Queer Up The Joint

I’m okay until I open my mouth.

It’s then that the queer comes out.

No matter how much I try to look cute and little and whatever, my big voice spills out of my mouth and then I tend to queer up the joint.

Is that a bad thing?

Well, when you are with your family, the ones who easily get embarrassed by your actions, or in a store where someone might not understand or might be offended it is not exactly a good thing.   Queering up the joint can have lasting consequences.

There are times, though, that queering serves a vital purpose.   It can offer cover to those who have something to say but fear it might be too odd, too sharp, too queer.   It can open the minds and hearts of people by letting them get a glimpse from another, queerer viewpoint.   And it can start the process of healing by offering the group a new way to respond, one that values unique individual contributions rather than expecting conformity and compliance.

Queer affirms questions, queer values complexity.  Queer speaks to connections rather than separations, searching for continuous common humanity.

When I open my mouth and queer comes out, some people really like it.   They want to be freed from norms, want to be challenged to take responsibility for their own choices, want to feel affirmation to be more profoundly and authentically themselves.  They feel liberated and joyful that the room is all queered up.

Affirming their unique humanity feels liberating to them, even in the midst of many people who want to keep things nice and neat “for the kids.”

People sense that I spout a very well tempered queer voice, shaped by long experience in communicating with non-neurotypical people and guided by a strong belief in the group process that underlies effective corporate solutions.   After a lifetime of consuming stories, many, many viewpoints have given me a wider view, offering possibilities, insight, and comfort with many choices that I would never make for myself.

Bringing out the best in those I engage is the most effective thing I can do, empowering their voices rather than trying to fill the space with my own words.  As a hostess, a concierge, I open gateways to exploration & transcendence, holding the liminal space where connections transform us by offering the miracle of seeing anew, offering a divine surprise.

Each of us has to balance our tame assimilation and wild individuality, finding a way to be both compliant and queer in a powerful mix.  Breaking the norms, resetting the boundaries is vital, as is creating new norms, building resilient social structures with new respect and inclusiveness.   This is the challenge of working corporately, using marketing to build effective organizations, products and services.

My polish may make people who are ready for queer find me more engaging, but it also makes people who are not ready find me much, much more annoying.   Resisting change and healing, holding onto separation, be that identity politics or fundamentalism, demands you resist what I share, declining what I offer by rejecting my gifts.

Projecting your own needs and fears onto me, be that the desire for shortcuts to comfort or the pain of your own inner denial can leave me bruised, battered and isolated.    It turns out that queering up the place may be useful, even compelling, but it is a quite lonely job.  You can’t be present and human, trusting in the possibility of transformation without being powerfully ware of your own fragility.

Still, someone has to speak queer, standing against pressure towards norms, making the hidden transparent, illuminating the invisible.   If no one goes beyond the obvious & expected, looking to deep process and meta connection, how will we ever hold the grace of what lies within human possibility?

I open my mouth and queer comes out.    That’s nothing new for me; my sister will be happy to testify that I have been speaking this way from a very early age, bringing on abuse from my parents and challenge in the schools.   I have always needed a kind of x-ray vision, seeing beyond the surface, understanding what moves beneath, crossing through walls to collect data.

This viewpoint allows me to listen clearly and reflect what others offer, making meaning from their communication, mirroring them and offering useful comments & suggestions.  Feeling seen and understood, in turn, lets people move beyond their own comfort level, dropping defences and being more present, more engaged, more vibrant, which is a feeling that some love and that scares the shit out of others.

That viewpoint, though, also makes me more of an observer than a participant, a chronicler and supporter more than being a player.    While I can understand and enter the worlds of others, few have the deep queer experience to enter my world, to be safe space for my trauma, to be present as cohorts rather than audience.  Leadership, with all the costs of that service to others, is always the result.  I’d rather be respected than liked, but on some level I also want to be pretty and loved, having someone who can take care of me as I take care of them.

This isolation, of course, is why I have resisted opening my mouth, trying to just let tiny bits of queer out when I think they might help, rather than showing up bright, bold and ready to queer the room.   I know that whatever recovery I need I will have to do alone.

Opening my mouth, though, and queering up the joint seems to hold possibility, both for community and for myself.

After all, I’m probably good at queer for a reason.   A dammed reason.


Make Art

What do we do with the parts of ourselves that we have been taught are too intense, too overwhelming, too queer to show in polite society?   Where do we put the aspects of our nature that people have told us are just too big to fit in, too strange to be acceptable, too risky to reveal?

Somehow, we have to suppress those bits, policing our choices to keep them hidden.   Creating a public face which attempts to edit facets that we were denied exploring means creating a jovial lie, an exterior polish that celebrates being inauthentic.

Flowing free and powerfully just isn’t possible when we have blocked our own nature, working to compartmentalize off drives, energy and Eros that doesn’t fit nicely into other’s expectations of who we should be and how we should act.

Over-policing our own choices means living a chopped up life, spending more of ourselves on denial and resistance than we do on creation and love.   When we self-police we almost always over police, avoiding possibilities just because they feel risky, even if they open possibilities beyond the conventional.   The rules only keep us from losing; it is discipline, audacity and boldness that helps us win.

Unlocking our own flow, releasing our own momentum is very difficult for people who have learned to hide their own light under a bushel because we have been told it is too queer.  When we suppress our own brilliance, we depress our own possibilities, losing the grace and power we were born with.

Who says “Yes!” to emergence, to intensity, to transcendence?   Where do you find support in releasing your capacities in a way that you can learn to manage, maximize and trust them?  If you just listen to naysayers, to people who fear their own wildness, it is easy to stay small and stuck, never boosting to the next level and the universe beyond that.

It is important for those of us who have done the work of transcending fear to stand and encourage people who are feeling trapped by their own compartmentalization, their own chopped up nature, their own intermittent fears.    Learning to trust in love demands supporters who can speak for transcendence, for the power of the inner journey, the blessings of precise integration, and the leap to emergent expression.

My own hermit life, based on aesthetic denial, is centred around focus, discipline and the renouncement of sensation, allowing me to not get tripped up by the demands of the ego for comfort & indulgence.

The limits of this life, of course, are the limits of any life without ego, where we serve but do not explode our own voice and insight in a way that others can see, can feel, can engage.   It is a dry cracker of a life, the power of thought and the passion of emotion conveyed only through disciplined presence.

Only those accustomed to making a meal out of desiccated ideas can find nourishment in my rich and dense writing.   My performance voice, though, is open and accessible, offering a taste of what is put-up in my texts.   Those who know my voice hear the humanity in my paragraphs, but those who have not yet got the flavour can’t imagine the sly wit and common poetry.

Performance is part of who I am, from my first stealing the scene in junior high to hosting a daily magazine format TV show.   The meta flash wit of being live is very much part of who I am, even if it only peeps through the stored bulk of my writing.

Showing that performance side, trusting it, has long seemed to be my calling, even if others who love performing find my analytical side off-putting and those who fear showing themselves find my self-exposure terrifying.   Still, if I have to choose where I would prefer to be in a crowded room, it is always on-stage, though not at the price of ego.

In meetings I learned to raise the bar towards expression, foolishness and brilliance, which allowed everyone else to loosen up and let out their own special brilliance.  From horrible jokes to ball tossing, play is play, taking the edge off to make reaching higher feel safer.

Performance requires performance.  I have written a lot about performance in the last twelve and a half years, but actual performing?  Plenty, but all in a kind of micro, concierge way, just flickers with tons of restraint.

What do we do with the parts of ourselves that we have been taught are too intense, too overwhelming, too queer to show in polite society?   Where do we put the aspects of our nature that people have told us are just too big to fit in, too strange to be acceptable, too risky to reveal?

We make art with them.    We create with that energy.

I have been creating with my writing for a long time now.   It’s good.

But there is more of me to share.   That fast performer, so quick on her feet that audience members feared that in her heels she would fall off the stage, but she never did, well, that gal needs to be let out.

That emergence cannot happen if I keep my heart suppressed for purposes of politeness and protection.   That messy, juicy woman has to be in the world, and I have to trust that my growth and learning will shine through, revealing the inner glow of truth and transcendence.

Who knows, maybe that revelation will attract people who can be present for me, can be partners, can offer a bit of loving engagement?   I mean, it could happen, could be the divine surprise that definitely will not occur if I stay hidden and suppressed.

I have a wealth, gifts from a deep and intense journey.   Returning those gifts is something I can work at doing, even if that process is too intense, too overwhelming, too queer for the comfort of many.

Maybe it is time to drop the barriers, flowing free and powerfully using the drives, energy and Eros that can create transcendence, attraction and connection.

Maybe it’s time to make new art.

Born Shaman

I have never been a very good tranny.  

When I first came out, well over thirty years ago now, I refused to identify as crossdresser, a transsexual or a drag queen, instead just trying to claim my own self, just as I told the therapist who pressed me on what I dreamed of being when I was thirteen.  

In 1995, I even stood up in an IFGE keynote and called for the end of the Benjamin and Prince models, instead valuing the power of individual expression.

Reading “What You Need To Know About My Transgender” (2002),  it’s easy to figure out that I don’t fit neatly into trans models.  I don’t think I was born in the wrong body, don’t think I just have a hobby, don’t believe in the end of the system of gender.   In fact, I like gender, for what it is intended to do at base (protect children) and for the communication it facilitates about what we know ourselves to love (Eros).

Immersing myself in trans issues over a lifetime has been an attempt to understand how others who have a nature like mine have striven to find a place in this society.   It has not, however, shown me a comfortable way to take my place.

The last time I called Holly Boswell, it was to have her remind me of the three ways that one could become a shaman in native tribes.   One can be born of a shaman, fall ill and have your senses opened, or be two spirit with a heart and mind existing in the liminal space between social boundaries.

I don’t have a perfect word to describe someone who stands out of the routine expectations and instead speaks and acts for connection, for transcendence, for spirit.   Whoever those people are, though, they challenge the status quo, demanding wider vision and seeing past comforting cultural boundaries that most prefer to see as real.   The conventional, even the conventions we call religious or new age or fundamental, are not what seers, sages, gurus, change-makers and the rest ever speak for.

My calling, though, the acorn in my heart, well, it has always seemed to be that of a healer.   The wounds of my childhood and the love inside of me lead me to deliberate and exquisite sight, searching for meanings and patterns, while the demands of my family required me to learn how to facilitate growth & healing from a very humble place.

Now, I need to be bigger and more visible in the world.   To do that, asserting a story is vital; who am I and what can I do for you?

Hello!  I’m Callan and I’m here to help.

After a lifetime of playing from the shadows, asserting my power in an oblique and hidden way, changing into visibility feels exposed, vulnerable and arrogant.  I have seen too many people caught up in their own egos and spent my life silencing my own ego to be comfortable with the truth that only by being present can we attract what we need in the world.

In my experience, finding support for being a bold shaman in the world is difficult while finding resistance & rage that acts out to silence transcendent and challenging voices is easy.  That traumatic experience is written on my soul and my body in various kinds of scar tissue.

It takes a whole heap of queer to affirm choices that you would never make for yourself, choices that scare or confound you.   Supporting people in being big, being powerfully themselves requires that you be comfortable with big, with power, with boldness.

As far as I can tell, there are no shaman pride events.   Instead, those who want to claim shaman by being preachy preachers, offering salvation by compartmentalization, tend to attack anyone whose presence seems to challenge their assertions and identity.

Carrying your own individual pride, your own knowledge of calling & mission, while being present & humble enough to avoid being captured by ego or rationalization is a tall, tall order.   Long ago I learned to doubt my inner self, the feminine heart that I knew I had to hide as just part of me even as it informed every choice I made.

The world has come along, though, and it seems time to trust that womanly energy I have kept under wraps for so long.  Showing on the outside what exists on the inside, my style and view, my choices and caring, is a way to be more seen and more present, which should bring me more presents.  Simply not having to switch away, hiding one bit or the other, can bring rewards of immersion, growth and deeper presence.

Training to stay discreet and hidden, which I coded as gracious and safe, without the armour I have seen so many transwomen wear like iron or the policing that kept them playing small to stay off the radar is hard to reverse.   It is very hard to peel back the habits of a lifetime, especially when the goal is being exposed, speaking queerly, going to the front of the room and being in the spotlight as a shaman, a trans shaman speaking powerful truths wrapped in wit & wisdom.

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.   I instantly knew that was my mission statement when I heard it in 1993.   However, if society wanted the gifts we bring back from our heroes journey, they would already have them, as Joseph Campbell reminds us.  Returning the gift is always the hard part, harder than death and rebirth, harder than going though hell to burn away the false.

The problem is that I appear to be built for the purpose of being a shaman in this world.   My mother in the sky gave me the wiring to see beyond the obvious, making deep connections, and my training forced me to understand the linkage between thought & emotion.   I absorbed stories and language, decoding and coding essential & eternal messages in colourful, engaging language.

All my years writing mean that I have a wealth of considered notions at my fingertips while my performing nature lets me share them by asking just the right question or offering a strong quip.   If you want to stay where you are, projecting your fears and expectations on the world, you just want to shut me up, but if you are ready to open your eyes, your mind and your heart, ready to move beyond, to grow and heal, I am an amazing gift.

In short, I’m damn good at being who my mother in the sky called me to be.   I have known this for a very long time, but I learned to resist calling to the point of self destruction (2003).   It was what I had to do to stay connected to my family, to stay hidden enough to be of service and observe the world, listen to how our human stories are shot through with powerful connections, and that includes even the stories we label as lies.  Finding my own voice and knowledge wasn’t easy.

That strong voice and shimmering knowledge, though, are now firmly in my posession.   Apparently, I’m supposed to do something with it.   And soon.  (It’s well past time, if you really want to know, or maybe its exactly the right time. How am I to know?)

I have never been a very good tranny, going along with the expectations and assertions of the others around me, be they transsexuals, transvestites, drags, non-binary feminists or any other model.

But a corporate shaman, a guru, a prophet, a priestess, a change-monger?   That I have always been, striving for integration, connection, actualization and the treasuring of the possibilities in each individual acorn.

That is where my core lies, even when I don’t proudly show it, keeping invisible in the world to be a watcher, coming out of the shadows to help and then fading back again.   I avoid tiny labels that feel like they trap me,  cut back on noise generated by fear, ignorance, assumptions and separations to keep a kind of freedom of action.

Someday, though, I really should go to the front of the room, take the spotlight and trust what I have never trusted, that I can be attractive and move the minds and hearts of people.  Taking all the fragments of affirmation and trusting them, rather than keeping my head down, well, it seems a worthwhile thing to try before I leave.

Doesn’t it?

Pounded Into

“You chose to live in suburbia.  You have to follow the rules, do what others demand.  If you want to make another choice, someplace you feel is safer and more supportive, we can talk about it.”
— Sister, July 6, 2018.

Grant me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Where are the limits to choice?   Do humans really have infinite choices, or are they limited by context and nurture?   Why do my sister’s words, spoken as we tore up the front of the house to satisfy the neighbourhood association, feel like abuse, triggering old style fits of pounding my own head and ranting that there always has to be an ultimate choice?

I’m doing the amazing book “Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal” by Jonathan Green. It tells the creation story of a gang of incredibly violent drug dealers that came out of the Soundview housing project in the Bronx and of the police who worked to stop them.

The NYC tabloid headlines will quickly tell you how “evil” the group was, but Green wants to tell much more than that, wants to give some insight on how they got that way.   From the racist views of Robert Moses who used planned parkland and highways to enforce segregation, to the venal pull of the Mafia who made money through pushing drugs, a context was created which demanded young boys learn how to be tough, encouraging them to value status over love.

With the eye for detail Green brings to the book, the stories of these hard ass killers will just break your heart.

Each individual must be held responsible and changing our choices, usually rooted in changing our story, is the only path we have to change, no doubt.

What, though, are the limits to serenity?   How many insults do we have to swallow, how much support & reflection do we need, how much pain & rage do we have to suppress?

I strive to make the best choices that I can, but every day, every moment, I am limited by the context I live in, from the history of parents who not only couldn’t teach because they had no theory of mind but also saw whatever they didn’t understand as stupid, to siblings who can’t grasp the mammoth effort which maintaining serenity costs, instead demanding compliance or change.

Willpower is awesome, but it not only is a finite resource for any human, it’s also only part of the answer.  We not only need the courage to change, we need the serenity to accept what we cannot change, even the things we cannot change that trap us, hurt us, frustrate us and tear us into tiny raw shreds of human pain.

The demand that we hide those feelings, complying with norms, though denial and compartmentalization, or get out, being left to our own limited endurance, may be the way society maintains a status quo, but it is also abusive, designed to pound the different into the compliant, comfortable and unchallenging.

My Coke Zero can mocks me, demanding that I share a Coke with my “Soulmate.” It is what we cannot share, even with those who we grew up with, the ones who look to us for care even as they struggle with a web of tension, the challenges laced into the demanding expectations of others, which eventually wear us down and break us.

People are who they are, doing the best that they can do.   They can only understand what they can understand, facing limits of context, energy and self-knowledge, so they can only heal and grow in their own time and their own way, if at all.    Even as it costs, hold open the space for transcendence, offering opportunities for them to learn and make new choices.   You have to have the serenity to accept that you can’t demand change, that you have to meet others where they are, no matter what you need or how ragged you are.

Ouch.   Just fucking ouch.  I howl in pain, dreaming of a way out.

Spending a life focused on understanding, expressing and helping in the world, a life where I put ego drives and desires on hold to be present for myself and others has left me apart from earthly delights.  Æsthetic denial is a powerful strategy, and I was born with the capacity for it, but that doesn’t mean the persistent and profound loneliness hasn’t come at a high cost.   My own isolated process is very slow, both in understanding and in healing from the million daily bumps and cuts of a modern day life.

Doing the work, struggling make the most out of my choices has been hard.   I know there is no simple answer, no easy perfection.   I understand that human life will always include fighting and pain, so we have to take delight in the divine surprises, remembering to try the pâté.

When people, especially those who should know better, those who have seen my struggles, tell me just to make be courageous and make better choices, my serenity is sorely tested.   This is especially true when they know I still live in the house my parents selected, limited by the way they, as executor, didn’t follow through in canonizing my mother’s wishes.

Sore, sore, oh, so sore.

Yes, better choices are the key to claiming a better life.

But serenity?   That’s a price which wears you right damn down.

Balls & Heart

I, with the all of the power of the universe, through the magic of the goddess, and in the full witness of the circle of humans, hereby grant you full and complete status as a transgendered person from this day forward.
You have the right to define your own gender role, to choose from the wide range of gender expression, in appearance, in language and in action.

You have the power to be who you are and express yourself in the way you want, using the full spectrum of choices that exist, not just selections from one culturally defined gender role.

From today on, you have full status as a transgendered person, able to select the best from the abundant palette of human appearance and behavior.

You are constrained only by your own spirit and mind, by your understanding of your responsibility as a member of the human race.
-- The Rainbow Speech, 1994

“Thank you for bringing balls into my office,” she said.

I’ve spent about a year attending a support group hosted by a local psychotherapist who showed her compassion and willingness to understand transgender issues at a big public forum.  Over that time, I acted as a kind of co-facilitator, listening to LGBT people and responding from decades of striving to make meaning about the experiences of living a queer life.

She had wanted to loosen up the group, suggesting some exercises rooted in process, but I had suggested that the key was making people more playful.   To that end, I just bought a couple of balls from the dollar store and tossed them out at the beginning of the next session.

The group took to them immediately, tossing them about, and deciding that they wanted to pass one as a kind of talking stick, a talisman to empower the speaker.

This was the next month when she thanked me for bringing balls into her office.   Apparently they had also brought a sense of play to her everyday work, loosening up clients with a combination of easy physical engagement and childlike play.

As she repeated her affirmation to me, though — “thank you for bringing balls into my office” — I saw she meant something deeper.

As a person whose feminine heart feels erased when others see the expectations laid on my biology rather than opening to my nature, I had to decide how I felt about being warmly thanked for bringing balls into the space.

Fear comes from ignorance — we fear what we don’t understand — and ignorance comes from fear — we avoid exploring things that we fear. This is the syllogism that allows humans to keep up boundaries against people like “them,” keeps us away from the challenging and close to what comforts others around us.

For most people, gender is trained through avoidance and denial.    We are policed against doing the wrong thing, against making the transgressive choice, against seeping across gender lines.   Gender becomes rooted in the negative — what must I not do? — rather than in the positive.

When I came out as trans in the mid-1980s, my goal was to become more integrated, more whole, more androgynous/gynandronus.  I used my birth name and showed what today would be called “gender fuck,” mixed gender cues.

At that time, I really wanted to become a man more in touch with my feminine side, as I knew that was possible for me.   Being seen as a woman, with my bones and body, well, that would be tough.

More than that, the traditional model of transsexualism, purging anything in your history, biology or expression that might be seen as masculine, would demand me losing my voice, losing the idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, individualistic power I had worked so hard to find.   I was already queer by most standards, so why not add more gender fluidity?

As I explored over the years, though, the truth became clear to me.  I had never felt safe and effective as a man, never been cocky enough to satisfy straight women, never been able to whip it out and battle.   My feminine heart was much more powerful than my masculine body.

It was that heart which called me to stay connected, to not treat trans as a demand for exemption, to not just be in-your-face with my own erotic expression.   I would rather be accessible than be egotistical, leading to the choice to be trans-natural.

Many people, though, saw my ferocity as a masculine trait, as much as I knew that my fighter came from a deep feminine place.   “If I was born female,” I asked one crossdresser, “would I have been a ballsy broad with a big mouth?”   They thought for a moment and reluctantly answered yes.

Because I saw my transgender path as a search for the best that I could be rather than as a way to deny and destroy queer parts of me, I had a different experience.  The spouse of a renowned sexologist decided he liked me because I understood and respected the challenges he had growing up as a boy and being shaped as a man as we exchanged our touchstone A.A. Milne poems.    Gender is Gender, as I wrote in 1994.

I know many people who fear the power of gender expressions that they have learned to diminish, shame and avoid.   So many transpeople are more shaped by what they have decided is bad behaviour without trying it than by an open attempt to cross boundaries, understand with compassion and find the best.

As a shaman, though, I know that every tool I can place in my bag of tricks is useful in expanding growth, healing and understanding.  That’s why I know when to bring out the balls, childlike and playful, or open my mouth to challenge, giving context, nuance and empowerment.

Bringing the balls to those raised as women, either in offering more ballsy choices or informing them the pressures placed on those from whom balls are demanded, is not something I really want to do.   I want to be pretty and sweet and attractive, just one of the girls.   Yet I know that if I can’t just be defined by the negative, stuck in a kind of “us vs. them” mindset, surrendering my voice to the will of the group, that will never be possible for me.

My gift is liminality, floating through walls that others see as solid & defining.   I can “select the best from the abundant palette of human appearance and behaviour,”  just like that gift I laid out almost 25 years ago.

I bring the balls and I bring the tenderness, the compassion and ferocity rooted in a long and hard journey through hell to my own nature.

When I am affirmed for bringing those gifts, well, I better take the compliment, eh?

The Trauma Cleaner

What do we gain from starting over again?  What do we lose?   How do we hold onto what is vital in clearing away the bits of our life that are blocking us, how do we become new without having big swathes of us erased by loss?

Sarah Krasnostein explores these questions in “The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster,” a poetic and compassionate attempt to reconstruct the story of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman whose story weaves between possibilities, genders and traumas.

Sandra is a wounded healer,  a businesswoman who takes charge of cleaning the physical damage that comes from the inner damage which humans carry, someone who uses her hard won skills in surviving & thriving to help others.

Krasnostein is in awe of the healing gifts that Sandra offers, but understands that power comes from the requirement to transcend extraordinary & profound wounds, facing a lifetime of loss while holding onto the humanity needed to claim respect and presence in the face of massive indignity.

No two trans lives are ever the same, just as no two people are ever the same, but the tender heart and sharp brain that Krasnostein uses to pick through the shards of Sandra’s life is one of the most compelling and insightful exposure into the twists of trans lives that I have ever read, especially for someone who hasn’t lived on the bent path themselves.

This is the gift that Krasnostein gives Sandra, the gift she gives all her readers, the surfacing of a complex and very human life beyond the facade of acrylic nails and strong, sweet service.   How can we tell our own story to a world that wants to smooth out the queer bits, wants to erase the cost of claiming beyond?   How can we own our narrative if we can never speak it, if we always have to clean it up and out to just be accepted in the everyday world?

The artifacts Krasnostein excavates from Sandra’s life create a museum of contrasts, from free-flowing fun to brutal rape, from beautiful rooms to placards of denial & separation.   Krasnostein is clear that the bits challenge her, but understands that they can’t be judged individually, that without the context of an extraordinary life any assigned value is as shallow as the myopia that so many used in moments to castigate Sandra.

No one comes out unscarred.   No one can be forced to carry the weight of all the judgments and shaming they have endured through the years, be held down by blaming them for what they did to survive, struggling to get beyond the shattering residue of trauma, separation, disconnection, abuse and loneliness.   We are those wounds, yes, those broken moments in our lives, but we are also that healing, the way that we have turned and blossomed even in the face of disasters.

There are very few cuts & twists of a trans life, of a human life, that go untouched in Krasnostein’s masterly work.   That alone makes it worthy of study, of going back to explore knots and scars, letting us ponder and rehearse choices we could make differently.   None of those touched moments, though, are revealed without compassion for the needs that Sandra had in any moment, from moving away from those who loved her to putting up a facade that shielded her from the rejection a deep part of her had come to expect.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster,” is a book where trauma is laced with brilliance, where wounds are transcended by healing, and where darkness is overwhelmed with light.    These are, in the end, the lessons of Sandra’s relentless work to make as beautiful a life as possible, being of service and rising above all that could have sunk her.

Ms. Krasnostein has created a powerful, stimulating and delightful work, taking the best of Sandra Pankhurst and tempering it with wonder, wit and reverence.

If you care about any single thing I have written about in the past twelve years of this blog, you should read “The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster” and meet these two amazing women.

Heart On

Who is a woman without someone to love?

I loved the people assigned to me, my birth family,  in ways that cost me dearly.   That love, though, was at the heart of my feminine nature.

And now, I need someone else, something else to love.   This time, though, when I am choosing, I want one different, one simple thing.

I need what I love to be able to love me back in a way that is affirming and empowering.   That’s something that my family could never manage, Aspergers and all.

To be seen, understood and valued for my unique gifts, well, that just shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?   Then again, I remember crying in the car coming north from Atlanta after my first Southern Comfort Conference in 1993 when Mary Chapin Carpenter came on the radio singing “Too Much To Expect, But Not Too Much To Ask.”

I know how lonely I am, how my voice is getting weak, rusty and faint.  But I also know how queer I am, how sharp and intense, how I challenge the healing and awareness of other humans who didn’t have to do the work I had to do to survive, to love.

Long ago I learned to make do with what I have and not strive for more, knowing that whatever my ego wants, trying to manipulate it into being will only make the results corrupt, friable and disappointing as it crumbles away when I try to put my not inconsiderable weight on it.

Now, I sleep a great deal, trying to dream, because in dreams I imagine details that I believe I never could create in everyday life. In dreams, my feminine and creative fancy flies far beyond the constraints of audience and defence that have bound and constrained me into the putative shape imposed on my body and mind. Yet, there is no place IRL to manifest that transcendence. so instead I sleep a great deal.

In my life, I could never imagine getting away with being high maintenance. Sleep on the bedroll and serve.  A human doing, not a human being.

My life has always been a tussle with the audience.   Nobody gets the joke, not the wit of a queer kid who speaks in Jonathan Winters tongues to explain existing in the Aspergers zone, not the compassion of a trans theologian outlining deep connections which challenge the dreams & assumptions of promised normative lives.

The choice is backing away from my so very hard won knowledge to be more conventional or learning to tolerate a hardscrabble life, one full of æsthetic denial.   I told the answer to that dilemma to the third shrink they sent me to, the one in eighth grade: I have to be myself.

I still pop into action when my remaining family needs help, but while they give what they can, they must focus on their own needs, cares and desires, not mine.   That’s the way of relationships; filling the holes that others have identified without being too, well, too too for their comfort.

Lack of love, though, reciprocated and replenishing love, has withered my own voice, my own capacity, my own energy.  The spiral grabs me and sucks me down, no love to renew, no renewal; no renewal no energy to seek love, no love.

My manifestation is not elegantly reduced to a simple, easy to understand, easy to digest appearance.   While I understand that this means people around me grab the bit that makes sense to them and erase the pieces that seem different, unexpected and queer, that erasure is still diffident and painful to me.   Would it be any less traumatic, though, if I did my own surgery, curating a fixed and finite appearance of my own selection?

No, I have to hold on to the rational construct that I am faceted, showing many faces that are then selected by the observer.   “Hello, I’m Callan, and the pronouns you use to refer to me tell me much more about you than about me.”

But seen I need to be, translucent and loved not just for what I can do for you in this moment, but for the way I have shaped and salvaged a self that stays functional in a world that did its damnedest to pound and erase me into a good marketing consumer, boxed and drawn like product to be sold, advertisers and employers understanding my value to their constrained & constricted vision.

As much as I want to connect this piece to other tales, threading a web which deepens understanding, I know that those pathways will virtually always go unexplored by readers on a schedule, their own goals & needs demanding they discard what seems to be just noise, without information that applies to their current question of mind.

Relationships take time & effort, but my years and energy have been sunk into playing small, playing all that the local traffic could tolerate.  Waste is left, huge piles of debris which holds the very stuff of my life, my deep, deep emotions encapsulated in crystal sharp thought, dressed in any turns of language which I prayed would make it charming, accessible and engaging.

These middens swamp me now as I live alone with them, my only company voices from a cheap device which read the debris of other humans, these, though, smoothed and shined by publishers who hope to share in rewards and revelations.

Where is the passion, the Eros, the love that can move me beyond this valley?   I spent a life giving love without return, burning my heart in an attempt to catch a bigger fire, one that would warm and illuminate me, burning away fears while melting together lives, releasing me from suppression & attenuation, opening my new growth like a forest fire pops open pine cones laden with new vitality.

I so need a heart on, a swelling blossom which unlocks and unleashes, but the vigour is gone, dried to dust which barely powers minimal exposure.

Because who is a woman without someone to love?