Miser

In thinking about my “money mindset,” I understand that I am a miser.

I spend my intellect and caring as freely as I can, but I am tight about money, watching every penny.

You can be controlled by money if you want too much, spend too freely, try to substitute what you can purchase for what you need inside.

You can also be controlled by money if you want too little, not investing in what can bring comfort, healing and future rewards.

Unconsidered risk is bad, but so is no risk.   You can’t take money with you when you go, so using it to good purpose here makes a great deal of sense.

I have chosen a path that tends towards personal poverty for the same reason many spiritual people do, to help me keep my own ego in check.  I also know, though, that I have pushed his somewhat too far in the miserly direction, not engaging money for how it can keep people fit and moving forward.

It’s not a good idea to be money mad, trying to stuff money in to address deeper issues.   It’s also not a good idea to be mad at money, not using it to make your life and the world better.

It takes risk and resource to create the new.

Life engenders life.
Energy creates energy.
It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.
— Sarah Bernhardt

We must live for the few who know and appreciate us,
who judge and absolve us,
and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence.
The rest I look upon as a mere crowd. . .
from whom there is nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions.
— Sarah Bernhardt

Somehow, I have to stop being such a miser.

Triage

You can’t herd cats.   Cats just aren’t pack animals.  Cats are rugged individualists.

Lots of humans aren’t herd animals either.   The artists, the queers, the stubborn and the diffident just prefer the road less travelled, just hear their own different drummer,  just go their own ornery way.

You can, however, wrangle cats.  You can see from their perspective, address their needs and shape their choices a bit.   Wrangling always means choosing your battles, deciding how much to keep them loose & free and when to intervene a little bit.

I don’t think, though, that cats would ever make good cat wranglers.  Rugged individualists have problems using indirect control to manage other rugged individualists to a common solution.    Instead, there ends up being a clash of egos with cats blaming one another for not doing things the obviously right way, the way that we told them to do it.

Most solitary cats just don’t have the habit of valuing cat wranglers.   They tend to see the world as needing changing, not them.   I suspect that those who complain about the difficulty in wrangling cats are mostly cats themselves.

Never really being one of the gang, I understand the drive of cats.   Out transpeople know that our own stubborn is required; if we could be swayed into being one of the pack we would have been.   Claiming our own rugged individualism was the only choice we had to try and be authentic in the world.

I understand too, though, the power of organization and cooperation.   I am a wrangler, a manager, a mother.  I have been trying to get the creative, the stubborn, the rugged and the brilliant to work together for quite a long time.

One of the first steps in wrangling cats is triage.   You have to be very smart about the fights you take on, first choosing battles that are both winnable and worth winning.  Starting small and gaining credibility, trust and power is one effective strategy, but only one.  Some choose bold and brash leaps designed to draw attention and follower, for example, but in the end, our success is always measured by succeeding.

Effective triage means that sometimes, no matter how desirable or attractive intervention may seem, you have to let them go.  You need to prioritize your efforts, husband your resources and let some things pass.   Loss is sad but inevitable; you can not, can never win them all.

The intersection of creativity and community is always the point of compromise, something that comes very hard to both cats and rugged individualists.  Using context and a clear view of priorities & values, battles must be chosen well, leaving something for partners.   Moving beyond single minded & stubborn to collaborative & considerate gets us to best practices, never perfect, but the best we can manage under the circumstances.

Sharing the work & the responsibility requires being willing to share the control & the credit.    Owners get the work done, so giving others a real share in ownership give them buy-in, a real reason to contribute to shared success.

No one can win them all.  If you really want to win you have to be smart and choose your battles.

If, on the other hand, you just want to complain about the state of the world and all the idiots in it, want to stay a cool cat, then try to do everything and enjoy ranting about the failure.   I’m not going to be able to change your mind about the correctness of your approach, because I know that I can’t herd cats.

Slut Shaming

Do transwomen who choose to engage, use, or even profit from their own erotic appeal, their own desirability  “invite fetishistic exploitation of trans women?”

Should they be judged as part of the problem we face as transpeople, playing the oppressor’s game and making life more difficult for transpeople?

If they stand up and make comments about their own transgender experience and perspective, should they be shunned as bad role models making an attempt to lead transpeople in a bad way?

The women’s movement had to deal with this challenge, of course.   Who is a real woman, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or Porn Star Jenna Jamison?

It was easy for many activists to decide that porn stars were part of the problem, not part of the solution, inviting sexualization and diminishment of women.

It was also easy for many activists to decide that Justice O’Connor was part of the problem, a republican appointee who didn’t back every action that they felt would benefit women as a group.

Once these women were identified as traitors, identity politics let activists try and strip them of their standing as women, try and use social pressure to bang them into what a group decided to be normative.

Both Ms. O’Connor and Ms. Jamison were strong individuals, though, and stood up to the oppression, still claiming their own choices in life.   Would they have made the choice the other one made?   Probably not, but I like to think they would have supported each others right to make those choices.

In fact, it’s my guess that Ms. Jamison was smarter than her public image suggested and that Ms. O’Connor was sexier than her public image suggested.   Women are much more than what you see on their surface.

Today, the world of sexuality and politics is still tough for women.   Desirability is a hot button issue for most women, the challenge of finding that line between being hot and being taken seriously without sacrificing either.   We want to be valued for our smarts, but we also want to be someone’s girl now and then, to have a partner who looks at us that way.

How do women affirm sexuality while also confronting exploitation and abuse?   To me, as a queer, that line is around mature consent, but I know that can be fuzzy.   It is possible to both be coerced and to like it, having people exploit our own neediness, but that is another topic.

There is some movement to resist the easy solution of “slut shaming,” blaming women’s personal expression for the actions of others.   Wearing a mini-skirt is not the same as giving consent to be raped.

Being shamed because we choose to be sexual is oppressive, even if it is done in the hallowed name of political correctness.

To me, the trans journey is an individual one, past social convention to personal, unique expression.   Announcing that another transperson is doing it wrong diminishes all of us, though you always have the power to make your own choices, to express your views through your own actions.

Trans is also always based in desire, in our own desires, in the power of Eros in our lives and in the world.

If you don’t approve of porn because you find it “fetishizes people like you” don’t make porn.   Find ways to talk about how transpeople can create a sexual life that doesn’t simply objectify them but opens them up as full people.   (Personally, I believe that those who do porn are full people.)

If you don’t like what someone says, don’t shoot at their standing to say it.  Find ways to speak up and offer your positive views, offering an alternative point of view that people find more balanced, useful and compelling.

Transpeople have a big challenge in front of us, trying to find ways to mainstream and normalize our own sexuality.    We have been sold as only sex toys for too long, not as full people who have a wide range of capabilities and desires, of which sex is only one small piece.

We do have to get out of the dark spaces and become the kind of people you can take home to meet mom, have to be seen as real people who want real relationships, not just as cartoon characters.   We have to exist in three dimensions in the world.

I just don’t think we do that by shaming desire, by making us less sexual.   Instead we have to become more “real” in the world, just like women who can both be hot and smart, competent and sexy.

In the end, what changed the view of women in the world was not less erotic context but rather much more visibility of women as capable humans, able to do anything.

That’s what transpeople need too, I think.

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These comments were stimulated by a Facebook post that included an image Bailey Jay posted on her Twitter — http://twitter.com/BaileyJayTweets/status/451171869702754304 .  People felt the need to diminish her for speaking in her underwear, not something “most women would do.”   Having listened to her podcast — http://www.riotcast.com/baileyjay —  I know that Bailey Jay is a smart young woman with a rich range of interests, as many of those who engage  sexuality are.

I respect her choice to use her beauty and desirability in the world, even if the choices she makes are not choices I would make for myself.   I admit, though, that I don’t know what choices I would make if I were as beautiful and fresh as she is.

Feminine Ego

I spent some time poking around for the phrase “Feminine Ego.”   It’s not an easy search.

Part of the problem is that ego is so out of fashion nowadays.  The spiritual life is the life beyond ego, outside the demands of the self.  I have had people tell me that my goal in life has to be detachment, disconnection from the ego self.   The standard call from counsellors is to make smarter choices, to renounce drama and indulgence in favour of moderation and context.

This is a fine quest for those who do have too much attachment, but my experience is not that.  Between my parents and my trans experience, I never owned that shark self, that entity who was selfish, not selfless.   Ego was something that I never really found the energy to claim.

The other part of the problem is that ego is seen as masculine in this culture.  Ego is a cocky thing, macho as hell.   Ego teachers — they don’t call themselves that, of course, instead preaching about “the maximizing of human potential” or some such — usually come from the glands, a thumping kind of go-getter, balls to the wall approach.

Women who have this kind of drive have to choose between deciding to be ballsy or finding ways to identify their ambition & desires as service.    We don’t want to be unfeminine, disconnected, or cold, even if we do want to “maximize our personal human potential.”

I’m good at service.  I have spent the last few weeks taking care of my sister, even to the point of breaking the car driving through a storm to get her.   I have been out for myself once in the past three weeks.

I don’t hate taking care of her.  I like the service, the consideration.  It is satisfying on some level, even as it is also frustrating and erasing to not get back what I really, really need in the relationship, instead walking on eggshells and cleaning up the messes that come from her messy, stressy, bollixed life.

What I’m not good at, though, is taking care of me.  I’m not good at fighting for myself, not good at claiming my own identity, not good at feminine ego.  Me, Me, Me, Me?  No, no, no, no.

Ego and desire are intimately linked.   You do have to get past ego to get desire clear, but just denying all your desire is also denying the ego drive that motivates claiming in the world; claiming the spotlight, claiming joy, claiming rights, claiming vitality.

When your identity is based on renouncing desire in an effort to renounce ego, based on the virtue of service and denial of indulgence, it is certainly possible to dry up and lose the drive that comes with desire.   I trade vitality for virtuosity in order to claim the holy of the feminine, away from the indulgence of ego.

I live my inner life while denying my outer life, tolerating loss and squalor to be the good girl, even if that also makes me the sad girl, the lost girl, the very lonely girl.

A CD was taking pictures of me at the old Corvette museum and they told me “Smile!  You’re the fat girl!  You have to be jolly!”   Yeah.  And I am the smart girl too, having to be the caretaker, not the one cared for.

Life is usually a process where we start callow and end up wise.   We are indulged, the centre of the world, then we learn context and service.   I missed that early time, my exuberance & vitality locked inside from a very young age, facing the limits on transgender language & expression, facing the demands of family & role.

Martin Short’s memoir is full of crazy young people with a gift for funny being exuberant in the world.   I was close to that era, with the same energy, but I never tested my wings, never followed my ego to be playful and full of life.   That stick up my ass, the one I tried to use to act appropriately, kept me from so much beautiful and empowering indulgence.  I understand the trade-off, finding the view of a hermetic theologian, but I also understand the struggle.

Claiming the indulgence of ego feels impossible to me.  I know how to serve, but I also know that only serving ends up with me reacting rather than acting, with me meeting the needs of others but no one meeting my needs.   My desires have been denied for so long, out of a combination of dedication to others and disbelief that I can ever achieve them, that they may as well be dust.

I become self-defeating, my denial leading to destruction and that damage leading me to more inner smarts and even less outer pizzazz.

Affirming and inflating my ego, owing my own hamminess — my Inner Merman — exuberantly claiming the spotlight in a chorus of “Yes, Yes, Yes!” seems too distant to imagine.   Instead I negotiate the fears and unhealed spaces of others, being the guru who comes with patience, moderation and dedicated service, expecting to be too complicated, too challenging, too hip for the room.

I know why most people in this culture struggle to manage, constrain and move past the ego.   I know why the ego, especially the concept of a feminine ego, is not venerated or celebrated.

I just sense that I could use a bit of that stuff.

Owning, Obsessing

To look both good and at ease in your outfit, you have to both own your own appearance, understanding and controlling a whole range of details which lead to a polished and integrated look, and you have to not be obsessed by your appearance, not making it too fussy, contrived or costume.

This apparent contradiction is at the heart of almost all aspects of human expression.    We start by obsessive construction, fiddling with details, applying them to the surface, but then, as we achieve mastery, those details just become part of the mix and we own our own expression.

If you have ever seen a group of college seniors waiting to meet the recruiter, you know how clunky and fidgety they look in their newly pressed professional outfits.   Pass them by five years later as they change planes in the airport and those same clothes have become a second skin, both appropriate and seamless.

For women, there is a clear switch, obsessing about details in front of the mirror, then dropping that focus in a heartbeat to switch to ownership.   It may be fine to let the outfit wear you in front of the mirror, but away from it, you need to wear the outfit, showing calm, centred confidence.

Moving from obsession to ownership is not something easy to explain to people who are not yet willing to let their expression become just a container for other content.   We maintain tells, giveaways that we do not yet own the outfit, places where our lack of polish is obvious.   We resist the image for so many reasons, but mostly because we fear what owning it will mean for us, what sacrifices and changes it will entail.

TBB says that she resisted the idea that trans expression reveals trans meaning for many, many years, preferring to describe her choices as just playful crossdressing, a hobby that honoured women by emulating them.   For her, obsessing over an outfit was fun, but owning the meaning was terrifying, leaving her to play against her clothes rather than into them.   Her internal policeman needed them to stay at the level of costume.

For mature transpeople, though, the challenge becomes different.   We do own our expression, but we don’t just own one expression, we own a range of them.  The real us may be well integrated, threading through all our facets, but it is the surface that people see, not the complicated content.  Sharing just one sliver of self expression can feel constraining and painful.

A clinician who supports transpeople resisted telling me what she saw.   “You were much more feminine in your gender neutral clothes than when you were in a dress,” she told me.   I was very glad she saw that because from my first outing my goal has always been integration, never the clear compartmentalization of the FPE/SSS crossdressing model.  I was more open dressed down because I felt I didn’t need to be as defended.  I wasn’t in a Lucite closet, a defensive bubble.   It has always been feminine choices of awareness and action that are more potent to me that choices of dress, feminine connection and service. That’s why I spent a decade as a dedicated caretaker in jeans & a polo shirt.

While queer people have ownership of humanity past simple gender divisions, we know that most people have not done that work.  They look at the package rather than the content to determine where to categorize or pigeonhole someone.   Our expression may have moved past costume, revealing ownership, but that ownership isn’t simple and binary, rather it is rich and complex in a way some see as contradictory.

Making that femme heart visible to those who are used to looking at surfaces,  used to evaluating on the package is a challenge.   I show mastery, but that always means choosing what to hide, being obsessed with keeping down the noise so that my content is exposed.

We can not take ownership until we have gotten through the process of obsessing, owning the creation of image that works, both revealing and concealing who we are.   As we change, our externals have to change, taking up new and scary roles that allow us authority but also hide our history and our nature.

Both owning and letting go at the same time is a challenge, but it is required if we want to be in the moment and to make considered responses rather than stiff reactions.

This notion of being both loose and controlled at the same time is at the heart of being present, and for me, is the goal of discipline and practice.

Let’s Blame Them!

I’ve got an idea.   Why don’t we all get together and agree that we are screwed?   Let’s talk about how our life is shit, will always be shit, and be clear that it is all their fault for oppressing and abusing us!

After all, what bonds all transpeople is being shamed & stigmatized, being scared into the closet by a world which forces choices that erase us.   Isn’t that what we should bond over?

Once we figure out who the enemy is, we should attack, attack, attack, forcing them to change!   As individuals we are challenged, but as a group we are formidable, a mob to be reckoned with!

I believe in empowerment.  That means I believe that individuals can muster the power to create change in their own lives, in their families, in their communities and in the world.

Empowerment asks us to bond over our possibilities rather than over our fears.  It asks us to come from potential rather than from brokenness.

The experience of growing up in this culture is the experience of learning to self-police.   Other people teach us how to fit in, how to assimilate, how to be the person that others expect us to be if we want to get what we need from them.

For transpeople, this process isn’t just shaping, it is crushing.  We are left inside our own head trying to figure out what part of us we have to deny and demolish in order to get what we need.  We learn to recognize our limits, to understand the bits other people see as queer and challenging,  learn to hide our difference from everyone, even from ourselves as we put part of us in a deep, dark closet.

Sharing that experience of dispempowerment is easy.   We all know the attacks we faced, the pain we suffered. the fear that lives in us.   We understand the challenges of having our hearts plunged into the cold and dark places, how that made us feel less than, broken and very deeply ashamed.

Finding someone, some group, some culture to blame for those attacks is a very human reaction.   If it wasn’t someone else’s fault, then we are complicitious in our own destruction.

I don’t see, however, how bonding over what they did to us, over how they have to change, over their responsibility ever empowers us to change our own relationship with the world.   Instead, it just emphasizes our own victim-hood.

Any support group that asks people to stay silent in order to honour the most broken person in the room is a group that supports disempowerment.  Any group that looks for enemies, places blame and centres around the politics of enforcing group identities over individual possibility is a group that supports disempowerment.

We do need to go into our own dark spaces, need to excavate the pain and shame, need to identify where change is needed.  Doing that, however, without also affirming light, openness, and personal responsibility does not serve empowerment.

Transgender is about changing your mind, about claiming the possibilities of transformation past convention, past expectation, and past internalized fears.  To support that transformation, we need to affirm that the pain of the past can be turned into tools for growth and healing, not just left as crippling scars that will always lead us to our doom.

It’s easy to bond over blame.   It’s easy to join the mob.

It’s hard to claim your own blossoming as an individual, unique and powerful child of the creator.  It’s hard to support that blossoming in others when you haven’t gotten past your own fears and blaming.

But isn’t that the only thing that can save us?

Empowerment, Destruction

Kali, the Hindu god of empowerment & change, is also the god of destruction.

How can there be change without destruction?  The Hindus figured out, a long time ago, that death is required to open then way for new life.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die, as I have often said.  I love rebirth so much that I often try to kill my audience just so they can join in the fun.

Is there any wonder why I ended up as Cali’s namesake, blended with the Celtic “rock, powerful in battle” and the Scandinavian “flowing water?”

This came up a few days ago, and then again this morning when someone found notes for a speech I wrote in 2007.  It was about how we as change eaters — transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all, as I said in two decades ago in 1995 — hold the sacred Trans Chainsaw of Love.

Ms. Rachelle is clear: most people who call themselves shamans today have no clue.  Shamans walk through walls, destroying pretense, not just doing drumming rituals.  It is a role of immense power because it destroys in order to create.

If you really are committed to becoming new, to growth and healing, you can find me very useful.

If you just want to pay lip service to change, rationalizing and resisting, complaining the world should change rather than you, you will find me a real pain, someone to be ignored, dismissed and marginalized.  I am a teachy preacher, offering the power of transformation through connection, not a preachy preacher, offering reasons to separate from those who challenge you.

Do not seek enlightenment unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.
– Sri Ramakrishna

If your hair is on fire, I can help with a bucket, connecting sharp seeing with sharpened wisdom.   Cutting between truth and resistance is what I do, as this practice is what saved me from real pain and struggles in the world.

What I don’t do, however, is make people feel better, offering a solution to a clear problem that can be identified.  I don’t hold hands and don’t pretend to offer a quick fix.

There is a reason why ads for gyms don’t talk about getting sweaty & exhausted, and then aching the next day.    The process isn’t pretty, so they sell the sizzle, the benefits, the endorphins, the fitness, the attractiveness of a lean body.  This is why so many fitness plans fail, because unless you want it like someone with their hair on fire wants a pond, you will not have the discipline to pursue it.

Offering the sizzle, some pretty promise of results, isn’t something that I feel comfortable doing.  Owning your own choices doesn’t guarantee anything pretty, only the clarity and satisfaction of enlightenment.

I used to ask a partner if she wanted to be powerful or powerless.   She would look at me and ask “Isn’t there another choice?”   She wanted to be wild enough to have control while also being tame enough to fit in, wanted to stay comfortable by giving up control.

Empowerment and destruction are two sides of the same coin, the currency we spend to create real change in our lives and in the world.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking were at when we created them.
— Albert Einstein.

If we want new solutions, we have to throw out the old, comfortable way of thinking.   One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, as the old chestnut goes.   Destruction is required.  We have to live in the question and not the answer, venerating doubt & ambiguity over belief & certainty.

Yeah, I don’t really see a way to make that process sound quick, easy and fun, either.   Supporting transformation in the world will never be for the faint of heart.

I love empowerment.

I just don’t know how to achieve it without becoming new, which means you are willing to let go of what you cling to now.

And so says Kali.