10 Years, 10 Points

It’s been 10 years since I started this blog on Thanksgiving 2005.

There has been an enormous amount posted here, but it has been published on my schedule and focused on my needs, not on making the material accessible to a casual reader.   There is no simple way to find writing on the challenges that are in their mind at any time.

For ten years, I thought I would take a moment and consolidate the 10 most important points that I have kept coming back to time and time again.  It won’t unlock the text here, but it might give an overview, a crib sheet to get a handle on what I have written.

1) Reveal, don’t conceal.  You can’t create anything as amazing as your gifts.
2) Precision is power, especially precision thinking.  Think sharp, be sharp.
3) Your feelings, your responsibility.  Their feelings, their responsibility.
4) Don’t treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.
5) Nothing happens until you listen, even to yourself.
6) Gratitude drives possibility.  Be thankful for lessons.
7) Playful is prayerful.  Opening to the unexpected is honoring the divine.
8) Defense is attack, giving is receiving.  Service.
9) People heal in their own way and their own time.  Be compassionate.
10) Love, not fear, brings growth.

I’ll go into a bit of detail about why these points are important to me.

1) Reveal, don’t conceal.  You can’t create anything as amazing as your gifts.

You are a child of the creator, with magic in you.  Sure, lots of people tried to teach you to sit still, stay quiet and follow orders, telling you that your nature was ugly and nasty, but it is in that wild nature that your biggest gifts lie.  Where you stumble, there lies your jewel.

It may be an appealing notion to create a pretty facade, a mask that meets the expectations of other people, but in the end it is your unique spark which draws people to you, which allows you to shine in the world.

Go inward and find your own strengths, then bring them out to offer your own special beauty to the world.

Cover ups are fake.  It is the real you that is lovable, even if someone told you not to believe that.

2) Precision is power, especially precision thinking.  Think sharp, be sharp.

It’s easy to be sloppy.  Anyone can do it.   It’s hard, though, to be precise, hard to achieve a level of excellence and mastery which allows what you do to show through as unique and high quality.

We co-create our lives.   Our spark may come from someplace outside of us, but turning that spark into useful flame is our job, one that demands discipline, practice and sweat.

Our mind is the tool we use to shape our lives, finding language, testing options, achieving balances, setting priorities, making choices and then choosing again.  There are is no perfection in a human life, but with work and focus we can create precision which lets us make the best of our possibilities.

When we offer precision to those around us, we offer leadership, showing a way to make better choices and work together.   Managing ourselves helps us manage in the world, lifting the possibilities of everyone.

3) Your feelings, your responsibility.  Their feelings, their responsibility.

You cannot control the feelings of other people.  That means you don’t have responsibility for them, something that can be hard to remember when they are acting out their own fears and issues against you because something you did brings up their unhealed stuff.  Their choices, even when they blame you for “causing” them are about who they are, not about you.

You do, however, have control of your own feelings.   That means you do have responsibility for how you act out of your unhealed stuff.

There is no way to manage your own feelings without owning them first.  Just walling them off, trying to stuff them, or claiming that they control you will not lead to the kind of healing you need to get clear of being controlled by your own deep seated issues.

The only way out of hell is through.  You have to face your own challenges to find ways to move past being controlled by them.  The only freedom we have is in the moment between stimulus and response, so moving to considered responses instead of knee-jerk reactions is the only way to create healthy choices which let you own your life rather than being a slave to your past.

Blaming others for the way that you feel may be easy, but just like you have no control over how they feel, they have no control over how you feel.  Sure, you may want them to change their feelings, but waiting until they change before you change is holding your potential for happiness hostage to their stuckness.

Your feelings, your responsibility.

4) Don’t treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.

When has the golden rule ever been a bad life choice?  This statement of it lies more in Jewish tradition, where the goal is not to assume what others want what you would want but to know we all hate unfairness.

Being able to accept that other people have the right and even the requirement to make choices that you would never make for yourself is the basis for treating them with respect. Supporting others when they make choices that you find odd, off-putting or queer is supporting your power to make choices for yourself that don’t please everyone.  The world is not for your taste, so only those who harm others with their choices need to be judged, not just those who push your buttons.

People find so many excuses for why others have to respect them in a way that they don’t respect others.   We use our history of suffering, our presumed moral superiority, our sense of entitlement and more to justify actions against others that we would wail about if we were treated that way.

Rationalizing why you are exceptional and therefore can make demands of others which you would reject if they were made on you is violating the golden rule.  It goes against the teachings of the Torah, of Jesus, and of almost every spiritual leader ever.

Love and respect your neighbour as yourself.  Everything else is commentary.

5) Nothing happens until you listen, even to yourself.

The greatest gift parents give children is the gift of language.  Being human is sharing in culture, and that requires the power of communication.  The better we get at communicating, the more we can master the relationships that make us human.

The most important part of communication is listening.  Listening is my sacrament, opening my mind and heart to what others are brave enough to share with me.   It is through listening that I am able to learn and grow, though listening that I am able to understand and heal, though listening that I am able to connect and share with other people.

As a transperson in a house that had little respect for emotion, I believed that the goal was to reject and deny any voices in me that challenged what others said that I should do.   Instead of listening to my heart I tried to silence it, thinking that would make me strong and good.

Until I listened to my own pain, though, moving past shame and opening with tender vulnerability, I could not find the connection between mind and heart that I needed to heal and grow as a person.

Too many people don’t really listen to others, don’t engage what is being shared, instead only hearing tones and thinking of what they want to say next.  These people lose all the magic that sharing humanity can bring.   They try to fill the world with their beliefs so they can blank out their doubts and fear and in the process, lose the heart connection that makes them human by making them responsible to other people.

Listening close allows discovering details, observing with a precision which can lead to understanding quality and excellence.  Until we can really hear and see, we cannot really transcend the mediocre.

Nothing happens until you listen, even if the noise you are making convinces you otherwise.

6) Gratitude drives possibility.  Be thankful for lessons.

Learning to be grateful for what you didn’t want or expect is hard.  Yet that feedback is the key to knowing where you are falling short, where you have missed the mark, and how you can change your choices to do better next time.

Possibility doesn’t exist in what we already know.  Possibility exists in the moments when our knowledge grows, either through serendipitous success or through frustrating failure.

Being grateful for moments when our perceptions are altered, our understanding is expanded, our knowledge increased, even when that requires disposing of an older, cherished but wrong or imprecise concept is the way we are thankful to a world that cares enough to keep teaching us how to be better.

Becoming new is the basis of becoming better.  Learning new or even being reminded of what we knew once but has slipped our mind is a real gift.

7) Playful is prayerful.  Opening to the unexpected is honoring the divine.

Prayers that tell the universe what to do to make us happen are just arrogant, pushy-bottom kind of stuff.  Asking the creator to change to suit our expectations and desires is not a prayerful approach, coming with humility and openness to find the lessons of grace which help us be more harmonious and effective in our actions.

Playfulness is coming with an attitude of exploration, the willingness to try being new in a way that brings us closer to creation.  A willingness to experiment with a laughing heart opens us to the divine surprise that reveals connections and possibilities we closed ourselves to in daily life.

Humor can help us get over the pain of separating from our callouses, the barriers we have created that we hope protect us but which isolate us from the heat and light of divine connection.  Children become new though laughter in every day of their lives, welcoming the growth the universe offers them.   Why should that process ever really stop?

8) Defense is attack, giving is receiving.  Service.

It’s easy to be too damn smart for our own good.  When you think you know it all, that you can defend your choices perfectly, that anyone who challenges you is just wrong, you close yourself off to growth and connection.

The first step to knowledge is always being ready to learn what you not only don’t know but also what you don’t yet know that you do not know.   We get back what we give in the world, so when we give curiosity, respect and support we get that back, but when we give attitude, dismissal and quick defensive rationalizations, that’s what we get back.

Getting over your own damn stuff, the defenses you carry with you, is hard.   You surrounded yourself with that stuff for good reasons.   You found it useful, it made you feel safe and comfortable to carry your own stuff around like bumpers.

That stuff, though, blocks you from being present and open to other people in the current situation.  If you just pitch in, contribute, and find a way to work together, everybody benefits, even you.

Leading with the chip on your shoulder, no matter who you blame for putting it there, doesn’t open up possibilities.  Your feelings, your responsibility.

9) People heal in their own way and their own time.  Be compassionate.

The world would be much less headache to negotiate if other people would just heal and grow in the way that we want them to and on our own time frame.  After all, we can see the problem and have offered a solution; why can’t they just get their act together and do what you tell them, right now?

Their position, though, is more complicated than you know.  After all, you have never just done what someone else told you to do to fix your life, have you?   You had to think and feel and balance and try and engage change in your own way and at your own speed.

When you look back, there are changes that you could have made sooner than you did.  Not only did the worst things you could imagine never really come to pass, but the best things that happened were ones that you never could have imagined coming to pass no matter how hard you planned for them.

Change always means engaging loss.  Change means we have to let go of bits we have always held to do things that we have not yet mastered.  Change comes with a guarantee of failure, even if that failure teaches us how to create success beyond anything we have ever known.  Change is a risk, but not changing is stagnation and decay.

Learning to engage change a little each day rather than waiting for what feel like catastrophes to demand change is hard magic.  Being prepared, though, with wit and compassion, to accept why change is resisted and to accept when change is need is the basis of healthy growth.

10) Love, not fear, brings growth.

Our fear voice likes to tell us that the best thing we can do is create walls between us and things that scare us.

The world, though, teaches that strength comes not from isolation but from connection.  It is when we stand together, when we are in the network, when we have friends, allies and family that we are most protected.

Caring deeply enough to put your own fears and concerns aside to do the right thing is another way to say courage.   Courageous choices always come from love and not fear. Courage is a core virtue; without courage, it is impossible to follow any other virtue when the going gets tough.

Love drives the best in us when it drives us to connect with community and share our gifts with others.  Love is the powerful magic that moves us beyond our own preferences and prejudices to be present for other people in a way that heals both them and us.   Love empowers us to leave our comfort zone and find a new, engaged way to be in the world.

Love is what enables to us fight for those we love and and to fight with the people we love when they need to find their own deeper truth. It’s much better to learn to fight for yourself with someone who loves you than with the wider, less caring world.

Life is better when we take care of each other.  Love is what helps us do that.

None of these points are unique.   They are just bits of the wisdom handed down by humans, the old knowledge set in my personal language.   That’s why they might resonate with you, not asking you to get your mind around something new but only recounting what you know to be true in a way that cuts through the noise of everyday life and reminds you of what has always been important.

10 Years, 10 Points.  It’s been a long and fascinating life, but to tell you the truth, I’m pretty tired now.

Marking Special

Everyone should have a personal bit of theatre.

They should have a moment or two when they are in the spotlight and they get to do and say something exceptional, something powerful.

Maybe it’s asking why this night is special, or wearing the Santa Lucia crown, but whatever it is, they need a moment out of time, when they are touched by the magic, connected with something bigger than they are.

To make that happen, the rest of us have to be an audience for them, opening the space for them to share.  We need to open a moment where we admire and adore them, putting them on stage and letting them shine, opening to what they offer.

Life used to be pretty routine and boring, moving along at a regular pace.  This made moments which were special stand out, stand proud, stand amazing.

Today life is filled with shiny moments, something different and novel, screens full of distractions, visual range full of ads, demands full of interruptions.  Now, we often think that what we want from special times is a kind of simulation of normativity, the traditions of slowing down and just hanging.  Sundays are no longer a day to gather and touch majesty, they are a day to decompress and try to recover.

How does this create special time, magical time, moments when we can feel the power flow through us as we enact the power of tradition and expression to a rapt audience?

I remember showing up in a Santa suit to a friend’s house years ago.  Her kids, a third grader and a fifth grader, were way too old to believe in Santa.

The engagement in their eyes and joy on their faces when confronted with an enactment of the jolly old elf was amazing and memorable.   This was magic come to life in their house and they snapped into their roles as awed kids in a heartbeat.

Sure, they asked Santa if he knew me, and I assure them that I was a fine, fine person, but being able to understand the backstage tricks we use didn’t take the excitement from the moment.  It may have made it more magic, as a part of them imagined how they could also invoke Santa someday.

The biggest smile, of course, was from their mother.  She saw her kids delighted and focused, reminding her of when they were younger, when they lived in a world of awe and magic.   Mothers, you may know, are moved by the sight of joyous children.

Finding moments is important.  I tried a Christmas moment where, before opening presents, each person in turn posed with their prettiest unopened gift and flashed their cheesiest, most excited expression.  One moment to be in the spotlight, enacting joy, and the temperature in the room went up.

It’s easy to dismiss ritual from our lives, deeming it silly and not worth the effort.  Why not just go casual, let off, and take it easy?   After all, it won’t be very long until we have to go back into the noise and take the shiny and special as just other interruptions.

As humans, though, we need to believe that the magic of the moment can flow through us, that we can carry the spark of the eternal and the divine, whatever we deem that to be.

Maybe it is reciting the Gettysburg Address,  carving the turkey at the table, or just the ritual of a graceful blessing, time out of time counts.

I grew up in a house where my mother was sure that everything was about her, where paying attention to someone else, especially someone elses emotions, just was an impossible thing.   No matter how much I wanted to dramatize a moment, make it special, it was always going to be erased by the cheap and routine drama of someone else.

Feast days are the stages of our lives, moments when we come together to share the hard work of people who love us so much that they create a table full of ritual.

Not honoring those stages by opening with respect and grace seems a horrible waste.

TBB just went through a ritual day with her son as he received his Naval aviator’s wings.   Her job, she knew, was to play her part in the scene, from being proud to being cool, to picking up the tab for dinner.  She rose above the everyday and petty to do the bigger thing,  making his personal day of theatre unique and special.

She felt good playing her part in a family event, even if a great deal of it was beaming broadly and looking so proud that she could bust.  Ritual demands we play our part and often times, that is a supporting role.

A key gift I give to people I am with is putting them in the spotlight, engaging them in a way that values and respects what they are sharing with me.   This focus demands that they up their own game, that they consider what they are sharing, that they take their part seriously.

That’s not something I often get back from other people.   And if I don’t get it back regularly, asking for them to perform their part in ritual, passing the spotlight between us and respecting our roles is impossible.

We are all audience members, offering rapt attention, all supporting players, helping facilitate and enhance the moments of others, and all stars, with our own time to stand and share with respect and awe for what moves though us.

How do we learn, acknowledge and celebrate those roles unless we know how to be out of time and mark the special, sharing our place in ritual?

How do we become bigger and better unless we share a space for that possibility to happen?

Body Of Work

Looking at young people, so easy and sensual in their own skin, I sometimes try and remember what I was like when I was their age.

Nakedness came difficult to me; skyclad wasn’t something I would ever try.  I kept myself covered up; one old friend was surprised she had never seen my genitals, because she had seen almost all of the people she knew for so long.  Not mine, though.  No bathing suits for me.

I didn’t really have a body, at least not one that I wanted to use and celebrate.  Instead, I had a big plastic overcoat, a rubber shell that just never looked like me when I saw myself in the mirror.   My trans nature and my skin weren’t really connected.

My body wasn’t really connected to me, at least not in the way that people who show skin today seem to take pleasure though the flesh.   I don’t have any experience of being physically intimate in a satisfying way, of being successful at all sexually.    I wasn’t vital and exuberant in a way that most find simple, basic, creatural and human.   No “Art Mann Presents” moments for me.

“I never went to an orgy,” I joked, “because I was afraid I wouldn’t know the right thing to say.”   My sensual relationship has always been inside, with my imagination, and never really with another person, skin to skin.

There is one body, though, that I have valued and treasured through my lifetime.  My body of work.

I don’t know many people who regularly refer and link to work they wrote 25 years ago, or even keep a connection with work they did in their teens.  I do that all everyday.

For me, though, that line which links my thinking then, my expository prose, and where I am now is vital.  I cling to it, a lifeline that connects me with the only thing I have ever been sure in, my thoughts.

This consistency is powerful, allowing me to build a body of work which is integrated, deep with connections.   The work becomes pure as the ideas go through the fire again and again, each new experience or input analyzed and tested so I can reshape the whole to more finely represent the world I live in.

It is a lifework of a model, all my sweat, thought and essence poured into it, a finely calibrated tool which lets me swiftly scan any situation and understand it.

I once saw the contents of a Sioux medicine man’s bag, collected by Lewis and Clark, spread out in a glass case at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Ethnography.   Long since taken off display out of a delayed cultural respect, the pieces called to me, powerful tools collected by a powerful shaman.

My own tool bag is in my work.   It is as arcane and mysterious as those powders, rattles, skulls and other paraphernalia were to me, their effectiveness not being in their presence but rather in the knowledge of their use and the magic they hold.

For most, the writing is a huge pile of words, out of which people can sometimes find a shiny bit that calls to them, is useful in helping understand their situation.

For me, though, the writing is a body of work created through determined and dedicated process, intricate and fine.   It isn’t addressed to an audience, though I do share by publishing it, rather it is the manifest vision of the knowledge, understanding and tools that I have shaped inside of me.

My body of work is about the my creation of self, about my attempt to find a way to rescue myself from a place where they wanted to trap me in one world or another.   My work is about transformation, the motion of a shaman, rarely enough to fit on a commercial makeover scale, but always with the power to change vision.

I take pleasure in my transformations.
I look quiet and consistent,
but few know how many women there are in me.
— Anaïs Nin

The only way to know the women inside is to engage her body of work, the places where she revealed her magic.

I am immensely proud of my life’s work, of the way it allows me to be present in the moment, shifting frequencies to heal and enlighten.  I know why people perceive people like me, those who have gone through the fire, as healers, carrying freedom and insight.

Holding onto that work, though, being held responsible for its preservation and continuation is an enormous block to me.   If I am always present as shaman, when am I present as human, living in my skin rather than in my knowledge?

Part of the aging process, of course, is that from the moment you are born your flesh starts to die and your story starts to grow, until the moment your body leaves and only story is left.

Everyone becomes less enfleshed as they age, trading their sensuality for knowledge.  I just started that process very early, skipping the whole embodied bit, a loss that one can never really get past.

The bulk of body of my work becomes a not an invitation to human connection, but rather a barrier to it.   I have spent my lifetime educating clinical professionals about trans, starting from my teens when I asked help from a youth pastor, and the idea of going to anyone and trying to unpack the body of experience and knowledge that I carry seems more than is possible.

Their instinct will be to take me back to basics, basics that they get, and basics that feel like they dismiss ans invalidate my so, so, so hard won understanding.

My body of work is amazing and powerful, but it is just me dried.  Carrying it all inside of me lets me make connections in the moment, pulling tricks from the bag to shift perceptions, but doing that in a way which can’t simply be made fodder for the media machine.  I may have the magic, but that magic is challenging in the divine surprises it throws out, impossible to quantify or make nice.

Letting go of my body of work feels impossible, for it is my life’s work.  Holding onto it, though, feels like too much, too.

Somewhere under all the wisdom I have gained is there a cute person wanting what she missed in her twenties?   Oh, yes.   But that time was long ago, and it was well and truly missed, crushed by so many factors.  She became a survivor, not a thriver, and so, left me with an enormous and brilliant body of work, not creamy memories that can spark a current affair.

As you get older, you are always all the genders you have ever been, to paraphrase Madeline L’Engle, but the ones you missed out on, well, they are gone forever.

I love my body of work.   I am proud to be its creator and its curator.

I hate the fact that I ended up having a body of work and not really an enfleshed life.  So many moments spent recovering from abuse and trauma rather than just experiencing connection.

That body of work, well, like so many have said, it should be respected, valued, honored, embraced by a world that needs understanding.

Should, though, is a wasted notion.   Shoulda, woulda, coulda; all dead ends, at least in my experience.  The way that things happened is the way that they had to happen, even if the result could have changed “if only” this or that had been different; but, of course, it wasn’t different.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, there is a me who is pretty & loved and who writes lovely stories which amuse and warm hearts.   She, though, doesn’t have to carry my body of work like a giant pearl, because she never had to go through the drastic irritation that forced me to create that body of work to keep myself safe and smart.

But I do miss her, I do.


(Just realized that the first post on this blog a decade ago this week was about being valued for what I do rather than who I am.  People saw me as a human doing rather than a human being, so obviously, what I ended up with is a body of work.)

Finally True

Being transgender is hard. AND it was the best decision I ever made.

All of this talk about the difficulties of being transgender can begin to sound a little bleak. It is important to note, in that studies cited, every individual expressed that they did not regret transitioning and felt like they were finally living as their true self. They also expressed that all of the hardship was worth the payoff and that the best times in their life were being honest about who they were through their gender transition.
-- Rena McDaniel, How to Cope with Transgender Stress

Finally living as their true self was worth all the hardship.

It’s a powerful position to take, justifying whatever stress, discomfort, aggravation and challenge that being visible as trans in the world costs.

I’m just not at all sure that what I lived without being visibly trans was untrue.

And I am sure that efforts to pass as having gone through puberty as a female are untrue, however much I know my heart to be feminine and my nature to be womanly.

I know myself to have been trans every day of my life and twice on Thursday.  And since the mid 1980s, I know that I have been out about that fact,  My family knew since I was small, of course, but I have been officially out for at least twenty years, even if I haven’t tried to appear female bodied all the time, instead often opting for a gender neutral presentation.

Does expressing my fashion preferences make me more real than looking bland and neutral?  I’m not at all sure that it does.  Just wearing some truth on your sleeve doesn’t make it more real than a truth held clearly in the mind, honestly driving your choices.

I have had the experience of a therapist renowned for dealing with transpeople noting that to me, she saw flashes of my feminine heart more clearly when I was in my boy clothes.

While she was afraid I would take this information badly, a sign that my compartmentalization was failing, I understood it to be a success of my goal of integration.  I needed much fewer defenses in boy clothes and was able to remove that stick in my butt and relax as who I am inside.

The ‘real, true me” has always been part of who I am and what I express.  From when I was 13, I told therapists that my goal was not to be man or woman but rather to be authentically me.

This is a good, actualized spiritual goal, but the it removes the justification that so many transwomen use for appearing femaled, the claim that somehow, this expression and only this expression is the finally true expression of who I am, my true self.

I have always said that my trans expression is my vestments, my work clothes, symbolizing of my spiritual truth.   I just don’t think you have to wear your robes to vacuum or run to Walmart.

I live as my true self.  I just know that true self is always partly invisible somehow, whichever way I present.  I show myself as effectively and honestly as I can everyday on this blog, and while that expression is the best part of my life, it is ultimately not fulfilling.

The bleakness that Ms. McDaniel talks about in her blog post is also very familiar to me.  The payoff she speaks of when “finally being your true self” is also familiar, but the payoff doesn’t really carry through to walking in a heterosexist world as a visible transperson.

I wrote about the responsibility that comes with being queer in the world 18 years ago, in 1997.  That was after years of trying to understand what truth actually is, working on how to juxtapose the real truth I knew in my heart with the biological truth written on my body.  Both had claims to truth and both were to some degree subjective, erasing bits to make classification simpler and more authoritative.

Does “finally living as your true self” make everything a transperson has gone through and will go through alright?

I’ve been living as my true self for a long, long time now and I know it just isn’t that simple.

Dead Dreams

I have a dream problem, at least from what TBB can see.

She knows how important her dreams are to her.  Planes and cars, travel and caring, these are the things that keep her inner spark alive as she toils as the leader of a ship’s engineering department, usually stuck in a floating tin-can with her co-workers doing important but un-glamourous work.

A TED Talk by Bel Pesce on “Five Ways To Kill Your Dreams” caught her as going to the heart of my dream challenges.

It is an earnest six minutes, packed with good, common-sense advice on how to keep your dreams alive by not weighing them down with frustration, despair and resignation.  For many people, the lessons are good reminders to how to keep working to keep dreams coming.

Ms. Pesce’s talk does what it says on the tin, encouraging people to value and nurture their dreams.

What it doesn’t do, though, is discuss the challenge of what you do if your dreams are already moribund, embalmed, desiccated and dead.

Once your dreams are dead, how can you get new ones or make the old ones live again?

TBB is right.  I have a dream problem.  No visions of possibilities dance in my head, no flickers of delight dance on my horizon.  I have no dreams to animate me, to tickle me forward, to offer me something to chase and animate my life.  As I asked of my sister, how does one hold onto hope if their dreams are dried up?

There are many reasons that my dreams are dead, all laid out in text in vivid true detail.   They have been squeezed flat between emotionally detached parents, the challenges of trans expression, the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of vitality, by age and so on.

Don’t part with your illusions.
When they are gone you may still exist
but you have ceased to live.
— Mark Twain

We don’t mourn for what we had and lost.
We mourn for losing what we dreamed of having
even if that was just one more day with a loved one.
Mourning is always for the loss of our dreams,
and not for the loss of our realities.
— Callan Williams, 1998

You only really love someone
when you love their dreams,
love the possibilities inherent in them.
— Callan Williams, 1997

Purging desire — squashing dreams — is a key part of the practice for many spiritual paths.  Aesthetic denial, focusing on service rather than pursuit of dreams becomes the goal, allowing a certain clarity that cannot come when needs swamp the ego.

The kind of knowledge this path brings, the same path that leads to vows of poverty,  chastity and obedience in the Roman Catholic tradition, is rather bloodless though, with the zest of human vitality replaced with conscientious discipline.

I understand why TBB wants me to find a path to avoid killing my dreams.  Finding a path that can create new dreams, incubating them in the cold, far away from childhood exuberance, though, well, that is a much more challenging task.

It’s not that I don’t have dreams, it’s the fact that I don’t see my dreams as possible for me.  Part of that is because of the limited time, resources, exuberance and health that I have left, but another part of that is based in the lessons I have learned about what is possible for someone like me in this world.

I know, for example, that however much I dream of being a 21 year old female that isn’t ever going to happen for me in this lifetime.   I need to have the serenity to accept that water under the bridge is gone and there is no going back to it.   Only going forward is possible.

By the time one gets to my age, one is pretty well cooked, possibilities having already been firmed up into realities.

It is probably true that there are more possibilities out there than I can allow myself to imagine, but a lifetime of self-policing leaves one over constrained, defensive and penurious.  I am cold and dry, risk averse and dried to a husk.

TBB is right.  Letting your dreams die has costs.  There are good reasons why you shouldn’t do it.   Dreams keep us vibrant, keep us engaged in the journey, stop us from getting stale and frustrated, keep us from wasting away.

Keeping too many dreams alive, though, not focusing while thinking that dreams are all that matters is also a problem, as Ms. Pesce notes.   We do have to find a balance between dreams and pragmatism, between desire and reality, between wild and tame.

It would be fun to have dreams I can believe in, dreams that animate my desires and give me hope for a good, satisfying, better and even joyous future.  Not having those dreams is a problem for me and my engagement with a challenging, costly world.

And I thank Sabrina for understanding that challenge.

Continue reading Dead Dreams

Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows

I love optimists.

Even in the face of knowledge and experience, they have the capacity to believe that things will work out, that there is another bright experience just around the corner.

The world is transformed by optimists who have the persistence to keep trying.

“I love it every time someone tells me no!” an eager salesman said to me. “It means that the ratio is working and that I am one step closer to hearing yes!  It’s great!”

I have a bit of trouble being an optimist myself, though.  Maybe it’s my experience or my nature, but somehow, I am not as hopeful about the next moment for me.

Supporting optimists is easy for me, though.  I come from a positive and encouraging place when I hear the dreams of others. I say “Yes!” to them, doing what I can to give them the courage to take a shot.

Finding people who are able to say “Yes!” to me consistently, though, has been difficult.  I found a performance coach who leads an improv troupe where “Yes! And…” has always been the ethos, but when faced with me, hard questions were what he pulled up to coach me.   He decided he needed to challenge my visions, not to support them.  He, well, found them a bit queer, you see.

I listen to the Marvin Hamlisch tune linked above and I delight in the exuberance of it.  What a wonderful moment when you can believe that all you need to do is to find your true love and your life will forever be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.  How delightful!

(I will note that the original lyrics as sung by Leslie Gore do say “when you’re in love to stay” whereas the Bonos seem to sing “in love today.”   They appear to be a bit less optimistic and a bit more pragmatic in the 1980s than in the 1960s.)

Taking delight in every moment — let us eat and drink for tomorrow we may die — is certainly a way to squeeze joy out of life.  It may, not, however, be a way to gain knowledge and righteousness in the world.

I love optimists.  I admire their focus and dedication of purpose, their dedication to their beliefs.  I understand and encourage their role in the world, trusting in light and keeping things moving forward, even after serious stumbles.   They have the focus to not let their past experiences limit their future, starting over again with gusto (1998).

Sometimes, though, I just wish optimists would love me for who I am and what I bring to the table.  Sure, I am an introverted queer intellectual theologian, but damn, that’s got to be worth something, right?  Because if it is who I am and yet it isn’t worth a tinker’s dam, well, then what do I have to be optimistic and hopeful about?

I understand why optimists have challenges supporting people like me.  Zig Ziglar says that a kind of intelligent ignorance is required for optimism, a willingness to not get bogged down in the reasons why the attempt might not work so you can focus instead on what you need to do to make it work.  Too much pragmatism can chill any dream, even the ones that bold action and commitment can make work.

I love optimists.  Hurrah for them!

(By the way, if you forward the clip above to 9:25 you will see a cute blonde Chastity Bono, the same “dateless” Chaz Bono who, according to cheap gossip, Cher just wants to see married to a nice girl before she dies of a mysterious ailment. Life is funny, don’cha know, but somehow God seems to be playing to an audience too scared to laugh. . .)


Team Effort

Life is a team effort.

Humans have never been solitary creatures.  We need to build communities — families, villages, tribes and so on — to take care of each other, collecting our skills and efforts for the greater good.   We come together to create a world we can live in.

The most important thing I taught my Aspergers parents in their last years was teamwork.   They were both dedicated individualists, especially my mother who had little experience in the world of work, but as things got more challenging for them we had work together to get what was needed done.

The most obvious task came when she fell down or fell out of bed.  She wanted to get herself to her feet, but that required help.   We got a tarp — the small one on sale that she wanted, not the big smooth one I thought would be easier to use — and got her butt on it, which I then hauled to the stairs.  With me spotting her, she would then go down the stairs until she was vertical.

I pushed her in a wheelchair, helped her with showers and did lots more for her.  My sister understood how we had learned to work forever when she pitched in, usually when I was in the hospital with my father.   My mother would instruct her in what to do and she knew that these techniques had been worked out by me.

The fact that our mother saw these procedures with ownership, saw them as hers, was a mark of how she changed from the early days when she would just point and wail, expecting others to fix what upset her without instruction or support.  She did not want to have to lead, instead delighting in the self-pity that came from our failure to tend to her as she desired, another failure to savour.

By the end, we were very much teammates my father paraplegic because someone didn’t supervise his use of the scooter properly, my mother broken hearted and with lung cancer.

One key I try and explain to other caregivers is to become part of the care team.   The medical profession runs on team work, with people having different roles that all mesh to provide better outcomes.   Your role as both close support for your loved one and as an advocate for their needs and concerns can make the whole team better in doing what needs to be done.

For people who aren’t used to being members of a team, though, this can be a very difficult challenge.   Every team collaboration depends on a kind of respect that holds people together through both the cooperation and conflict which adds up to collaboration.   Each team member brings their own strengths and weaknesses, each team member has to both learn and teach, each team member has to sign up for working together.

Teams need a range of views and talents.   The more homogeneous a team is the less it is able to have the creativity and resilience to face new challenges.   Monoculture is easy up until the point where something different happens and the old system breaks down.

Transpeople, the two-spirit shamans who crossed worlds, always had their part to play in human communities.  For example, hidden in the records of even modern communities, like the huge draft American army of WWII, you find queer people playing their unique part.

For small teams today, though, the benefit of diversity is often missed.  People like to be with people they sense are like them, avoiding the conflict (and benefits) that come with diverse viewpoints.

I miss being on a team.  I liked working with other people to achieve shared values and goals.

But what I miss most of all is having a team that supports my own unique, queer expression.    Most teams demand that I play along, putting my own values on hold for the good of the whole.   That’s not empowering for me.

Many drag queens are very clear that their expression is a team effort, from music producer to bookers to designers and stylists.   They come together to support a vision, one that is both artistic and commercial enough to create enough energy for all to share.

Of course, drag performances come in gay bars where people have always come together to connect, one-on-one or in teams.   Queens speak for communities, keeping up cultural values and offering the power of queerness into the room (1996).

Transpeople, though, are on a much more individual path.  The hardest thing about trans has always been doing it alone (2002), without the support of a team.   We bring the queer.

Every organization from six to 60000 people
needs a Brahma, a Vishnu, and a Shiva
– a creator, a preserver, and a destroyer.
And you need those tensions simultaneously….
The problem with the average-size corporation
is that eventually the preservers take over and stagnation sets in.
You need to protect the Shivas, the destroyers.
—Tom Peters

I was proud to take on the very, very difficult job of teaching teamwork to my parents.  I like teams, know how to be effective on them.

Not being able to find a team that is looking for someone like me as a member, though, is a real pain.  It leaves me alone and struggling.

We humans, well, we just weren’t meant to be alone.