a problem, so we can be defined by what we conceal, what we police.   Like anything, though, conscious creation is always more powerful than habitual patterns.   When we own our less than perfect bits, our deepest intentions, our choices and our shimmering contradictions we can come to expression with awareness & presence rather than fear & ignorance.

My personal denial is considered, deliberate, explicit.  I trust thoughtful content over free style, overthinking, overworking and under achieving.   I don’t trust my performance, my brilliance. my beauty (2006).

I know, though, that choice keeps my spark, my light from the world, keeps me from trusting that I can attract what I need, keeps me believing that my intensity will blow the deal.

What we police holds the flashes of our energy, our gifts.  Staying small may keep others comfortable, but it doesn’t keep us happy.

Or healthy.

Remember Too

It has come to my awareness that my first draft for TDOR 2017 seems a bit too complicated and intense.

Here is a second, simpler draft.


We don’t come together today to remember transgender murders, rather we gather to remember transgender lives.  Each name read isn’t just a chime, rather it is the remainder of a trans person who lived, loved, struggled, sweated and survived until they no longer did.

When we hear of tragic deaths, we have two choices.

We can come together to fear death, identifying victimization and loss, girding ourselves from inevitable pain and destruction.

Or we can come together to remember to value life while we have it, celebrating the messy possibilities of creation, of relationship, of love.

When you hear about a murder, do you look for someone to blame, for someplace to hide?   Or are you reminded that life is precious and must be lived to the full in order to make the most of our gifts?

Do you yell and wail or do you hug and educate?

I believe that the way we honour those we have lost is by making the most out of what we still have, of all that we can find and transform in this world.

Were people there, loving, encouraging and empowering the people who lost their lives to violence this year?   We hope so, hope they had moments of bliss that lifted them and deeply connected them to others, to something greater.

We can’t change their lost lives, though, cannot change the past.   All we can do is to allow the memory of them to inform our choices, helping shape our future.

As we remember what is lost, we are reminded of what we have to value.   We are reminded that moving beyond our own limits, our own comfort, our own habits and expectations is the only way to develop deep connections that open us to love beyond fear.

Queer people were lost to us.   Doesn’t that remind us to remember how important it is to value the queer people who pass through our lives today, the ones who make choices we would never make for ourselves, but which open our eyes and our hearts to a kind of continuous common humanity that transcends our personal experience?

We remember the lost so we can be reminded to value the found, moving beyond the fear of death to the love of life, human expression and essence in all its diverse, challenging and beautiful forms.

We remember to remind us to open to the love that can connect us all.

 

Remember Fear

Draft for TDOR 2017

As we come together on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, taking the time to list those transpeople that we know were lost at the hands of another in the past year,  what do we need to most remember?

The stories of our murdered sisters and brothers remind all transpeople that our safety is not something that we can take for granted.   We live in a world where we can become targets of other people’s internalized fear and rage, where their need to purge what they find challenging to their own beliefs can end up with them targeting us, with them feeling that they are entitled to erase perversion and evil.

The one thing that all queer people share is the experience of the closet.  We learn very early that it is unsafe for us to show the nature in our hearts, that the only good we can do is to deny, suffocate and twist our desires to fit into what family, church and community expects.

Today, we remember that fear which caused us to hide, which still pushes us to stay small and deny our power, and we stand together to resist it.

By gathering in love to celebrate the lives of marginalized transpeople, by showing our solidarity and coming together with allies who also commit to remember the fear that terrorizes gender variant people around the world, we stand up for care, for compassion and for liberation.

Today we say that the stories of trans lives, the voices of those trans people some attempt to silence with fear, are vital to remember each and every day.   We honour the experience of being trans in the world, even where it differs from our personal experience, seeing through the eyes of those who have lived in fear just because their hearts crossed the lines of society’s gendered conventions.

Marginalized, pushed to the edges, they lived in fear of their own safety, striving to create a life even though they were routinely told that just showing their nature put them beyond what many could accept, what many could tolerate, what many believed was right, pure and godly.

They knew that even using a public restroom could put them at risk from some who would brand them sick and perverted, who would dehumanize them, call them deluded monsters, worthy of purging from polite society.

Yet, they lived their own love, claimed their own creation, embodied their own truth.   Some paid the ultimate price for that expression, unable or unwilling to hide themselves enough to satisfy the tormented, mirroring the diversity and transcendence of creation in a way that got them attack and destroyed.

On this day, we remember that only by creating safe space in our own heart to embrace the mirror of continuous common humanity, moving beyond the walls and separations that we believe keep us safe can we create a world where diversity can blossom and thrive.   Our comforting assumptions need to be released to see the humanity around us, rather than defended by erasure, ignorance and projection.

We come together today to move beyond our own fear of the different, our fear of those who make choices that we would never make for ourselves, choices that we can only understand by opening our hearts and seeing the world through their eyes.   We commit to remembering that our discomfort or feeling of challenge is within us and only we can reach to something higher which allows us to transcend, moving from fear to love.

As we see echoes of attack of gender variant people around us, in the media or in conversation, we remember that the seeds of fear are being planted, making the world less safe for those who have the spark of transcendence in their hearts.   We remember that only love can trump fear, only compassion can trump doctrine, only we can trump ignorance and hate.

Today, we remember those who were destroyed by fear and violence, those who are damaged every day by fear and the threat of violence, those who cannot give all their creator has put into their heart because they live in fear.

And today we remember that only we can create fertile ground for them with our love, our willingness to open our own hearts and minds to hear their stories, to move beyond our old assumptions and comforting walls to engage them with love.

We remember the lost and we commit to the living that we will remember the continuous common humanity that threads through all human hearts, remembering to open with love and kindness so we create safe spaces for diversity, expression and transcendence, spaces that can spread from our heart to the wider world.

We promise to remember to release fear and embrace love for every human, even the ones who cross gendered conventions.

 

 

Try To Remember

“I think that Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) is simply a vigil,” said the pastor who called the organizational meeting, “and not a time for speeches or anything like that.”

“Let me ask you a question,” I said.  “What are we trying to remember?   Just a list of people we never met?

“Clearly, these lost people act as symbols, but symbols of what?”

The room kind of choked.   All these people wanted to be good, liberal allies of transpeople, catching the trend, but in their minds, trans was just what they assumed it to be, not something challenging, risky and potent.

It’s just that power that TDOR was created to express.

From the first, TDOR was a political event.    What it means — what we are trying to remember — is at the heart of the question, a question shaped by your own worldview.

For many, TDOR is just another reminder of racism, as many of the victims are women of colour.   It becomes swept into conventional identity politics based social justice rhetoric.

For me, though, TDOR is aan event for consciousness raising about the erasure and destruction of trans visibility.   It is about the forces used to kill off trans nature in society.

That requires that we face the connection between all transpeople, the shaming and the abuse that tries to crush us.

For transpeople who have spent countless energy in trying to justify why they are not bad trannies, why they are the exception that doesn’t deserve the shunning, shame and slams that other, too-queer trannies get, this can be very hard to do.

I had a transwoman murdered a few blocks down the street from where I lived.   Trying to bring together community to call for justice, let alone to remember her life was an enormously difficult challenge.

Many questioned why a man was in her apartment after the bars closed.  It turned out that he followed her home to rob her, seeing her as vulnerable, but the very suggestion that she may have been sexual marked her as complicit in the view of many.

Many couldn’t imagine trading their hard crafted mask of invisibility to be out to stand up and stand by her.

Trans is such an individual journey that they couldn’t see themselves as family with this woman, couldn’t imagine why they should take her questionable choices onto themselves.   After all, they protected themselves by playing safe; shouldn’t she have done the same?

Race, class, economics, sexuality and much more form barriers to our own consciousness of connection.  Even when we do try to reach beyond those boundaries we often find others who create their own blocks to solidarity, looking to blame others or use the shame of constructed political correctness to enforce their own identity politics.

TDOR has always been a political event, asking us to stand up in solidarity for those transpeople who have been physically erased, no matter what the reason or how different they are from us.

For the nice people in that room last night, it was a simple matter of humanity.   The people on this list could be refugees or political prisoners or lost miners.   Just humans who died and we should list off their names, take a moment to remember them and then move on.

For me, though, context is all.   How do we legitimately remember the challenges transpeople face without engaging their narratives?   How can we create a space for them in our mind unless we are open to their continuing struggle?   What is the purpose of claiming remembrance without doing the work of actually understanding the context of their lives?

This was, though, much more than people wanted to handle in the meeting, than what they wanted to include in their nice vigil.   The service was enough; actually remembering, which meant actually opening, knowing and engaging was beyond the scope.

I left the room feeling unheard and erased, with no one wanting to engage what I offered.

And that’s what I’ll remember.

Terrifying Transgender

Transgender, if you do it right, is terrifying.

Transvestism isn’t, be it crossdressing or drag. If all you do is change clothes for a bit of fun, retaining your assigned gender,  staying fixed in heteronormativity.

Transsexualism isn’t.   If you have a birth defect and your attempt is to hide it, fix it, blend in as the real sex you always really were, well, that supports heteronormativity.

I lived through decades of transsexuals and crossdressers fighting hard to separate themselves from transgender identification.  They didn’t want to be colonized and co-opted by those transgender people who sought to appropriate their deep cultural truth.

They knew that transgender is terrifying and they had no desire to be terrifying.   They just wanted to go along to get along.

Today, many try to take the terror out of transgender by removing its threat of challenging comforting divisions.   Their model of trans is a kind of neutering, a removal from oppressive gender constructs rather than a true crossing of them.   By specifying pronouns and staying away from the power of assimilation, they treat transgender as a kind of personal expression that floats above gendered norms rather than challenging them.   In this case, trans is the embodiment of “none of the above.”

Transgender, though, if you do it right is terrifying.

Doing it right means revealing the artificiality and limits of gendered assumptions by cutting across them.  It is when we powerfully show that we are “all of the above” that people begin to get queasy, feeling the challenge of liminality to their comforting social divisions.

Transgender opens up the power of connection, demanding we face the mixed, mired and beautiful part of us that links us to continuous common humanity.

Any transperson who has experienced the “third gotcha,” seeing their gender shift in someone else’s eyes knows the power and the fear contained in this truth.

It is why, on Halloween, no matter what costume we try to wear, we end up just being the “scary tranny” if we do it well enough.

Looking at the current sexual harassment scandals though a transgender lens leaves us seeing them as abuses of power, which always run deeper than gendered behaviours.  Sure, men may abuse power in a different way than women do, but that demand for obedience at the threat of destruction runs through the stripe of humanity.

This view isn’t comforting to those who are used to an us versus them mentality, a separation between victim and oppressor, between hunted and prey, between masculine and feminine, between good and evil.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.

I knew that was my mission statement, my transgender mission statement when I first heard anthropologist Anne Bolin say it almost 25 years ago and it remains my touchstone today.

And its when that humanity beyond convention is exposed that transgender becomes terrifying, at least to those who crave constructed walls for comfort against the fear of what lies within them.

Transgender, if you do it right, is terrifying.

It’s why I love it, because moving beyond fear to seeing with love is a key to becoming aware.   It’s why I hate it, because being a solitary, abused, phobogenic object (2006) is lonely and tough.

But I can’t imagine living with any other stance.

Halloween marks the time when our ancestors believed the veil between this realm and others was at its thinnest.  It is the moment when shadows dance, scary and potent, revealing connection.

May yours be energetic, divine and transcendent.