TDOR 2018: Open, Close

Welcome on this Transgender Awareness Week.

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

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

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

Thanks to our sponsors:

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

Let’s remember, together.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

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

— We Remember.

 

 

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TDOR 2018: Lives Lived

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

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

Lives lived
inconvenient
unexpected
transcendent
queer
breaking beyond
conventional boxes
to essence and truth
passion and brilliance
vitally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TDOR 2018: Remember Silence

Silence.

Silence.

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

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

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

How can we be aware of the silence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TDOR 2018: Common Transcendence

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

TDOR 2018: Burden Of Rememberance

Burden of Remembrance

As a transperson, one thing I have learned is simple:  the most important part of anyone is what you can not see at first glance.   Humans are like icebergs, 80% hidden beneath.

Personally. I look to see what they remember the most: the story in written their heart, or the legacy written in their scars.

Transpeople are always caught between these two memories.  So many of our scars exist because our family, our friends, our community told us that the story in our heart was a lie, told us that they were the only ones who knew who we really are.

When we tell the truth found in our hearts we are called liars, leaving scars.   When we tell others what they expect to hear, policing ourselves, those scars throb with denied truth.  Lie or be called a liar is a choice that can only break a heart, is a choice that can only break our heart.

The veil of remembering to keep our heart hidden engenders a burden of darkness, a burden often called the closet.  Nothing grows strong and healthy away from the light, away from the brilliance of revelation.  Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons to avoid and deny.

It is always easier to know who we aren’t than to know who we are, easier to pick out an enemy than to embrace our own nuanced, human, flawed and profoundly individual heart.   It is easier to remember our scars, to focus on those who hurt us, hoping they will be erased, rather than to have the courage to reveal our authentic heart, taking the blows and discovering the gifts which come when we follow our bliss.

What lies beneath the exterior of a transperson?   If you don’t mind me taking you to a rather dark place – the inside of my brain – I can offer you a list of the things that I am remembering right now.

Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

  • Remember to fit in
  •  Remember to hide your difference
  •  Remember not to show fear or any other emotion that may trigger them to attack you
  •  Remember to play small and keep your head down
  •  Remember to not catch their eye, remember not to invite scrutiny
  •  Remember not to flirt
  • Remember not to use the restroom
  • Remember you can’t trust anyone, so stay hidden
  • Remember they aren’t staring at you
  • Remember to smile, no matter how scared you are
  • Remember their reaction is about them and not you, even if they act out and yell
  • Remember there are normal people who look like you
  • Remember that you belong here, at least as long as you don’t upset the children
  • Remember not to confuse people, as that can piss them off
  • Remember to modulate and attenuate your voice
  • Remember to show your tells
  • Remember not to show any doubt or ambivalence lest people pick at you to try and “prove” you wrong
  • Remember that you never know how others are seeing you so it is just safest to assume the worst
  •  Remember that people who know porn may well assume your expression is just about fetish and partying
  •  Remember that others will get stuck in your biology and your history, not in your possibilities
  •  Remember that you don’t have permission to break the rules, so don’t let them catch you lying
  •  Remember not to fall for your own exuberance or passion; you will just get hurt again
  •  Remember that you have lost your standing as normal, that you can’t stand as a man or a woman, so trying to defend yourself will just confirm their judgment that you are broken, cracked, angry and humourless
  •  Remember that even if you are just trying to tell the truth, many will see your choices as a political attack on their beliefs
  •  Remember that they believe they are more scared of you than you are of them, and that they are entitled to their fear while you are not entitled to yours.
  • Remember to swallow your pain, deny your loss and shout down any challenges.
  • Remember to keep your rationalizations, your excuses, your defences sharp.
  • Remember you can’t expect others to change.
  • Remember that many will call you sick & deluded, a freak or a pervert.
  • Remember that their sense of being entitled to unthreatened comfort isn’t about you, even if it marginalizes, dehumanizes  and attacks your expression
  • Remember that your rage at being silenced is not only incomprehensible to them but is also seen as an unprovoked attack against their simple values.
  • Remember not to show anything when they mock & degrade people like you
  • And most of all, remember to stay silent, remembering all this alone.


Here’s the problem, though.  With all this to remember, there is a very good chance you will forget who you really are.

Remembrances hidden quickly become burdens.    Instead of informing and empowering our lives, those dark memories weigh us down, leaving us living in our fears which become lessons of avoidance and denial.

I carry the weight of trans remembrance with me everyday.    As much as I may try to share this history, I have found that few understand this weight of remembrance, the memories which correspond to our inner map of scars.

The only way I have been able to move beyond this burden is to open to the song in my heart, the music that was there long before the world tried to tell me who I must be.

This is what I look for when I see other transpeople, or just other people in the world: what is the story written in their heart, the power deep beneath their scars?

One of my favourite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw.  “My tailor is the only sensible man I know. Each time he sees me, he measures me anew .”   Every human, if we are lucky and strong, grows to emerge from behind their scars and into the glory of our heart.

What do I really need to remember today?   I need to remember to transcend my history and my biology to claim that song in my heart.

And I need a community around me who is ready and willing to listen, able to sing that song back to me when I forget it.

Seeing what we thought we had to hide and embracing that essence is the best way to open ourselves to love in the world.

And it is the best way to honour lives lost because they were made invisible.

Remember that we aren’t our body or our history.   We are the choices we make anew everyday.

Remember love.

The Cost Of Adaptive Behaviour

I can’t go on like this. I am burnt-out and exhausted. This, I have read, is common in autistic people, particularly those who have struggled for years to ‘pass’. It is called the cost of passing. It is essentially exhaustion brought on by the extra strain of pretending to be something one is not.

Tony Attwood summed it up well for me. He told me: ‘People with Asperger’s or autism expend a huge amount of mental energy each day coping with socializing, anxiety, change, sensory sensitivity, daily living skills and so on. So they’re actually expending more mental energy. Think of it as an energy bank account. They are withdrawing so much energy throughout the day just by surviving. It is why children at school, for example, have almost no mental energy left for the actual lesson – because they’re coping with the sensory, the anxiety, the social.’

...

For Tony Attwood, late diagnosis for girls and women usually means a greater number of issues later in life. He told me: ‘The trouble is that girls are good at camouflaging it. We often don’t pick them up until they’re in their teens or older.

‘Those diagnosed late or in adulthood have worse outcomes. They didn’t get support and understanding at a formative time in their lives. What concerns me is that they created a scaffolding to survive, but that it may not have been the best approach and that sometimes that scaffolding has led to all sorts of issues and concerns, such as depression, low self-esteem, and not having an anchor in society.

‘I ask, When would you have liked to have known? and they say as early as possible. I thought I was stupid, mad, bad. I wouldn’t have been depressed. I wouldn’t have escaped into imagination. I would have handled things differently. I could have explained myself. People would have understood me. I could have been protected. And, after the euphoria of diagnosis and an explanation, there is the wish that it could have happened earlier. Then there is the fact that the scaffolding has been taken away. What do I put in its place? There’s almost a grieving for the lost person.’

-- Laura James, "Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World"

While I am only autistic by training — both my parents had Aspergers — I profoundly understand the long term cost of passing, understand the issues and concerns caused by inadequate support during formative times which created flawed scaffolding and restrictive, crippling armour.

Jesus Loves You.  Everyone Else Thinks You’re An Asshole.

I never, ever trusted that I fit easily into any group.   I knew that I had to work, and work hard, to be compelling and of value, but that even then, I was going to be the freak, the weirdo, the odd-ball, the goat.   I was routinely reminded what a shit I was, embarrassing to my mother and basically worthless because I didn’t make her feel proud, happy or serviced.

In my mind is a massive, lifetime archive of the times I screwed up, the times I felt stupid and ashamed.   This inventory started as lessons, things to avoid in the future, but over time it turned into a vat of shames, triggers to make me turn away from events that have touched me before, coding me into avoidance.

Avoidance, of course, is what I learned growing up.  My only agency was to be sly, and manipulative, working from the shadows to create whatever change was possible.  As a guerrilla fighter I stayed out of the spotlight, staying wacky, frayed at the edges, never assuming that I could participate in normative ways, always the clown with wit rather than the star living in the assumption of desire & adoration.

It was my training, my family shaping that lead me to this, but it was also my awareness of my queerness.   My trans was out as early as the therapist I was sent to in eighth grade, the minister I reached out to when I was 15.   The lessons I got from them were simple: stay in.   Keep it hidden, pass as whatever the hell you could pass as, no matter what the price of denial and losing the power of my formative years cost.   Adultified early?   Absolutely, which lost me the exploration of my own fluid possibilities, hardening me in a way that was out of any natural shape.

You can’t explain yourself when you don’t have words, which is why I have spent a lifetime searching down useful phrases, but when people are so stuck in themselves, all the words make no difference.   I knew that my words were only useful to me, not useful in a world where the audience only cared about their own needs.

I understood the lifetime price of this Morey Amsterdam joke the first time I saw it in the 1960s.

Scarcity, you see, captures the mind.

All those decades, all that loss, all that twisting into shapes not natural to me, all that brain coding which scarcity imprints.

And now, somehow, I feel the need to transcend that past.  And I have not been able to find any support structure which can understand, empathize, comfort and coach me in moving beyond the costs of a lifetime, the costs written on me because The Body Keeps The Score.

“I’m glad you are not one of my salespeople,” the slick Marketing VP told me, “because I can’t figure out what motivates you.   All your ports are filtered, so there is no way to push the desire buttons in your unconscious.”   Overthinkers who underachieve, yes.   The price of passing.  So much mental energy for defence that there is none to achieve flight.

My anchor is internal.   It had to be.  I played a lot on my own.  That’s powerful, but it is also limiting and lonely.

I had a dream the other night where I was with a huge group of family members in a tourist house in London.   I wanted to change, but I found there was not only no room and no time, but other people were picking out what I should wear.  I knew their choices would make me look clowny, but I tried, though I was upset.   Janet from The Good Place appeared, though she was more like her improv trained portrayer, the brilliant D’arcy Carden, and she said I should do what I like.   She helped me make selections of what worked for me, holding off the family by telling them that they had to let me make my own choices, that they had to listen to me.   I felt strong, seen, supported, so I started to riff, even wandering through the store performing, gathering an appreciative audience.   At the end, my sister in law still had to explain to me her point of view, what was really important, but I just smiled because I knew Janet had my back.

I woke up and cried.

Could I ever have been protected and safe, away from the enormous, draining, lifetime cost of adaptive behaviour?

Doesn’t really matter now, anyway, does it?

Unanchored

The Doctor had a sex change.

Now that they are in the body of actress Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who is a woman.  Reviewers praise the performance, saying the 13th Doctor now has “malleable status,” moving from palsy to authoritative as needed, not staying in as fixed a role as a man might.

“You don’t look like an alien.”

“You should have seen me a few hours back.   My whole body changed.  Every cell in my body burning.  Some of them still at it now.  Reordering.   Regenerating.”

“Sounds painful, luv.”

“You have no idea.  There’s this moment, when you are sure you are about to die, and then, you’re born. It’s terrifying.  Right now, I’m a stranger to myself.  There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am and I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts.  Shape myself towards them.

“I’ll be fine. In the end.  Hopefully.   But I have to be, because you guys need help, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, when people need help I never refuse.

“Right?  This is gonna be fun.”

That moment, that self awareness, came when faced with the kind of challenge and conflict which clears the mind.

“We’re all capable of the most incredible change.  We can avoid while still staying true to who we are.  We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m glad you asked that again.  Bit of adrenaline, a dash of outrage and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together.

“I know exactly who I am.  I’m the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe. “

The doctor found their anchor, and so was able to act without fear, without the kind of self doubt that corrodes away the power of so many of us raised human.

I knew that I needed an anchor to keep me strong and focused as I approached transgender expression in the world.   Why do I do this?   Is it just for indulgence or for some kind of truth?

Real is the word that vexes me most in this binary world.   For things to be “real,” many say, they have to fit nicely into binary categories, be this or that.  Male or female, man or woman, good or evil, privileged or oppressed, patriotic or destructive, one of us or one of them, whatever or whatever we believe its opposite to be.

Reality, though, is much more nuanced, more faceted, more complex than that.   As much as we might feel comforted dividing into binaries, the quantum state is truth; observation creates the form.

The 13th Doctor knows they are really the Doctor, so has no reason to doubt or justify why in this moment they are wearing a bra.

Many transpeople fall into this trap when they want to present themselves as anchored in a way that binary thinking people must accept.  “I am really who I am right now!   This is who I always really was, no matter what you saw me as in the past!   Questioning me is questioning reality, because the reality I assert is the only real reality ever!”

I knew that this kind of anchor would just drag me down, forcing me to deny or hide the facts of my extraordinary life, my stories of exploration, and the truths that I worked so hard to unearth from the conventions of society around me.   I would have to police myself to placate anyone who might question me, have to defend myself from challenging connections, have to surrender my hard won voice.

My transgender nature is part of my work, my calling.   That’s the anchor I found to save me, the idea that there have always been people created like me because we serve an important role of connection in human culture.

“In societies that are rigidly binary, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”   That’s been my anchor since I first heard it said by anthropologist Anne Bolin in 1994.

While that is a sensible and powerful anchor for me, I don’t find that it keeps me anchored well when I don’t have explicit, focused work to do.   This is a problem because it means I am not ready to do the work that comes along in everyday life, not able to be present in a comfortable and assured way.

Where I am most unanchored is not in my trans expression, it is in my essential, sharp humanity.

When we are young, we create strategies to handle the challenging assaults we face.   Those strategies are not considered, though, not build in context, so they can end up being more draining that empowering, more ballast than anchor.

My family was not encouraging, not affirming, not empowering to me.   My common name in the house for years was “Stupid,” at least until the therapist told my parents to cut that out.

Like most boys, my value was not seen in my special grace and beauty but rather in what I could and should do to serve.   I was seen as a human doing rather than a human being.  This is reflected in the first post on this blog, from 13 years ago now.

My anchor in trans expression is in doing, in the work I have been called to do.

It isn’t, though, in being.   Just being trans in the world feels indulgent, selfish, an in-your-face kind of challenge that just isolates me, calling me to wear the kind of social armour queers are heir to in a world where reality is expected to be compliant and binary.

To do, my anchor can be abstract, conceptual and cerebral.

To be, though, my anchor must be emotional, celestial and bright.

That’s not at all easy to do with no deep anchor in my own beauty.   My anchor became doubt, questioning why I was so intense, so fluid, so queer and so irritating & offensive to others, including my own mother.

Questions are powerful and magical in their own way, but so is the simple act of confident presence, in trusting our own nature.

My endless search to find an anchor that lets me be comfortable and assured simply being in the world still is a quest for something that escapes me.

Then again, I’m not from Gallifrey, rather just an human.