Proud Losers

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

I just went through Shelby Foote’s astounding The Civil War: A Narrative.

While the Union was preserved and American enterprise kicked into high gear, I’m not at all sure there were any winners in the Civil War.   620,000 soldiers were killed, while another 800,000 were wounded or went missing.   Add to that civilian casualties and the massive economic destruction and that is more loss that I can come close to comprehending.

For those in the Confederacy, belief was around the notion that the majority in Congress could not tell them what to do or what to believe.   Their communities held that their economic system, based in slavery, was not only right, it was sanctified, Biblical and their duty to maintain separations between themselves and those God made less capable than they were.   This made their fighting, their killing and their dying, blessed and holy, made their loss a source of more pride than their opponents got from winning.

Loss was a given then, and loss is a given today.   It is impossible to go into any kind of fight without understanding that loss will be involved.  There will always be a price to be paid.

Winning always includes losing.

This is not something success masters want to tell you.  Their strategy is to keep you so focused on the win that you never really consider the price.   In fact, it’s best if you don’t really consider anything other than going for it, than just doing it.

In the end, your life is less defined by what you want to win than it is by what you are willing to lose in trying to achieve that win.  It’s what you stand up for, even though you know you may well lose, that defines who you are.

In a win at any cost world, one that tries to keep loss in the dark, this is hard to comprehend.   After all, isn’t winning not just everything, it is the only thing?

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
The Paradoxical Commandments, Kent M. Keith 1968

Sometimes, even when you know you can’t win, standing up for your values, doing the what you believe to be correct is still the right choice.

I see people all around me who never give a second thought to the price of what they do to win.  They are entitled, winners are valued, so they just focus with laser like vision, doing whatever they think will make them win.

They always pay the price, making trade offs and enduring loss in the process of getting what they believe they want, but those losses are hidden behind nice compartment walls.   Sure, they sometimes wonder why winning doesn’t fill them up, why they still feel empty inside, but hey, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.

There is a pride in knowing that you did the right thing, that you stood up for a good cause, even though you know that you are fated to lose.

The game of life is hard to play
You’re going to lose it anyway
The losing card you’ll someday lay

Sometimes, a really futile and stupid gesture is required, if not to win, to move the boundaries a tiny bit.  Someone has to make a stand, even if they are just a voice in the crowd, run over by people who aren’t able to understand why that challenge is at all important.

We stand for what we value, even if the majority of us are quickly and invisibly steamrollered, never becoming worldwide symbols of resistance like the protester who danced with the tank in Tienanmen Square.   Our scant grains of human conscience make what changes they can and then remain to pile up, becoming a trace in a weight of change against a system that values winning over anything else.

Human history is a tracing of conflict, individuals standing strong and proud even when they knew the odds were long and the motion would take much longer than one puny, sacred lifetime.  We do what we can, in bold attacks and in subversive stories, passing our values into those who will move beyond us.   It may not be the Hollywood way, the popular way, but for us, it is the right way.

It is this sense of pride in losing the good fight that keeps some of us throwing ourselves into the same battles again and again, even when it is very, very clear that there is no real chance of winning in any timely and meaningful way.   We are less pragmatic than we are idealistic, more willing to absorb the loss because we believe so strongly in the cause.

This is definitely a crackpot approach but it is one that my family taught me early.  There just are causes you can’t easily abandon because your identity, your valour and your love is tied up in them, causes like taking care of your family.

I know that I am a loser.  The awareness of loss is deep within me, desiccating me to my very core.

In that loss, though, that attempt to slay dragons, the going beyond all sensible bounds, I am very proud even today.   I fought the good fight, and while it would have been nice if the costs hadn’t been so immensely much less than the rewards, I didn’t do it for easy wins, didn’t do it for showing people what a winner I am.

I fought the battles of caring for others and speaking what I knew to be true because I knew that to be the right thing to do.   It seemed to honour the gifts my mother in the sky gave me.

Winning isn’t the only thing, nor is it everything.   It is the struggle to do better, to stand for integrity, authenticity, connection and service that has always made me proud.

Even if it, as all life does in the end, also made me a loser.

Nutcase

I see the world in a different way that most other people do.

I speak about what I see in thoughtful symbolic language that takes some effort to engage.   When you do engage my communication, it often challenges your assumptions, your habits and your comfortable boundaries.

What does this mean to me?

It means I have spent a long life where many other people choose to write me off as a nutcase, as being out of my gourd, coo-koo, too stupid to understand what is obvious to them and what would be best for me.

In fifth grade, Miss Hansen had the class vote on my challenge to her statement of a scientific theory.   It was unanimous.  I was wrong.   I stuck to my facts and when references were checked, I was correct, no matter how much she tried to club me with social pressure.   It should have worked on any other fifth grader, but I came from a very different homelife.

It was a homelife where my family nickname for years was “Stupid,” the target patient who would not go along to get along but instead exposed twisted thinking.  It took a therapist to tell my parents to cut that shit out.   My mother didn’t remember those years; to her it must have just been another imaginary story I was telling, though my sister assures me that she remembers it well.

I know how to stand up for what I see to be right.

I also know how upset and angry I get when people just seem to be writing me off, seeming to twirl their fingers next to their head to communicate with the crowd that I am cracked.

The hot shit young bagger felt the need to punch out the carrying slot in two cartons of Coke Zero cans.   I asked him why he did that; did he think it needed his young strength, or that somehow I was too stupid to know they were there?

I don’t like my cartons punched.  He did it with the cocky assurance of a smooth teen and when challenged, his response was simple.  Instead of offering to swap them, he and the cashier looked at me like I was crazy to complain about something like that.

It really isn’t a big deal in any way other than my feelings, my preferences.  I understood that .  If he offered to swap them, I probably would have just declined the offer, knowing he learned something.

But instead of being gracious, they wrote me down as nutcase for even bringing it up in a way that challenged their authority to bag however they would like.

I don’t look smooth and powerful in the world.   After months of hermitage, I look scruffy and disconnected, I know that.   I also know, though, that appearing in the world as a transwoman also lets people write you off as a sicko, being broken and devoid of standing to challenge the comfortably normative.

For me, the experience of being visibly trans in the world, challenging the assumptions of others by my very presence dovetails into my long personal experience of being seen as a weirdo who can be humiliated, ignored, mocked and isolated.

I am used to others blaming me for however people treat me because if I wanted to fit in, be respected and have credibility, I just wouldn’t be so freaky and challenging.

The one thing I have been unable to surrender is my voice, as it carries what I value most, the work I have done to clarify and understand my own understanding and view of our shared nature, our shared world.

Others might tell me that getting others on my side, getting them to share my vision, is the challenge every human has when they want power, respect and dignity in the world.  If I could just compromise, use their own views, seduce them, create an interim consensus on the way to deeper understanding I would be able to get people on my side rather than alienating them.

In this way of thinking, I just need to be more likeable and less challenging.

What is the best technique for me, taking time to build standing in relationships, getting people to like me and then revealing my queerness, or just coming out as queer right up front and letting the chips fall where they may?

This has been a choice I have wrestled with all my life.   How do I package my voice?

I have come to the understanding that once my voice is out there, people are going to respond how they will, and no amount of sugar will take away the tang of my reflections of their world.

Sure, I use humour and grace to be pleasant and fun to engage, making the revelation easier to take, and I offer a great deal of encouragement and support to those I am relationship with, a great deal of attention and caretaking, but in the end, I am who I am.

Why did I come to support queer back in the 1990s?    I got there because I knew, honoured and respected the nutcases in the world, those people who claimed the wildness bold individual vision over the tameness of pleasant assimilation into constructed social groupings.

I know, though, that it is lines just like that which cause people to roll their eyes, looking at others in shared agreement that I am a nutcase whose challenges can be easily dismissed.

I feel how much being written off as a nutcase hurts me, isolates me, and saddens me.  I know how much it has cost me through the decades.

Fighting for the simple engagement and respect of other people though, trying to modulate myself down into the place where I can make change one iota at a time, well, that just feels crushing.

I was recently sent an essay from a transperson about claiming beyond separation and was struck by how much it reflected what I shared in a keynote at IFGE in 1995, twenty years ago, after I had already been out for a decade.   I was a nutcase then and remain a nutcase now.

And that will wear you right down.

Smashed Concrete

Oh, my love
I am here with you
seeing your heart

I am here to release your feet
from the concrete of literalness
suffering as they slog
to move even an inch forward
in the mire of mindlessness
fluttering against the vacuum
of the clueless

How do you fly
while cemented to the ground
of those who can not respond
to the tinkling lilt of beauty and brilliance?

The bulk of your body
is assigned to pull down
the lightness of your heart
as it dances through ideas and feelings
as delicate and delightful
as the sparkling stars

Everyday
your feet are buried even as
your spirit struggles to soar
lifting you up
until the weight placed on your base
strains and smashes
pulling you down to dull earth
in a thumping smash

Still you try
day after day
your heart so needing to soar
where beauty and evanescence
claims freedom and grace
the shimmering motion
telling all
revelation of incandescence

Crash you go
Crash you break
Crash you deflate
pulled back to the base
by the weight they placed
to fix you down
into their own banality

Shattered you lie
flitting inside yourself
such driven beauty
straining to claim a place
in an open and fresh sky

Respect the fixing
duty and demands
struggle to comply
with leaden anchors

Oh, my love
I am here with you, seeing your heart
here to release your feet
from the concrete of literalness
reflecting and affirming
the fancy of your flights

Sever your ballast
cease the trudging
leading nowhere
assured that lightness & beauty
has always been
your gift from me

Serene Surrender, Courageous Battle

Arizona Abby always used to be upset with the way I quoted the serenity prayer.   Her version was classic.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I start with power to change what I can, serenity to accept and then wisdom.

Reinhold Niebuhr was a nice theologian who wrote a nice prayer.  As a somewhat queerer entity, I’m going to suggest a slightly different incantation.

God, help me surrender to what I cannot change,
help me battle to change what I can
and keep me clear enough to know the difference.

The real challenge in the prayer isn’t having serenity, having courage or strength, rather it is being willing to surrender and being willing to fight.

We each heal in our own time and in our own way.   In that process, the surrender demanded and the battle required is not with some outside force, some external challenge, rather we have to learn how to embrace our nature and how to fight our own fears and pain.

The serenity prayer guides us in that biggest of battles any human ever faces, the battle only they can fight, the grace only they can give, the battle that rages inside.

The struggle with the dragon inside of us, the monster fed with old horrors, broken expectations, unhealed wounds and mounds of hopeful rationalizations, the ego that resists the discomfort required to get over our own damnselves and get clear, is the struggle everyone wishes that they could delegate to another.

We want our mommy to protect us, want her to banish the foes and challenges, want her to do the grown up stuff that we know comes hard to us and that we cannot accept came also very hard to her.   We squeal and whine, wanting the world to change around us, the rules shifting to eliminate a struggle that is easy to call unfair.

Like any struggle, winning that struggle inside requires focus and discipline, keeping our eye on long term benefits over the ease of short term comfort.   It demands that we not get distracted by our own impulses, that we do the hard shit work that clears the way for future benefits.

We need to pick our battles, serenely surrendering those that take us away from the centre and committing our strength and courage to those which can make a real difference in our choices, our life and our happiness.   Keeping goodness in mind, we must defeat the ego and indulgent inside of us, the part who craves the lackadaisical life of a slacker.

It may be easy to always feel the need of another mommy, someone who we want to believe can save us from the hard work of owning our own life, but in the end, no one can do the work to reshape your choices by reshaping your priorities and the way that you see the world.

Healers help not by doing the healing, but only by setting the ground so those needing healing have the courage and serenity, the strength and the surrender, to enter their own inner battles.

Fighting your mommy in an effort to have her change the rules, trying to impose the way you wish the world was over the way that it really is, will never achieve any purpose.   Woe has always been part of the human condition and always will be, though the “woe is me” impulse that hastens self pity will always be a dead end when compared to woe for the people around us who need our strength, our gifts and our help.

Nobody has the energy, focus, time and need to change everything.   You cannot win them all, so you have to choose where you put your limited and precious efforts.

Not struggling with what is important, though, for you and for the people you love and are allied with, is to avoid the work that changes human lives — changes your life — for the better.

The call to surrender, the call to battle and the requirement for smarts to know which is required in any given circumstance is a challenge, but in many ways it is the defining challenge of a human life.  If we do not engage this call, we just carry on old habits, allowing our own unhealed and needy places to drive our choices and to define our life.

The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are.  That gift is gained by letting go of who you are not and working to strengthen who you are, surrendering to the essential and battling with the ephemeral.

No matter how much you want someone else to fight that battle, or even to give you permission to not have to fight it, the fight within you for better, for clearer, for more righteous, for more enlightened is a fight that only you can make.

Trying to shift that responsibility only puts heavy demands on others around you while not changing your own responsibility to manage your own fears, pain and impulses.  You have to be able to talk yourself off the ledge by focusing on what is important over what is uncomfortable.

Call it strength or courage, serenity or surrender, wisdom or enlightenment, the battle for your own soul is at the heart of the human struggle.  Only you can have the grace, focus and discipline to change your vision, your choices, and the essential happiness and effectiveness of your own life.

The Me Conundrum

At a certain point, you have to acknowledge that some of the things you fantasized about doing are just never going to happen for you in this lifetime.

You are who you are, and while you still have room to grow, going backwards, erasing the past and becoming shiny and new just isn’t going to happen for you.

It’s easy to look at points in our lives where we wish that a different choice had been available to us, where we imagine that somehow, we could have become a different person.   We made the best choice we could at the time, though, even if that choice came out of fear, hurt or broken emotion, and that particular choice can never be made again.

The best we can do is to encourage young people to make better choices than we did, more considered and considerate, and to make better choices now and in the future.

Our history doesn’t limit or define us, but it does reveal us.   Like the figure captured in the stone, we are exposed by the choices we have made up until now, the choices that shaped us.    We have created habits that suit our character in some way, found behaviours that fit at least some part of who we know ourselves to be.

Being who you are is just being who you are, the you revealed through all your explorations of self, through your own exposure.

Being effective, powerful and connected as who you are in the world takes another set of skills.   Being in relationship demands that you take a role, one that meets the needs of other people, one that is appealing and concise, one that fits into the worldview of those around us.

If you really did have it all, where would you put it?   And when the challenge is putting it in the understanding of people around you, how do you convey more than they can fit into their comprehension?

Transpeople want to claim their own truth, their own reality, their own honesty.  I am who I am, as the old Jerry Herman refrain demanded.

What we really mean, most often, is that I am who I claim to be in this moment.  I am my current manifestation of self, the role I perform at this moment.   That is what I want to enter the awareness and understanding of those around me, the impression of myself that I claim as real and true.

Are we who we claim to be or are we who we are revealed to be?

Or are we really who others perceive us to be?

Are we defined not by our assertions or by our history, but rather by the role we play in society, by the many and varied roles we play?

Certainly in the experience of those around us, we are who they see us as being, not who we wish to be or even a summary of who we were in the past.  Certainly those pieces help shape how others see us, but they are not absolute truth that constrains the view of others.

It is our choices that make the most impact on others.   Our choices are the way we express who we are, shaped by our history, our training, our desires and our fears.   What we choose to hide and what we choose to show, all revealed by choices we make mostly out of habit, mix with the understanding of those around us to define who we are in relationship, who we are in the world.

The assertion of authenticity — “This is the real me, because I am ______!” — ends up being only one facet of how others see us in the world, and far from the most important facet.

The most important bit of how they see us is the model of the world, the belief system that they carry in their head.   Who can they imagine us being?   Can they get past the assumptions and stereotypes they hold about people like us — our sex, our age, our weight, our beauty, our class, and everything else — or do they end up pinning us into the pigeonholes that they already hold?

People are used to needing a simple worldview, a simple set of classifications and categories.   They like the boundaries and barriers, the walls that keep challengig things separate inside their own head.

No matter how much we know who we are — and that knowledge is often shaped by who we want to be, by the limits of our own exploration and experience — it is often easier and more effective to be who others need us to be, who they expect us to be.   The complexity and subtleties of who we really are just creates noise that makes us less effective in the world.

We produce ourselves to simplify our message in the intention of making our choices more potent and compelling in the world.  We understand the role we are cast in so we endeavour to play that role, whatever the cost.

Revelation becomes clutter and the choice becomes, as it so often does, what parts of you need to be erased in order to fit into the expectations and assumptions of those around us.   We police our own expression, denying our own vulnerable heart because we know that few people can be trusted to get the message, be trusted to tend tenderly to our most potent revelation.

The skills to play a clean and understandable role in relationship are valued in this culture.   The role I was cast in, as a guru, visionary and healer, dates from very early days for me, even before I was in my teens.   I know how to play that role and people love me for it, being a big rock of a coach, safe space to let it all out and get a different, more clear understanding of the situation and the possibilities.

Those skills, though, don’t erase what has been revealed to me over time.   For example, I know that my defensive skills in my family were emotional understanding and manipulation, which are not really guy skills.  My feminine self came out early, though not stereotypically, not being slight and seductive.

My guru role is powerfully androgynous, beyond the expectations of standardized desire.  I know that I could and can clothe myself across gender boundaries and still be seen as a guru, like so many spiritual figures robed in dress and adornment.

But trying to find space in the world, inside of the understanding that others carry of the world, to show my deep and beautiful femininity, well, that is outside of the roles others carry in their head.

We are who we are revealed to be, yes, but only inside.

In the world, we are who others can see us as being, between our choices and their comforting assumptions.

And “me” is stuck somewhere between.

Battered and Tattered

You have taken so many hits, I told TBB the other day, and have gotten up again after them to continue the good fight.   She just keeps trying to do the work and that work has served her well, especially with her family.   Even after incredible attempts of others to drive a wedge between her and her children, she is close with them.  She struggled through failures and found her own success and happiness, maybe not seen in depth, but with coworkers, friends and projects that amuse and delight her.

“You fight and get up too,” TBB told me.  “It’s one of the things I admire about you.  The big difference is that when I get knocked down, I go and pick a different fight, but you kept fighting the same battle, for your family and for your beliefs.  I don’t know how you survived getting back up and doing it again.  It would have shattered me.”

There were decades of those fights, capped off by two and a half years of compliance, understanding that fighting was not only beyond my means but it would also shatter the very thin lifeline that was left to me.

I understand the need to fight in the world.   One has to stand up for oneself, taking the hits and creating the space for growth.

I am so battered and tattered, though, that the fight has gone out of me.  I am expired.

I watch other transwomen fight in the world and their fights seem so brutal to me, trying to force themselves into a context that feels like they are twisted into a pretzel behind their armour. The ultimate trans surgery is to pull the broomstick out of your own ass, but after enough years, that broomstick becomes embedded, defining your choices forever.

Fitting into the conventional models of trans didn’t  work for me fifteen years ago, and it seems beyond impossible now, even as trans gets trendy.

The world is full of bullies trying to assert themselves in the world.  Instead of letting people merge into the slower lane, they aggressively blow their horn and zoom by, asserting their own entitled privilege over rules and courtesy.   To live in the world you need to be able to face these people, either letting their rude arrogance wash over you because you know it is about them, or boldly claiming your own place in the face of their assaults.

Neither of these choices feel available to me anymore.  I struggle just to take care of other people, using up what limited willpower I have on their demands and getting very little back in return as they turn up their nose at what I offer, needing to reject it, needing me to fight with and for them.

I have no belief in what I am fighting for anymore.  I know how to scrape at small successes and work to make them larger, but even small successes escape me now.  My voice seems to repel and alienate people, my efforts seem to go sour.   All the air in the world seems to be sucked up by others, leaving my breath shallow and ragged.

What are the dreams and possibilities worth me fighting for?   Where are the wins, the delights that make the fight reasonable, that nourish, replenish and motivate?  What the hell is worth getting bombed and bruised, battered and tattered for again?

I know what people want of me.  They want what they have always wanted, me to stand up and be of service to them and to other people.  They can each imagine ways that I can offer the same kind of insight and encouragement to the wider world that they found valuable.   They want me to be there in the world to make their life easier, breaking ground and thought for them to follow behind.

Seeing my strength, they want more strength from me, more fight.   All I need is the willpower, the gumption, the dedication.

Have you ever been to an introvert’s funeral?  No, I didn’t think so.   They tend to be very, very quiet affairs, unmarred by an enormous gaggle of mourners remembering what a social, active and engaging person the deceased was.

I know my job as a coach.  I encourage people to fight for craft, precision and vision, to claim better in the world no matter how much they would rather claim easy and likeable, comfortable and habitual.  They need me to fight with them and they hate the fact I fight with them, knowing that engaging challenge is the only way to grow and heal, but resisting every moment.

When people act out, I know that their choices say much more about them than about me, but I also know that I am the one their own angst is projected upon, the one who ends up battered and tattered.   I don’t get the luxury of kicking back, my own clarity and their fear denying me the luxury of lashing into emotion.

My history as a caretaker starts very very young in a way that few can really engage as they never faced two Aspergers parents.  I had only shattered mirrors to find myself in, especially as a transkid and transadult in a time where trans and sickness were synonymous.   I was smart, a born shaman with x-ray vision who had to learn how to let go of manipulation and open to her own heart.  Tough stuff.

I fought and I fought and I fought.  And now, beaten out and chilled to the bone, feeling lonely,  deserted of affirmation and dreams, getting up one more time feels beyond me.  My body is battered and tattered from neglect, yes, but more from the costs of taking the blows of trauma, keeping the score of getting up again and again and again, only to be knocked down hard.

I don’t need someone to explain the world to me, giving me techniques and strategies, don’t need skittish helpers who fear my energy and possibility, trying to teach me how to fit in better.  That work I did, and while I know how much I stand out, I also know that fitting into the expectations and contexts of others is beyond me.

Where do i exist in a world where attention and respect are stretched so thinly? How do I feel mirrored, reflected and seen for anything other than how I could take care of others if only I would stand up and fight for them?

I see the fights I need to make to claim a future.   They are not exceptional, they are just the everyday battles every human in this culture has to engage in, the challenges of a human life.

Being so battered and tattered, though, they seem like trials that I have very little will or incentive to endure.  Where is the strength, what is the point?