Abstracted Love

Being trans means leaving the system of standardized desire.

When people line up “boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl,” we no longer fit easily into that structure.

Instead of fitting nicely into the paradigm of seeking — men seeking women, women seeking men, men seeking men, women seeking women — we are other.

We demand to claim our expression as an individual, which means we have to be desired as an individual.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t desirable and lovable, it just means that it always takes awareness to have even a brief awareness with a transperson.   We may be very clear on who we desire, but we demand that our partners be comfortable with their own bisexuality so they can love all of us.

Letting our freak flag fly liberates us, but it also limits the partners who are ready to do the work to be with us.   Our potential partner pool (PPP) becomes smaller as we move away from normative conventions of desire, in age, in size, in gender, in just the inner work we have had to do to own our own heart, to be comfortable in our own skin.

All of this means transpeople are lonely.   What makes you exceptional must inevitably also make you lonely, as Lorraine Hansbury reflected on James Baldwin.

For us, love stops being practical and becomes abstracted.    When we don’t fit neatly into expectations, don’t simply fit into the movies and dreams other people keep inside of them, we don’t just fit into relationship.

As a human, as a woman, abstracted love may be the best that I can do, but it is hardly fulfilling.

Celibacy means the renouncing of sexual desire.   Abstinence is not having sexual partners, even though you have sexual feelings & thoughts.

Some religions pushed the belief that having variant, non-heterosexual desire was not a sin, but acting on those desires is a sin.  You can’t help it if you desire others of the same sex, but if you don’t deny those desires, preferably staying celibate but at least staying abstinent, you become an abomination in the view of God.

For them, homosexual desire was the same as having the desire to murder someone.  Everyone has feelings that are impure sometimes, but acting on these feelings makes us corrupt an a sinner.

This sentenced those with variant desire to a life with only abstracted love, denying them the physical intimacy that is a core part of deep, bonded, mature human relationships.   They were SOL.

For people who live within the conventions of desire, those who shape their own role and expression to live within expected attraction, living outside of that desire is almost impossible to comprehend.  They like the sparks, need the sparks of attraction and can lean into them.

Even if as they mature, younger days of embodied desire, a time when things were simpler and hotter, is always accessible to them.

Transpeople, especially transpeople who emerged later in life, just don’t have those habits and conventions.   We learned to not act on our desire, to fear even simple flirting, because the perception of our gender could shift in any moment and the “third gotcha” could swallow our safety.

Relationships where we have to negotiate the expectations of others, where we are expected to play the role they believe their lover, their partner should play, get very very difficult for us.   We may be able to tamp down our own desire just to get something back, but always, always, always at a dear cost. (2006)

For me, this has meant staying abstinent.   I can’t imagine where I would go to connect with others who are ready to consider a romantic, intimate relationship with me.

This has lead me to a state of aesthetic denial, my beliefs having to adapt to the scarcity presented to me in the world.   That scarcity of intimate love started very early for me, with two Aspergers parents, so I grew up with an understanding of abstracted love.   My relationships followed patterns familiar to lesbians, though because I was male bodied, I was never simply allowed into that community, never supported in those paired desires.

I learned, at great cost, how to love myself, to become intimate with my own thoughts and feelings, but I never learned how to trust others with my heart.   They found it big, queer and overwhelming, not getting the joke, not respecting my tenderness.

In the last week, I have seen a TV show where a woman needs, needs, needs intimacy and heard ShamanGal say that her mother sensed some of her discord comes from the knowledge of how hard it will be to find a partner who is ready, willing and able to love her fully.

I look around and see other transwomen who have had to learn to live with abstracted love, apart from the present and practical love that the normative, especially the younger ones take for granted.

Taking care of my parents for the last decade of their life cast me in the role of spinster, her abstracted love redirected to family.  I still do this sometimes with my sister — I gave her an day of travelling companionship that was easy & luxurious for — but working love for the family has never satisfied my need for layered intimacy, creative, intellectual, emotional and physical.

As a woman, I find living without love, without deep and flowing love, to be very difficult.   Every woman needs getting loose sometimes, needs to fall into her own sensuality, abandon and Eros.  We get a bit dried up and crazy without it.

Settling for abstracted love, for channelling that powerful force into limited and possible channels is a reasonable and good thing, but it is not a satisfying thing.   It’s like a diet without some essential vitamins; it may keep you alive, but the deficiencies will always take a toll.

I make the most of what I can get.   I have learned to live with aesthetic denial from a very young age.   I do the best with my love, using my head the best that I can.

But abstracted love, away from the immersive power and mirroring of deep intimacy, well, it can only keep you sort of alive.

Looks Like

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

How many transpeople have bent themselves into pretzels trying to pass the duck test?

Apparently, the test started over a French automaton, a mechanical mallard that appeared on the outside to be alive, but on the inside was a clockwork masterpiece.

It’s hard for me to understand people who make judgments based on what things look like to them.   For me, it’s always what’s on the inside that counts.

As a trans shaman, my calling is the traditional, standing to reveal connections which exist beneath the obvious, surface view.   Through my presence, I illuminate what is rather than the quick assumptions made about what things look like.

Is this expository role a spiritual role or a political one?    Do I stand for broad enlightenment or do I stand to create targeted social change?

Both spiritual teachers and political operatives want to help others see the world around them in a new way, shifting the vision of the crowd.

Back in 1997 I was at a big LGBT workshop on Uniting As Allies.   In the big, final exercise, we were asked to debate a key issue, with the process being used to explore working together.

The topic that came up was about the desirability to enforce pure groups; limited to people of colour, or women, for example.   It was about the value of identity politics.

Out of the 40 or 50 people there, no one stood up to speak for the limits of such exclusive groups, so I did.  People already knew that I was different; rather than standing with those who primarily identified as trans, I had stood by myself as someone who primarily identified as business, as holding the power of coming together in organization to achieve goals for all.

The head of SABIL — Sisters And Brothers In the Life — was arguing for exclusivity.

I spoke about group identity enforcement, about shaming and social pressures, about compliance.

One of the key questions I asked him was this: Are you working to create strong black voices, or to create a strong black voice?

If one of your members, say, decided that it was better to ask students of colour to start early competing on the wider field and so believed that affirmative action in education was counter productive to empowering them, would they be welcome in your meetings?

After the session, one woman came up to me and said that she was sure no argument could have swayed her against exclusivity, but that I did.   Transpeople, even the ones who complained about each other, told me that they were happy I spoke.

My stand that day was very spiritual, very queer, very much speaking for moving beyond simple look-based groupings.

It wasn’t, though, a very effective political position.   I didn’t effectively consolidate power, create blocs, motivate on the basis of separation and fear.

In my language, I was a teachy preacher rather than a preachy preacher, asking people to look inside themselves and other individuals, rather than offering them a comforting group identity based dogma of belief which drew sharp lines between us and them, between good and evil.

I know how to stand in the world for connection, for transcendence, for queer, for the divine, for myth and mystery, for individuals, for the personal empowerment which always comes with personal responsibility.

What I am much less effective with, though, is standing on my looks.

For most people, this surfaced standing is automatic and simple.   They looked like a duck, or a woman of size or a man of colour or whatever so people made assumptions and treated them that way, no matter who they are inside.

If people judge them on how they look, shouldn’t they judge others on their looks too?

Politics is the manipulation of appearances.   Even though the real decisions may be made in backrooms, trading money and power to convince the wealthy that they are getting what they paid for, a front is required, maybe many fronts that each persuade a different constituency.

Spiritual standing, though, is the revelation of meaning, the attempt to move beyond mundane, surface, expected and conventional to show something deeper and more connected.   Even when tricks are used, rituals that are more symbolic than brutally factual, the goal is the same, illuminating the unseen.

It’s easy to blur the line between spirit and politics, between challenging enlightenment and worldly control, so easy that the temptation is always there.  Churches always dance around this power, creating alliances between politics and religion to keep their place in the graces and benefits of the state system.

It is easy to decide that effective results are the only criteria to judge success.  Does this mean, though, that the ends always justify the means, that caring about something higher is just a fools errand, a waste of the effort in the moment?

For me, going into spaces where one is judged only on appearance and results is entering a place where everything I know and value, everything which comes in the traditions of my people is dismissed and devalued.

While it may be true that starting by meeting the expectations of others is the only way to win their respect and broaden the conversation to something deeper, that starting point has never felt safe or sacred to me.

I stand for something deeper than appearances.  That means I fail the duck test.

It looks like that means I better be resigned to being lonely.

Deserving Belief

If you want to be potent in the world, the first thing you have to believe is that you deserve to be here.

Looking around and feeling like an imposter, well, that leaves you at a critical disadvantage.

The first step in being powerful is knowing that you have the power inside of you, trusting that all you have to is to bring it out, to polish and to hone it.

Opening to your own power, though, demands a leap.

You first have to move beyond the comfortable circle of slackers, those who complain about everyone else having power, those who find common bond in their oppression.

When you do, that, though, you won’t immediately be seen as powerful.  Instead, you have to reveal your power by taking personal responsibility for getting things done, letting your accomplishments light your way into the company of those who are already getting things done.

The space between leaving the crowd and having acknowledged power is always difficult and awkward.   It is the gap that demands you run on your own internal resources & faith to power the learning, the resilience and the persistence it takes to inhabit a new level.

Having responsibility without authority is always hard, but it is only by succeeding at taking responsibility that we become authoritative, able to lead others towards responsible goals.

There have been times when I believed that I deserved to be here.  I knew how to be a caregiver to my family, how to fight with and for them.  I knew how to be a guru, leading a team to technical understanding and effectiveness.

I know how to write clearly about the experiences I have had in the world, offering context and insight.  I can help others find new ways to think about their experiences that can help them become stronger, but only if they are ready to do the work.

What I don’t believe I deserve, though, is to walk in the world as a woman.

Ironically, this comes from my great respect for the challenges that come with being born female.

Fom my first outing,  I chose not to take a woman’s name out of feminist belief while around me followers of Virginia Prince created a second self because they were, they claimed, “femiphiles,” men who loved women so much that they wanted to “femulate” them.   These femulatrix wanted to female themselves for an evening and lay claim to a womanhood out of nothing but entitlement and male privilege.

I knew I didn’t want to be one of them, wearing a female mask over a macho daily expression, rejecting queerness in an attempt to remain seen as a straight man.

I also knew that I didn’t want to be a transsexual, claiming that I had truly been a woman all along.   Living with a 6′ 3″ woman born female, her life experience informed my understanding of the challenges of being raised as a girl in this culture.

Passing was impossible with my frame, but even if it had been, the cost of living a lie felt reprehensible to me for many reasons.   I couldn’t imagine keeping my guard up and trying to pretend I had a normative experience of growing up female.

Instead,  I thought hard about issues of truth & deception, coming out with a deep understanding of being transgender in this culture.   I stood to reject both the Prince and Benjamin models (1995), striving to find something more.

Today, though, social views on trans have shifted.   Do our enemies attack us because they see our gains, or do our enemies attacks create gains by forcing people of good will to make a choice to stand up and be supportive?   From corporations boycotting states that discriminate to inclusion in the military, transpeople have much more public freedom than ever before.

It is possible to be both trans and effective as a woman in the world, believing that you have allies who support you in expressing your nature.   This is great.

However that does not mean that most are ready or even able to understand what the experience of crossing conventional walls between men and women have cost us.

Instead, their normative expectations about separation kick in, leaving assumptions that our outlook and experience must reflect the binaries they believe to be true around the differences between males and females, men and women.   In order to be one, we must have never been the other, for if we were, the best we can be is eccentric iconoclasts.

Understanding of trans is a mile wide and an inch deep as people look not to see how trans offers connective glimpses beyond binaries, but rather to simply integrate a simplistic understanding of trans into existing models.   As transpeople, we are allowed to fit in as assimilated transsexuals or to stand out as clever gender queer drags, but we are not allowed to share our gifts in a way that might challenge comforting assumptions.

For me, with decades of this kind of deep exploration building a sharp view of the world, the challenge I now face is difficult.

Today it seems possible to assert myself in the world as a woman of trans history, without much of the armour that my sisters had to don in the past.   This is why even famous people are coming out; the pioneers did much of the hard work, as evidenced by the arrows they took from both sides.

To do this, though, I have to make that leap, the leap to deserving to be seen as a woman.    How much does this require not being seen for the transperson I am, as evidenced by a long, robust and deep history?

My scars are not the scars of a woman born female, just as my body is not female either.   It is scars, though, that offer credibility, revealing the risks we took to claim the power we own in the world.

Simple woman basics, like flirting and feuding are not in my skill set since I am without the training that comes inside womanspace.   I was never “somebody’s girl,” rather I was a front line trans theologian, doing the work to explore and shore up the intellectual underpinnings of trans presence.

To emerge, though, as a woman, deserving woman respect in the world, takes a certain kind of reductive belief, the power to make a simple claim about yourself, to embody that claim and assert the demand that claim be respected.

That feels like a challenge, though it is a challenge that many, many, many transwomen have claimed and owned.    They have changed the way society sees trans by claiming their own essential womanhood.

I know that it is possible to be a woman with a trans history and be respected, honoured and even loved in the world, even as I also know that there are still challenges in that position, challenges that come where we cut across binary expectations.

Can it really be that simple for me, simple enough to believe I deserve what I spent so many years exploring the nuances around?

Or is too big just too big?

Erin chose to read & record this post.   After the jump:

Continue reading Deserving Belief

The Price Of Pretty

Beautiful happens in nature, and handsome comes from a kind of strength, but pretty, well, pretty takes work.

Nobody wakes up pretty, no matter how beautiful they are.   Getting to pretty is what happens when we clean ourselves up, assemble our expression, polish the looks and show our pretty behaviours.

As women, we have a very ambiguous relationship with pretty.   We very well know that pretty demands pain, from high heels to curling iron burns, from suppressing our exuberance for a cultured appearance to recovering from plastic surgery,  but we also crave pretty, really wanting to be seen as pretty, especially in our own eyes.

Ms Erin offers an article from New York magazine: Can a Woman’s Voice Ever Be Right?

As the Duke study suggests, the act of policing women’s voices is often carried out by women themselves. It’s hard to avoid the fear that every prominent woman who sounds like a ditz (or a harpy, or a slut, or a matron, or a stoned 13-year-old) makes it easier for the world to write the rest of us off.

After receiving letters about her vocal fry, This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt began to hate the way she sounded, too. “I’m noticing every single time I do it,” she told Ira Glass, “but trying not to do it is impossible because it’s the way I talk, that’s my actual voice.” She also began resenting other women whose voices sounded like hers: “If I hear other people do it — other women especially — I become like a woman who hates women. It taps into some deep part of people’s selves where they don’t want to hear young women, including me. It taps into that in me.”

Pretty, we know, is about very careful and measured revealing of who we are.  We can’t be pretty, we learned early, if we let people see parts of us that they think are ugly.

To be pretty, we have to think first of what we don’t want people to think about us, have to know what parts of us need airbrushed or Photoshopped.

When creating a pretty home, we know how to do that, careful editing of components, skillful assembly of elements, removal of clutter and grime.

When creating a pretty us, though, things get tougher.  Those pieces of us that just don’t fit elegantly into pretty can’t just be disposed of, put in the dumpster or given to Salvation Army.   Nobody starts with a perfect blank canvas.   We can’t be perfectly engineered from the ground up.

The beautiful us has character.   The pretty us, though, has erasures, gaps and denials.

Who are we, though, if we can’t be pretty enough for other people to love us?

For many of us, pretty feels like the imperative.  Since we want other people to be pretty too, it can easily feel like a fair and reasonable imperative.  Shouldn’t everyone feel the social demands to assimilate, to become the prettiest that they can possibly be?

The quest for pretty, though, can leave us feeling battered, wasted and useless.  It stops us from exploring our beauty, instead offering the demand that we fit into conventions.

When people find they can’t fit nicely into pretty they can feel bereft and heartbroken.  I have seen many transpeople who decided to transition fast, running, for example, from a polished guy mode to gal, trying to leap across the messy and queer gap between, and then end up feeling like a failure when they find that they cannot invoke pretty.   In that moment, ending the game can feel like the best and only option.

Beauty exists for its own sake, but pretty exists for attraction, for showing yourself and making connections.  While it is delightful to spend time prettying yourself before an event, the joy comes from knowing that people will see you, see how pretty you are, remember and want to explore you.

If we can’t be pretty, can we make the kind of connection we want and need?   Can we get the compliment and affirmation that we crave?   Can we be the belle of the ball?

If we can’t show well, concealing the bits that might scare others or scare ourselves, what hope do we ever have of being loved?

There is a cost to pretty, but we have been assured that whatever the cost, the rewards will make up for our sacrifice.   What happens if they don’t, if there is no way we can ever achieve our pretty dreams?   How do we live with that heartbreak?

For many of us, letting go of pretty to focus on style and beauty has been the only way to claim a full, healthy and robust life.     Rather than trying to cut ourselves back, striving to look flawless and perfect, wrapped in a mask, we learn to love what and who we are, knowing that self-love is always the basis for loving and being loved in the world.

Rather than just claiming pretty even when much of us doesn’t fit, leaving visible tells about the rest of us that we hope only people who can understand us will see, bringing our whole self into the world allows us to focus on loving the best in us rather than concealing what we fear is the worst.

For many who feel trapped in the pursuit of pretty, limited by the failure of pretty to make them feel safe and growing, seeing transpeople who move outside of convention feels liberating and empowering.

For a few others, though, that same vision makes them furious, seeming to make a mockery of the costs they paid to be prim, proper and pretty.  Those people want to silence us for breaking the rules, for embodying the possibility that there is beauty beyond limiting beliefs.

What woman doesn’t want to be pretty?   Which of us doesn’t consider what she can do to be prettier, even if we know that choice comes at a cost?

But which of us wants our daughters to lose their own special and powerful character in the quest for pretty?  How much do we want them to see and value their own unique beauty, rather than binding their heart to fit into a pretty package of slavery?

Moving from celebrating pretty to embracing beauty is hard.   We all want to be pretty.  We have gotten frustrated, annoyed and even distraught when we try and fail to achieve what we have been told is pretty.

But even as pretty fades, beauty continues to shine, becoming stronger and more potent them more we feel comfortable in our own imperfect skin.

Striving for pretty can be a dead end.

Embracing beauty, though, even quirky, messy and queer beauty, well, that can be the basis for an amazing life.

Worth It

My sister needed new mascara, so we stopped at Ulta Beauty.  Last time she needed mascara we were at Target, so she ended up with a $3 tube of ELF.

Ulta, though, is a celebration of cosmetic possibility.  For example, thirty or forty different blow dryers are set up to try, for example, running from $20 to $200.

There is nothing at Ulta that you can’t live without.  Nobody really needs a choice between thousands of lip colours.   Humans exist for millennia without commercial beauty products, without the kind of marketing that worked to convince us that unless we met social expectations about fashion they were failures as women.

Women have always felt ambiguous about beauty.  Is it fair that pretty girls have so much more power than plain ones?   Does anyone feel good about dress codes that demand high heels?  Shouldn’t people be valued for more than just appearance? Being forced to be primped and packaged, objectified to satisfy the male gaze isn’t a strong and liberating political position.

No matter how much we want to be free from the requirements to put on a face, though, we melt a bit when people we find attractive find us attractive.   There are definitely people who we want to see us as being beautiful, whatever that means.

Expressing beauty, feeling that we are showing our beauty in a way that people can engage and respond to, well, that’s not something that women can easily be denied.

What this means is that, for a woman what counts when buying beauty or fashion is our motive in the purchase.

Are we buying because we are slaves to imposed and oppressive standards of appearance, like the expectations of men?

Are we buying because we are desperately trying to assuage our own feelings of inadequacy and prop up a broken self image?

Are we buying to raise our status in a way that negates solidarity and supports marginalization of other women?

Are we feeding our own narcissism, our own inflated sense of self?

There are so many reasons why buying beauty products is just evil, from our conceited illusions to our low consciousness of the possibilities of liberated women.

That means there are so many reasons to make excuses for using beauty products, for choosing fashion, for asserting our own beauty.   Shouldn’t we always be modest, shy and demure about our own appearance, playing along with other women to be appropriate and compliant with community standards?  Isn’t claiming our beauty just conceited and anti-social, pushing others away?

Marketers have had to navigate this challenge for years.

When Clairol first started marketing hair colour, their tagline was “Only her hairdresser knows for sure!”  Sure, you may be vain and shallow, but other people won’t have the goods on you!

“If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde!”   It takes a brassy gal to sign up for that, especially because that’s how the early preparations used to look.

L’Oreal had to make space in the market, though, so they needed something new.   They decided to go with a premium price product, and the slogan 23 year old Ilon Specht came up with in 1973 still lives today:

“Because, I’m worth it.”

If your motive for purchasing beauty products has to be politically correct, beyond the reproach of a world of catty women, what better justification than affirming your own intrinsic self worth?

Does this mean that the more you spend at Ulta, the more you are worth?   Is your value bound up in the exclusivity of the beauty products you use?   Does this convert gender angst into class angst, because nobody is a gender climber but social climbing happens all the time?

I’m not sure about any of that, but I am sure that making people display reductive modesty rather than owning their own beauty and power is not really a good thing.   Apologizing or rationalizing our grace just isn’t something we can do: we are who we are, and the only choice we have is in how much we feel safe revealing that within the symbols & styles of the culture we live in.

I was taught very early that I was not worth it, that the beauty I could embody in the world was just corrupt and perverted.

Today, I know in my mind that isn’t true.   I work very hard to affirm the beauty of others, encouraging them to sparkle in the world.    Offering a reflection of the inner beauty that I see, supporting growing confidence is vital to me.

My heart, though, has trouble believing that all the beauty products in the world will make much of a difference for me anymore.   My flowering days feel like they are behind me and the way that I was viciously pinched back, starved of light and nutrients, stunted is the outcome of my external beauty.

My internal beauty may be amazing, but like so many transwomen before me, I understand how what I offer triggers people more than it engages them, bringing up stuff they want me to heal rather than doing their own work.

Over the years, “Because I’m Worth It” has morphed some.

First it became “Because You’re Worth It,”  trying to make the point that feeling beautiful was for the viewer, not just for the gorgeous, high-paid model purring on the screen, a woman selected for her stunning looks and vibrant presence.

Now it is “Because We’re Worth It,” tapping into not a personal possibility to be beautiful which carries the personal responsibility to go with it, but rather with a fuzzy group identity.  All women are worth it and you are a woman, so your being beautiful is just part of what you do for the tribe of women, a politically correct surrender to the group.

Being part of a “we” isn’t something that comes easy to me, an eccentric iconoclast who had to walk beyond family identity, no matter how “Stupid” that seemed to my parents, and then had to walk beyond assigned gender identity to claim a very individual expression.    There are no groups that hold me.

I know that I am worth much in the vision of my creator, but in the vision of the world, my value is opaque, polluted.

Will any amount of beauty products really change that, even if I buy them with clean, earnest, sincere and respectful intentions?

Continue reading Worth It

Dehumanizing Reflection

“We didn’t understand how creating radical us vs them boundaries would dehumanize the other, leading to abuse and violence.”

When people who feel debased, marginalized and dehumanized decide that the remedy for the pain they feel is acting out against those they have identified as the enemy, as people not worth of respect or dignity, how can they be surprised when that leads some of their followers to try and destroy the enemy they feel is destroying them?

Emotionally, bullying others often feels like the best and most satisfying response to being bullied.   We want to give them a taste of their own medicine, want to remove their power by making ourselves powerful in a similar way.   We deserve to be able to fight back and make them feel the pain.   Our actions are justified, whatever we do.

It’s not easy to come back with an open, thoughtful, compassionate and gracious response to those you feel are out to destroy people like you.   Emotions run high, and those hot emotions are much more effective for motivating action than cool and considered reflection ever can be.

It’s hard to turn the other cheek, to be the one who breaks the cycle of attack, someone who cools off the situation to make substantive and lasting change.

That is precisely, though, what we want leaders to do, what we need them to do.

And it is what we need to do if we want to be leaders who create change rather than just fury and acting out.

I spoke about this almost twenty years ago.   I was rewarded by a black alderman for the city complimenting me on the piece, saying I got it.   We both knew the price of demanding equality is taking personal responsibility for being part of the solution, and we both knew, sadly, that is always a hard sell.


Upon recieving the Building Bridges Award
to the Transgenderist's Independence Club (TGIC), Albany NY
from Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Council (CDG&LCC)

October 15, 1997

Callan Williams

Anyone who knows me knows you can't put me in front of a group of people on Sunday morning without having me preach! If you will indulge me a few minutes, I would like to ask. . .

What do all queer people share?

We all share the experience of being shamed and humiliated into hiding the contents of our heart. We are each pounded into hiding the joys and desires and the ecstasy that our creator placed in our heart.

We share the experience of being driven into the closet, into walling our heart off from the world to keep our integrity and to keep the world comfortable with their own rigidly binary view of what women should do, what men should do.

The secret to building bridges is simple, as any transgendered person who has built a bridge between the masculine and feminine part of themselves will tell you. It is not really building bridges, it is simply erasing the walls of separation that we have built around our hearts.

To come together, we must focus on what we share. The blocks to seeing what we share are the illusory walls of separation that we built between humans, trying to neatly divide the beautiful landscape of our continuous common humanity with boundaries that comfort us -- the same boundaries that limit and oppress us.

TGIC, for over 40 years, has been committed to supporting those who feel constrained by the rigid boundary between men and women.

We have taken many approaches to this challenge, including trying to build new boundaries that include us and exclude others, which frankly, was not a great idea. The best solution to date seems to be to work towards a world where everyone is free to follow their own heart without boundaries.

This thrust of transgendered people acting as the connective tissue between humans -- men and women, straight and gay, even black and white, poor and rich -- is not a new role for us. It is the role that transgendered shamans have always played. It is the way that queer people, who have had to claim their own unique hearts back from the pressures of socialization, have always served all of humanity.

To paraphrase M.R. Ritley, "Being queer is not an accident, it is a calling." We cross boundaries - of gender, for race, of class and more - to reveal the truth that all is connected.

Speaking for everyone who has been involved with TGIC, we are pleased that our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers who have also struggled against the expectations of what men should do, what women should do, choose to honor our role in building connection.

Thank you for this award. In receiving it, I would like to thank the transgendered people throughout history, including the butches and drags, the tomboys and sissies right here in the Capital District who have worked to remind us that walls between people are illusions. They remind us that we are each, in our heart, simply human.

It is my fondest hope that transgendered people here and now can continue the honored role of building bridges, of having a foot in each world. I know that they will continue making connections, proudly following the grand heritage of transgender.

To live in a world where all is connected by bridges, a world without walls, is to live where there is one world, one community, and where everyone is respected and is honored as an individual.

To live in a connected world is to face the challenges of being the best we can be, of operating with grace, and honesty, being our best self at all times.

These are the challenges that we take on, to know that, regardless of sex, gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, body, or any other differences, we are each connected -- and each is loved and respected.

Today, you say that you want this world of connection by honoring us for Building Bridges. Let us walk out of here together and continue the work build bridges, to remove the walls around our hearts, and to remind everyone of the powerful symbiotic and beautiful connections of the entire world.

Thank you.

Who Judges?

As transwomen, who do we have to justify our choices to?

Whose attacks and questions are so valid that we have to include them in the explanation of self we offer to the world?

For Hari Nef, justifying herself to the women’s studies crowd, the self-professed feminists was worth doing a TEDx talk over

To Ms. Nef, her complying with social expectations about feminine appearance is a survival requirement.

Oh, and, by the way, she likes the choices she makes. She feels they express who she is inside.

Why isn’t the second answer enough?

Why does she feel she needs to defend and justify herself to academics who want paint compliance with gendered expectations as giving in to a heinous system of oppression?

Why does she need to address these people who want to diminish and erase her truth with a mixture of biological existentialism wrapped in the kind of social justice theory which sells separatism as the path to more powerful inclusion?

Why can’t she just be herself, following the path of millions upon millions of women who just ignore the separatist cries as irrelevant to their lives?

There are so many people who feel entitled to demand answers from us, who hold that their beliefs about separation and god-given identity need to be held true and sacred by trans people.

For many decades, it was doctors who were the gatekeepers of trans.    In order to change our body with hormones or surgery we had to convince them we were real.   It wasn’t good enough to say what we felt or what we wanted, rather we had to “prove” that we could not survive unless we were altered because we were “really always a woman.”

Differential diagnoses were the key in those days, drawing the line between true transsexuals and dilettante crossdressers.   This made a key indicator of your deep truth and sincerity how viciously you attacked people in the other group, be they deluded surgery seekers, secret homosexuals, or perverted transgenders.

Today, religious fundamentalists demand that we justify our actions to them.    Aren’t we just the bleeding edge of social destruction, sodomites who are leading to a world without moral values where the children will be at risk of abuse by evil and impure factions?

Strong, binary lines rooted in “the binary way that God made humans” need to be primary, defended and vigorously policed, starting with people like us following rules that first respect the beliefs of the devout.

I have spent thirty years trying to understand my relationship with those who would challenge my right to claim my status beyond biological determinism.

I understand the desire to sway those who are grounded in a belief structure that defines our choices as wrong, as politically incorrect, as unenlightened, as morally corrupt, as perverted, as sick, as indulgent, as self-serving, as destructive, as evil.

From where I stand, though, it is questioning those heterosexist, fundamentalist, identity politics group assertions that is required to create the change we need, not just justifying our own choices as pragmatic survival strategies.

I found the need to celebrate queer individuality, even if that celebration cuts us off from those who demand we surrender our voice, our choices, our thoughts and our identity to the will of the group or suffer shame and expulsion.

When we try and play their game, whoev er they are,  we lose and they win.    We live between the binary, revealing continuous common humanity beyond comforting and illusory walls just by our very existence.

This is the role transpeople have always played in human cultures.   We speak for challenging connection over easy separations.

I know why we feel the pressure to justify our choices to people we want to hang with, to groups we need to be a part of.    I know why we want to be embraced past binary assertions.

But who do we have to justify our choices to?   And who gets to demand we live inside of their limiting expectations? How much does it cost us to fit?

Ms. Nef is gorgeous and powerful in her beauty, and that is mostly the beauty of her mind and heart, not of her body.   It doesn’t betray the feminine, it reveals the power of it, the power of the wiggle, the mother, the receptive, the beautiful, the vulnerable.

Transpeople whose bodies aren’t as easily femaled as Ms. Nef know the price.   I used Kymberleigh Richards as an example of this person in 1999 and was saddened to see that in 2010, the price came up again.  Kym was speaking about LA transit issues on Fox News, but when her status as a transwoman became visible, they immediately decided to erase her, presumably to “quiet the horses.”

(NB, Ms. Richards later thanked me for using her story in a good context.)

Those of us whose bodies don’t allow us to manage cute have a high cost to pay, so we know we don’t have the option of just playing along, finding some words to justify the truth that looks nice on us, and moving on. How do we get people to value our heart and not the way we fit into attractive feminine assumptions fuelled by ubiquitous and pervasive media images?

The call to justify our choices in a context that the people around us already value is completely understandable.   It serves our survival in the moment.

But does that justification serve us, people like us, and the world we live in in the bigger picture?   Or should we try and find ways to move beyond binary belief to human connection?