Essential Tragedy

Every human life is a dance with tragedy.

Heartbreaking things happen all the time.   The challenge each of us has is finding a way to heal, to learn, to move on from tragedy, making the most of what we do have rather than being sunk by our pain and our losses.

“The Loneliness Of A Long-Lost Tranny.”

That’s been the tagline on this blog since the beginning, eleven years next month.

And that is, I now understand, a cogent expression of my own personal tragedy, the one that has sunk me.

The essential tragedy of being trans in the world is not related to body issues or mental instability.  Rather it is located in the alienation, the isolation of not having a network of people who mirror us effectively, seeing, understanding and valuing us in a way that helps us move tragedy from something shameful we carry within to something human which connects us with others.

A history of being marginalized and shamed makes it very hard for transpeople to move beyond the pain of tragedy to the revelation of fundamental humanity and essential beauty.  We learn to police ourselves viciously, trying to keep our tragedy hidden and away while all the time it devours us, always ready to seep out.

Compartmentalizing our own experience of tragedy is useful, but when the emotional tank gets full, we need some way to vent, some way to act out.

I knew about tragedy and denial very early.

Sure, we are all born to suffer and die,” I wrote on a card I had printed up when I was seventeen.

But before you go,” it continued on the inside, “try the pâté.  It’s wonderful.

Tragedy, I knew was guaranteed.

Having someone to understand and mirror the feelings it brought up, to stand with compassion and kindness, well, there was no guarantee of that.

Growing up with two Aspergers parents who were trapped in their own mind with no way to understand or communicate their own experience of tragedy.

My mother was sure everything was about her, an attempt to hurt her, a denial of happiness.

My father was sweet, loving and oblivious, looking to my mother to handle emotions in the loving way that his dear mother did.   That was not going to happen.

The tragedy of growing up with Aspergers parents just wasn’t something any adult could help me with.   We had no extended family around, as my mother never connected to networks, and the clinical professionals they sent me to just couldn’t get what was wrong with my parents, what I needed.  After all, I sounded so smart and clear, which for me was just a symptom of the early adultification I had to have to care for my parents, my siblings and protect myself.

I tried to share the struggles of being trans, but at that time, in that place, well, not only did nobody get it, they also saw it as something disgusting, sick, broken and nasty to be suppressed and erased, not held tenderly.  I knew I was trans, and when I tried to talk about it, I found that people, even those who claimed to be open, compassionate and caring just froze right up.

When transpeople come out, they usually want to share the tragedy of having to negotiate being trans in the world that they have endured all their life.   When they share that tragedy, though, others want to agree with them, identifying trans as a tragedy and urging them to deny it and put it away.

Today we know that it isn’t being born with a trans nature that is an essential tragedy, rather it is the demand that we stay silent, hidden and kill off part of our heart that breaks us.  We learn that trying to share our truth, to have it heard & mirrored just opens us to abuse “for our own good,”  others who feel entitled to tell us just how sick and perverted we are, tragic wastes of a human life.

Living in a pool of unmitigated and unbalanced tragedy was enormously costly to me.  When I reached for more and better I was quickly immersed again in the pain and fear of those around me. I had so little happiness capacity left that I could not struggle on to land long enough to learn to breathe, instead being pulled back into the little chamber of safety kept open by the force of my own will.

My response was learning to cloister myself, turning to the religious instinct.

From the moment we are born we live with the constant presence of death, death of our dreams, death of those we love, death as a result of almost every choice we make, from animals we consume to relationships we end, to eventually the final death of our body.

The essence of religion has always been revealing the meaning in death, from the death of the son to the death of the sun as winter comes?   Religious thought puts death in context, using some kind of received wisdom.

My shaman nature strove to put my own personal experience of tragedy in some kind of model, some kind of discipline & practice.   Trust me, this was not what the other ten year olds around me were doing.   There was no church, though, that was ready to help me understand and value the way I was created; trust me, I looked.

I knew that because I was trans.  I knew that my heart wasn’t standard issue for my body, that my body would never be the one I needed.

Worse, though, I knew that tragedy was something I could not share, could not get help with, could not find a way to transform into a gift.

My tragedy was mine alone.   Worse, it was a sign that something horrible was wrong with me, something I had to fight with all my might or be met with nasty effects.

The models in the trans world, the ones I declared needed to be thrown out in my 1995 keynote, were about sickness and hobbies.   Either I was dysphoric or I was just playing.   Even at age seventeen, I that knew neither of those fit me.

Once I came out in the mid 1980s, though, I found that if you weren’t willing to fit in one of those boxes, transsexual or crossdresser, there was no safe space for you in set of the interlocking communities around trans.   People just wanted to tell you what you were doing wrong, wanted to project the way they managed their essential tragedy onto you.

As transpeople, one of the most difficult bits is being unable to share our tragedy.   Our heartache is seen as our own fault, something we brought on ourselves, punishment for not following the simple rules that society offers.

Our personal tragedy is sharp and clear to us particularly because it is not a tragedy we can really share.   And because we can’t share it, we cannot be affirmed in transcending it, in having others find ways to affirm and lift the parts of us that are still whole and maybe even strengthened by your tragic losses.

The great longing for connection with something beyond the bounds of our own frail bodies is always at the heart of religion.  It one of the great shared experiences of the spirit.

Your alienation, the alienation that can only be addressed by a deeper and more profound connection with meaning, whatever the verbiage that story of meaning is wrapped in, is part of the experience of every human.

Our biggest tragedy as transpeople is the way we are dehumanized and scorned for placing the longing in our heart over the social realms of power structures others find comforting and useful, like the structures and strictures of a church.

Our mission as transpeople is to boldly reveal the continuous common humanity which exists at a level much deeper than the conventions of gender and the separations which those conventions try to promulgate as real.

We are profoundly aware of our personal tragedies, but in the end, suffering tragedy binds humans together much more than sharing joys.    Every life contains tragedy so every human has the challenge to find ways to both honour that tragedy and to rise above it, claiming what is revealed when our expectations and assumptions are removed through the the experience of living fleshly, human life.

One of the common beliefs about why people are created is that we are here to learn, the obligation to suffer, to try and fail and try again helping us clarify the deeper understandings, getting us closer to a divine stance, one where we value the eternal over the ephemeral, where we approach others with compassion and cooperation.

Experiencing the tragic is how we learn, how we break down beliefs about separation and let our bleeding hearts come together and bind us.  Unless we enter and engage our own tragedy, we cannot really transcend it, finding the  essentials of spirit beneath the fleshly desire and pain.   Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, as the Buddha reminded us.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy; when the pain is gone the revelation remains and beyond fear we finally get the joke Voltaire understood.

Sharing the beauty, though, the joys, the divine surprise was the only way we humans have to tolerate that relentless tragedy, the connection of love is the only way to bear up.   When we cannot share, we cannot heal; mirroring is vital.

“The Loneliness Of A Long-Lost Tranny.”

I created this blog to offer my own personal tragedy & the knowledge that entering it lead me towards.   I knew I needed to share, to expose my own explorations, to offer mirroring to others and perhaps to get mirroring returned.

Now, though, I know that like so many transpeople, the tragedy of alienation which leads to isolation and pain has swamped me.   I cannot imagine being out there without having a way to share my experience and I cannot imagine that others will engage my tragedy and value the jewels contained within it.

I’m not the first transperson who is lost like this, though, and sadly, I know that I will not be the last.


Continue reading Essential Tragedy

Saving Souls

“The eyes are the window to the soul.”

Grown up transpeople know this well.   Instead of looking at someone, they have learned to look into another person, evaluating their choices, including the emotions that flicker across their eyes, to understand who they are.

When you understand that the essence of gender lies in the heart and soul of people, rather than in their crotch, looking inside is the only way to know who people are.

Trying to make and enforce any kind of rules based on the content of someone’s soul, though, isn’t something that is easily done in law or in the comments of a Facebook post.   It is much easier to categorize people by their externals, by some apparently “objective” criteria, a nice finite cut across the continuum to sever a spectrum into a binary that can then be codified, contained and controlled.

If transgender expression it is about anything it is about the desire of the heart, the call of the soul, overriding the conventions and constrictions of imposed social order.   We express who we know ourselves to be inside over the constraints and codicils written on to our body, moving beyond what others see as compulsory gender roles to rich and determined personal expression.

Some may say this is just the sickness of our brain, the brokenness of dysphoria emerging, but transpeople have always existed in society; sociobiologists would suggest that we add some sort of survival value to the group, because we sure don’t breed easily.

If transgender expression is the triumph of soul expression over social convention, then it is our souls which hold the value we bring, not our political force.   In the same way that we are not numerous enough to have a strong breeding influence, we are not numerous enough to gather together become a bloc.  Instead, we offer our value as individuals salted through the population, bringing our trans force to add just a bit of tang to the mix.

The most profound need that transpeople have, I believe, is not political action, being rolled up together as a protected class, but rather deep healing of our battered and scarred souls.

Emerging in a determinedly binary society has an enormous cost for each of us.   We fight a personal and intense battle to claim ourselves beyond social pressures, without the support of peers or those around us.   We have to batter through stigma & fear that wants to keep us in our place, in a nice manageable box, feeding us into being fixed in the status quo.

In coming out we are forced to decide what parts of us to cut off to fit into the networks we need to support our basic humanity.   If we don’t want to be rejected by family, if we want to get a good job, if we want to have lovers, if we don’t want to be harassed in public, how do we need to hide parts of us that others find challenging and offensive, triggering their fear and judgment?

All of this takes a very high toll on our very soul.   Our soul may be eternal, unable to be destroyed, but it can certainly be battered, and the frail human who carries that soul can always feel the pain, frustration, rage and erasure that comes from our own heart being hammered down to try and suit other people.

This is the reason, I suggest, that narratives of trans murder are so resonant with us (2006), not because we are being killed at statistically high rates or that our own lives are directly under threat, but because we acutely feel the soul murder that we had to go through, the destruction that we had to be complicitous with.

What do transpeople need?   We need our souls healed and saved.  We need our souls to be seen, touched and valued, need to be able to drop our defences, open our spirits and be gently and reverently held, respecting the beauty that lies within, the power that so scared us we tried to break our own hearts.

This is very hard magic.  Until we can hold ourselves with compassion rather than with rationalization, can drop the fierce policing we do to make sure we do things  “the right way,”  how can we ever really open to another soul that is called to make bold individual choices we would never make for ourselves?

As long as we believe that it is what is on the outside that counts, believe that people can easily be categorized and judged, we will hold ourselves defended.   We will impose those rules onto us and to everyone we meet, looking not for what divine surprise they can share with us but instead for why we can dismiss them as messy and broken, without standing or status.

The power is not having others come to the fundamental beliefs we hold about the right way to be in the world, rather the power is in being open to the beautiful and battered soul that lies within every human, their connection to the godhead which threads through us all.

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but who in this culture has the time, the energy and the openness to really look inside someone, see their soul and value who they are in this moment?

Grown up transpeople know how important this is because they know how important it is to them.   They own their own mature and centred presence because they have made peace with their own soul, even the dark and scary parts where they were told their ugliness lived.   They have entered their own hell (1996), collected their own jewels, and learned to move beyond the programmed fear of society, instead moving to love.

Getting transpeople together to take political action will always have limited attraction.   Most of us don’t desperately need political help, rather what we need, even when we boil with activist rage, is visible affirmation and tender caring for our own incredibly tortured soul.

I know that many will reject this notion, claiming that the spiritual is crap and all they need is to affirm their own doctrine and use whatever is available to get the assholes out of their way.    They are stuck in a sick world, full of idiots, and nothing good can happen until they wake up, even if that takes pounding them with a stick.   It isn’t their healing and salvation that is required, it is calling out offenders and demanding that they change.

We defend our soul in any way that we can, for we need it to feed our own happiness and satisfaction.   For many, that means armouring it up, creating walls of separation between us and the bad people, those who don’t get it.

Those walls, though, end up running right through our heart, trying to wall off the parts of who we are that we feel we need to reject and destroy to become right in the world.

Healing the soul is the first step to healing the world.  It is the first step to becoming powerful in the culture, confident and centred in our own skin.  Instead of being burdened with reactionary choices we can open ourselves to tend to others who also feel erased, hurt and betrayed by the social demands placed on them.

When we come to peace with our own soul we can come to take power in the world, finding our voice and our presence and offering the magic that those who have crossed sex/gender expectations always have.

The eyes are the window to the soul.   When we can see that, see the beautiful and wounded unique individual inside ourselves and inside those we come in contact with, we will see how healing and helping the soul is always the basis of healing and helping the world.

Activism Period

The biggest problem facing transgender activists is that for most transpeople their activism period is quite short.   They aren’t activists until they emerge as trans, not fighting from the closet, and they only stay activists until they find a way to assimilate, blending into a full life.

While gay & lesbian are lifetime identities — you are always with a partner or looking for a new one — in many ways trans is traditionally a transitive identity.   You emerge as trans, do the work of finding yourself and then you take on a more normative identity again, still trans but moving that bit to the background where it won’t get in the way of doing other work.

The people in this activity period are therefore quite raw, unformed and undependable.   They are in the process of change, so they can change at any time, resetting priorities and acting out against former allies.

As a mature person who happens to be trans, why do we want to be identified with these raw people?   We know that they are likely to bite the hand that reaches out to help them, acting out of pain, aggression and rebellion.   Their rawness is obvious to us even as they try to claim a voice, so we know to keep out of their way.

So many trans activists are in their raw activity period that as a group they have trouble respecting or even understanding those transpeople who have chosen a measure of assimilation for themselves.   They come from “call out culture,” the pattern of slamming and shaming people who don’t play along, who don’t surrender their voice to the will of the mob.

Since these raw activists reject any aspiration of assimilating, they reject people who carry those values, even if those values are crucial to transpeople taking their part in mature political action.

For most mature transpeople, they did their work in the mess and drama of the interlocking communities around trans and have little interest in going back there.

Besides, what does being big, bold and trans gain them, anyway?   For gay & lesbian folks their identification gains them access to a network of potential partners, but since transgender isn’t an orientation, there is no such benefit built in.

Transpeople out of their activism period have had to learn to live within the society as it is, figuring out how to keep their heads down, stay invisible enough and get what they need without additional legislation or the demand that everyone wear a pin with their chosen pronoun on it.    They learned how to show themselves in the world, learned how to make peace with the limits of their expression, learned, at least to some degree to have the courage to change what they can change, the serenity to accept what they cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.

Activists want transpeople to make political choices, throwing themselves against the status quo.  Transpeople outside of their activity period, though, want to make life choices, fitting in where they can, claiming a full life and only pushing for change where it is possible and really needed.

Personally, I don’t need my life to be more politicized, by people who want to erase people like me or by people who want people like me to be tools to be thrown against the establishment.

So many tools that activists use, like the overblown fear of murder (2006) or the rage around bathroom policing are based around promoting a mindset of fear, abjection and victimization in transpeople.   While this may be effective for those in the activist period, mature transpeople have had to work hard to let go of their shame and fear to claim effectiveness in the organizations and communities they belong to.

In the long term, political effectiveness has to be built around possibility and hope, the idea that if we build communal structures that we can get behind we can lift up all of us, offering a kind of integration which allows the benefits of belonging flow even to the least among us.

As long as emerging transpeople have the loudest voice, though, as long as their flaming rebellion setting the agenda, attempts to build structures of inclusion will always be the targets of bomb throwers who have the arrogance and ignorance to reject compromise and destroy the good.   The perfect is the enemy of the good, because perfect is impossible, no matter how much you want to pick apart rather than build up.

Activists often grab the spotlight to inflame anger, believing that is the way to get cohesion and action in the mob.   They like being the point of the spear, focusing their own rage against any who don’t fall into line and do what they define as “the right thing.”

Expanding the activism period for transpeople can never be about getting more people more upset, rather it has to be about offering a mature, considered, attentive and responsive movement that feels inclusive & valuable rather than just feeling demanding & sensational.

This is not easy.   I spent a decade leading a trans group in the area and I know well the experience of putting together events and then being alone at them as I waited to support and encourage other transpeople.   If they were in a closet, either the closet before emergence or the closet at the end of the rainbow, shrunken to assimilate, they weren’t ready to maturely engage with other raw transpeople in a mature way.

There may be few benefits to being a visible transperson, but making being less than visible intolerable by those who are still raw and raging will never change the benefits, never expand the base.

We need something clear and gracious to fight for, not some bogeyman to fight against.   And we need to believe that if we show up we will not be shamed by some raw and raging transpeople.

Pride has long been the focus of gay & lesbian political action, but it is hard to join a movement full of those we do not feel proud of standing with.   No matter how much activists tell us we need to surrender our voice to victims, to the weakest of us, those taking responsibility and acting with grace towards people who aren’t like them are much easier to support.

If the pain of one of us is the pain of all of us, then the joy of one of is is also the joy of all of us.  When support groups can affirm the transperson who just got the promotion at work, now able to buy a better car rather than shaming that sharing, asking us to consider the weakest and most broken of us and how that sharing makes them feel, then we start to have the basis for healthy, inclusive community and effective political action.

It would be great for transpeople to have a more powerful voice in society.

I just don’t think we get that by striving to keep them raw and raging for more time.

Without Ears

For me, the most important question at the regional Trans/Gender Non-Conforming town hall was why so few people showed up.   We had only four at the start time, only seven for most of the event, though a couple more showed up in the last half hour.

When I tried to raise this question with the local organizer, though, she didn’t want to engage my “negativity.”   She wanted to talk about why everyone should be here, what they should have read in the on-line notices, why it is so important that they be out.

In my experience, pronouncing that things “should” be different rarely creates a difference.  Instead, only putting yourself in the mindset of those you want to serve and attract can help you shape event which make them feel welcome, valued and heard.

I can’t count how many times this organizer explained that it wasn’t her responsibility to consider how other people think, how they respond to her choices.

“My grandfather told me when I was nine that it ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to, so if they have a problem with me, well, their problem,” was a line we heard over and over and over again.

While that may be valid path to a bold trans life, walking strong in your own skin, it doesn’t help you understand what other people need and how you can be more effective in drawing them in.

The pattern, though, happened over and over again, when someone would share their experience or tales from another only to be told that they were doing it wrong, taking too much on themselves, engaging what others called them.

This, of course, was the reason I had suggested that few people came to the event, because they didn’t want to hear others pontificate and tell them they were doing trans wrong, that their feelings were wrong and they should come with a political strength that claimed space in the world.

The state leader was well versed in corporate culture, so she did get notes up on the five different boards, the five different categories set up.

To end the evening, though, she snapped into trainer mode — her seat at the front of the room always marked her status — and lectured us on privilege.  She told us that we had to own our own story in a way that would be effective with legislators, 3-5 minute elevator speeches which were earnest and persuasive.

The intent of the leaders was good, creating a space where others could be heard, but at the farm, some animals are more equal than others.

How do we get transpeople who don’t want to have to have their life turned into a brick in the road towards change, politicized and consistent with the common narrative, back into the room?

To me, it’s the big question, and the big answer is simple: make them feel seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution to the group.

When the leaders have trouble hearing, though, encouraging even a pushy loud-mouthed language user like me to drop out of the conversation, well, it is doubtful that those still struggling will find much value in investing their time and energy into the meeting.

Like so very many trans events, the logistics were weak, everyone scrambling to pack up before closing, even if the intentions were good and kindly.

Learning to listen, to ask questions to evoke stories, is at the heart of my own personal understanding of the broader trans experience.  Even if I see someone making choices that I would not make for myself, having feelings that need healing, or offering rationalizations that I know wont serve in the long run, I know they need to feel heard before they can ever hear me.

Why aren’t transpeople coming together to support each other?

I just don’t believe telling them why they should will ever make much of a change in their behaviour.  If what you offer doesn’t seem valuable and empowering, well, then you have to change what you offer.

First, though, you have to actually understand what the punters do want, do need and will give up precious time, focus and resources for.

In my experience, that takes a real willingness to listen, not just to preach the old chestnuts, recite the current doctrine.

Listening and caring what others think and feel is essential to being a good marketer, and more importantly, to being a good mom.


Every teenager believes they created the world from scratch.   No one has ever felt like they do, for their first times, first challenges, first feelings are the first that ever existed in their own world.

Adolescents have to create themselves, assembling a new identity.   They don’t have the time, intention or capacity to wonder where the components they assemble into their own collage came from, where the strategies that they see as original & innovative were tried before.

Consciousness is not a big factor in the adolescent brain.   Transpeople, though, often emerge later in life, with mature adult brains, able to do the work of considered awareness in creating a new persona for themselves, a new approach to the world.

What most of us want when we emerge, though, is to chase that childhood dream, the one we have had since we were very, very, very small.   That dream isn’t rational or sensible, it’s not grown up or well reasoned, it’s just massively powerful, pulling at our heart in a way that we knew we had to swallow and deny.

If we had to do a literature review before we leapt, run our dream through sharp thought, well, then we probably wouldn’t leap at all.

Once we emerge, though, how long should it take us before we are ready, willing, able and needing to learn not just from our own experience but also from the experience of others?

The need to invent the world for ourselves, though, often creates barriers to engaging the narratives of others that we never overcome.   We fear engaging a broader reality against our dream, so our dream becomes not one of understanding and wise creation but rather one of rejection and indulgence.

The rebellion it takes to claim visible trans identity in the world is often the end of the road for us.   Our identity becomes rooted in the negative; we are damn sure what we are not, but have much less idea of what we are.   Instead of standing for something, we stand against, attacking and dismissing anything that seems to challenge us, that doesn’t look attractive to us, doesn’t fit in our deepest dreams.

To be a grown-up transperson, for which there have always been very few role models visible, is to be a compromised transperson.   Considering the needs of others, of how we are effective, taking power in the world always requires that we be less than ideal, less than radical, less than pristine, less than demanding.

From the first moment I came out, over three decades ago now, I deeply understood that the benefits of balance and maturity were longer lasting and more valuable than the rages of idealistic youth.

This approach, though, didn’t make me popular with those who just wanted to play out the old dream for a night (“Hello, I’m Biff!  Hello, I’m Suzy!) or those who wanted to cure their dysphoria by disappearing into the world as their dream persona.

People heal in their own time and in their own way.   For all too many transpeople, trapped in the pressure of a solitary life, facing the demands of carrying their own bubble of mental force with them all the time, this healing never really comes.

To heal and grow we must be vulnerable, dropping our armour to connect with other hearts and receive the divine surprise, but after a lifetime of being taught that letting people in is allowing them to hurt us “for our own good,” well, we just don’t do that.   We acutely know that the mirroring we need will be denied to us as others just want to tell us why and where we are wrong.

Even other transpeople are unsafe.   Their negative identities, based in rebellion and rejection, give them the perceived entitlement to slam anyone who makes life harder for them by not following the same set of rules that they use to rationalize and justify their existence.    They can’t hear others voices until they believe we heard them first, yet if we hear them without complying with their fundamental rules, we can’t really have heard them, at least in their view.

Transpeople challenge the hell out of each other because we reveal where dream and reality depart, a departure that can deflate the mental armour we need to continue to impose our worldview in every moment.   The shame is always close at hand for those who have to transgress big social taboos just to follow their heart.

Everyone has to figure out their own understanding of the world they live in.   We have to create our own mental model, be that a model based on separation, on creating walls between us and the bad people, or on connection, on finding the continuous common humanity that links us with something larger.   The balance of asserting, imposing & belief and opening, listening & doubt is always difficult but if you feel you are always under attack and threat, always living in fear of the third gotcha, well, choosing vulnerability is very hard.

I have spent decades sharing my view of the world, a view that is defined by being open to the narratives of other transpeople.    My commitment to queer is a commitment to valuing the divine surprise of what others share rather than trying to impose my own schema on the world and trying to silence anything that challenges it.

It is frustrating, though, that more transpeople don’t look around, don’t hear stories, don’t go to the history and the literature to understand the lessons others have shared, to see where and how those tales from the front might inform their own choices, their own creation of self.

Today there is such an emphasis on the newly out, the adolescent and just forming, that the wisdom which exists deep in the experience of mature transpeople is devalued.  Instead, rebellion, negation and rage is valued, putting the fury of claiming well ahead of the challenges of thriving.

I stand on the shoulders of others, all those transpeople who have given back by sharing the jewels of their lives, the moments of insight and revelation which both deeply brought up their pain and intensely revealed their beauty.

Others, though, don’t seem to hold this value for the gifts of those who have come before, changing the world and preparing the ground for further flowering.   Rejection is the game, creating a new from scratch, without any care for the hard, hard, hard choices which got us to today, even as they now appear less than perfect, less than idea, a little bit ugly, twisted and flawed.

As much as we want to claim our dreams, in the end we are creatures of the flesh, living within the limits and possibilities of the social network that we live within.  Rebellion alone will not create the new; any idiot can burn down a barn, but it takes pragmatic work to build one.

Becoming the parent, the one who puts their own dreams on the back burner to facilitate growth and community is hard, for it demands including even that we don’t idealize, demands compromise and grace.

The stories which enlighten those choices exist, but as long as we think we are building from scratch, our identity based on silencing & erasing the old and only creating what we think is new, we will never walk in the wisdom offered to us.  The teacher will stay invisible.

For who have struggled to share, connect and teach, I will note, that is a frustrating and painful outcome.


My life has been profoundly shaped by my experience of my family because that experience shaped my expectations of the will, my coping techniques, and, at least to some degree, my character.

We are formed by our developmental experiences and that formation shapes the direction of our life.

I was just looking at a link from Mark Hutten, Parents With Asperger Syndrome, that was just too much for me to engage earlier.  It appears to be a paper written for clinical professionals to help assess the impact of Aspergers parents in family interventions.

The “big three issues” as Hutten describes them, are:

  1. Poor Cognitive Shifting, which leads to them getting overwhelmed by stimuli, causing withdrawal or acting out
  2. Limited Theory Of Mind which often causes “mind-blind” parents to misread intentions, identifying the accidental as intentional and therefore scapegoating children
  3. Weak Central Coherence which interferes with their ability to identify & rank priorities and importance of the events around them, to use and convey that meta information

Hutten goes on to identify anxiety, emotional disorders, executive function deficits and obsessive behaviour as important secondary issues.

It is easy, Hutten says, for children of Aspergers parents to feel like there is a lack of love for them, not because the parents don’t hold love but because they are unable to do the loving things the child needs to develop solid self-esteem.   It is this failure of emotional understanding and mirroring which creates lifelong challenges.

Hutten, like so many, note that the requirement to help the child falls to the non-Aspergers parent, however, in my case, I didn’t have one of those.

Characteristics of an Aspergers Parent—

• Perfectionism
• Regimentation
• Anger
• Abuse

Child’s Perception—

• Criticism not compliments
• Desire to leave home
• Disagreements between parents
• Egocentric priorities
• Embarrassment in public
• Favoritism
• Fear of the ‘cold’ touch of affection
• Fear of the parent’s mood and not to antagonize
• Feeling a nuisance
• Intolerance of noise and friendships
• Lack of affection, understanding and support
• Parent has a monologue on their own problems

Child’s Reaction—

• Escape using imagination, solitude, alternative family
• Hatred
• Seeking affection and approval

All of Hutten’s points deeply resonate with me, bringing up emotional issues that I continue to have great difficulty finding mirroring about.   Very, very few people have done the work to understand and validate those of us who have the experience being raised by Aspergers parents, the deep and early emotional damage.

What Hutten misses, though, is the way that our own continuing interactions with other people are shaped by the way we learned to be functional and effective in our Aspergers bounded birth families.

To survive, we had to learn how to keep a model of Aspergers style behaviour in our heads.   There was no way to be successful in communicating with or helping our parents unless we adapted our communication to meet their capabilities; after all, there was no way that they were going to adapt to meet us.

We were trained to think like someone with Aspergers, using that mindset as a filter to process and bound our communication with the world.

To care for my parents, who I knew had love but were always able to do incredibly hurtful things to me, full of neglect based in ignorance and abuse based in personal frustration, giving love as concept and not as experience, I had to learn to be their concierge.

Those with Aspergers can learn new ways to understand the world, beyond the bounds of their innate tunnel vision, but they cannot do it quickly or easily.  The Aspergers programming is very reactive, quick and simple, so learning to open up their consideration demands conscious awareness and what seems like infinite repetition to make change a part of their habits.

Just the first step of helping them understand where they are missing the joke is very hard because any problem or limit with their own boundaries are just outside of their realm of comprehension.   Things are simple for them, right or wrong, so seeing the world as a layered, nuanced, contradictory and mystical place, full of shadows and hidden meanings, just doesn’t really compute.

To understand a broader picture they have to see through the eyes of another, have to mentally take on a different viewpoint and set of values, which easily overwhelmed people who are mind-blind and don’t have good mental coherence have an enormous trouble doing, even if they can understand the benefits of trying.

My father just couldn’t take “yes” for an answer.  Even if you agreed with him, he would just keep replaying the same argument, caught in the same mental loop.   If he couldn’t hear yes, how could he possibly ever hear “no,”  engaging my suggestion that his position had big flaws and gaps that would limit the way other people accepted it?

Very few people have the patience and the tenacity to spend years and years fighting the same fight with the same people, trying again, over and over and over again, coming up with new and innovative ways to explain the point while the person you are trying to help just seems to chase their own tail.   We expect that suggestions we make will be ignored or dismissed while the other person just follows their own worn patterns, living in their own comfortable tunnel.

I’m not much of a law of attraction person, but I do believe that your training shapes your choices and your choices shape your results.   I was trained to engage people on the spectrum, so I make choices that work in that context.

This means that people who don’t have that spectrum experience find my approach rather odd & off-putting, while those who are on the spectrum can grasp what I say.  They are, though, on the spectrum, so just grasping what I say doesn’t mean they can really engage it, really open to the emotions and experiences I share, really be moved to grow and actualize quickly and easily.

I don’t want to spend what is left of my life as a handmaiden to those on the spectrum.  I know how terrifically difficult and unrewarding that job is, how much self denial and frustration come with the approach.

On the other hand, though, I have been profoundly shaped by my experience of engaging with those on the spectrum, so I don’t have the ego, the colours, the motion, the warmth, the poetry and the playfulness that allows me to easily engage the “neurotypical.”

I have been shaped by my experience of being assigned as caregiver to my family, the “target patient” and that shaping has put bounds on my life.   The better I got as concierge, the farther away I got from my own swaying humanity, the kind I had to freeze to not overwhelm those around me.

All those scars of my childhood have been identified and healed, but the way taking that abuse shaped me still deeply affects my relationships in the world.

We are formed by our developmental experiences and that formation shapes the direction of our life, and often, not for the better.

Falling Away

It’s beautiful here in these crisp October days in a way that no one who hasn’t lived with deep seasonality can understand.

The leaves drop their green frosting to reveal their natural colours as the sun drops in the sky to illuminate them with magical, dappled, oblique light.   Shadows lengthen, rewarding you with flashes of brilliance, spotlighted trees like perfect paintings, shapes bursting with reds and yellows, heartbreaking beauty around every turn.

In these days I have even left my basement to be in outside, my joy mixed with the pain from my ankles and a quickly dropping gasoline gauge.  I sit on benches and watch the people, clambering to take in these last days, soaking up the final external delights of the year before the world is turned white and better seen from though a window near a warm fire.

Autumn is the burst of glory, all fecund squash and heady aromas, before the freeze of winter comes.   It is so beautiful, so poignant, so intense a reminder of the cycles of life that it finally can bring my tears.   I am in harmony with the world, as I have been for all my life, the cusp of maturation, the edge of dying.

Rebirth is not possible without death and rebirth has always been the energy I placed my hope on, an incarnation beyond the obligations & indignities of scarcity.

My inner life has always been full of rebirth in the way any spiritual life must include the quest for emergence, for moving beyond the fleshly and closer to the infinite.  Instead of clinging to life we cling to the fact of new life, beyond and blessed, terrifying and transcendent, crystalline and consuming.

Leaves turn, the green of youth falling away, showing the beauty underneath just for a few last, languid days.

The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.
— Arthur Schopenauer

Outside I take a moment, the scent of a far away fire which burns up the debris caught on the breeze, to look back.   Looking back is my habit, collating lessons and collecting memories which offer wisdom & insight.   Ahead of me was always terrifying so my chest full of mirror shards has always been my personal talisman, captured moments of what lies beneath the scars of the present.

Winter comes, evoking sadness.  In winter, all we have to keep us warm is the glow of other people, nests & networks which sustain us through the dark and frigid times.   That glow is dim for me, weak and thin, as it has always been.

The fall is so beautiful, not as something to peep at but rather as something to live through.   We change as the earth seems to meet our frail mortality, showing herself to be as vulnerable as we tiny humans are.   Her energy will come back as it has for millennia, but not quite as we know it, for our eyes will have been tempered by another fall.

If you can’t love the revelation of fall then you can’t embrace all of life.  The stripping away comes to each of us, demanding we survive another winter and requiring us to be reborn again, creating the new out of our own older mortality. We are asked to trade vigour for wisdom, sensation for sensibility, trade open promise for being more present, more stripped away.

Fall demands that we claim what we treasure, what we will put up and preserve to hold with us through the darkness of winter.  What will help us get through the frozen days of infertility, the long nights which try our soul?

Delighting in the fall is delighting in gratitude even for the evanescent and ephemeral, the moments of delight the year has given us.   With time and context we can understand the blessings of the gifts which seemed two sided when we first opened them.   With the insight of another year passed we can offer thanksgiving for what we took for granted, for all the effort and love that was given to us.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child, as Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, but no one can stay a child through autumn after autumn.   The sword of time will pierce our skin, it doesn’t hurt when it begins, but as it works its way on in, the pain gets stronger, watch it grin.  Autumn comes to each of us.

Staying ungrateful autumn after autumn can only reveal a hole in our heart, a break in our compassion.  The fall always winnows the grain from the chaff, the valuable from the insignificant, reminding us of the sweetness of what we took for granted at the time.  Why else would so many take the autumn to use Facebook to look up old lovers, those who offered warmth in the past?

Rationality pales in the face of fall.   You can’t argue nature out of her cycles, just as you cannot use facts to try and paper over what a woman feels inside.   Presence is all that counts, laced with smarts maybe, but full of respect for mother nature’s eternal patterns.

When nights get longer and the air fills with the spices of pumpkin pie, we know winter is coming for us once more.    The reflective time increases, shaping the hard choices we know are coming in the season of darkness.  Where will we use what we have left and what will we leave behind, only holding as memories, stories sweet, testing and profound?

The fall is so beautiful as the living concentrate their sweetness and energy, no longer profligate and exuberant, instead focused on bearing fruit, setting seed and preparing for a long, cold sleep.

The fall is in my nature, yes, but it is in the nature of every human who lives on the earth.   The fall comes and then maybe the rebirth, the awakening, after a inside gestation where we draw what we value and what we love close to us.

Winter isn’t far away now, my body tells me, so I must savour each day.  This is always the deepest lesson of death, this need to cherish each moment, adding one more good day to our inventory of memories.   The callous will drop away, losing some but leaving us open and tender again, ready for another chance at life.

The world is falling away out there and it is beautiful.

That is, I guess, why I so need to cry.