Drag Revelation

The lovely thing about drag is that every time you get dressed up it is a celebration.

Drag is a bold claiming of some kind of transformation, a considered and stylized mask that reveals.    Drag is always about “fuck you,” always in your face, and always joyous, even when you own the sad or absurd clown.

Stylish women know that the right outfit can make a statement without words.   They announce their presence with authority, demanding that people look at them and have a response to their clothes.    The reaction may include analysis and critique from other artists, but it always, always includes a strong emotional response, a dramatic invocation.

To claim drag we claim attention.   We claim the power to change the tone of a room by our very presence, claim the spotlight to illuminate the rest of our performance.

For most people, the goal of clothing is practical, to cover the body and to cover what we don’t want exposed.   We dress to fit in with our peers, limiting our unique expression and attempting to minimize any sense of artifice.  We dress to mumble who we are, not to shout it.

Drag doesn’t focus on appropriate, it centres on claiming.  Drag celebrates difference, energy, style and life.

And I miss it.  I miss having a venue where standing out is celebrated.   Drag, over the last decade, has become an offshoot of celebrity culture, where cheap drama and flamboyant fashion have become the stuff of tabloids.   We are encouraged not to make our own celebration but instead judge the actions of others, following their torrid, tawdry and sensational choices as a cheap substitute for own life.

We have moved away from handmade, unique and transcendent to stock, thin and only shocking. Instead of being something we participate in, drag has become something we only observe, searching for flawless and not for feature.   It is part of the commoditization of fashion,  moving from dressmakers to malls stuffed with clothing sewn by sweat shop workers in other countries.

I miss the power of celebration in my life.  There just aren’t enough parties, salons, soirees and gatherings where people come to be fascinating and to be fascinated.  Trans expression, when reduced to walking through a WalMart, changes from cherished, respected and precious to clownish, boring and weird.

You are special, Mister Fred Rogers used to tell us.  Finding a place where you can show that specialness on the outside, can have it seen, valued and respected as an artistic invocation of your own bold, unique and queer nature was important to me.   For me, that happened when we came together to celebrate bold expressions of difference.

I have seen much push in the interlocking communities around trans to homogenize and separate identities.  This is the natural outgrowth of Trans 101, the standardizing attempt to categorize and divide expression into silos, deciding which are sanctified and which are not to be respected because they don’t toe the line of orthodoxy.

So much of a trans life is about what you have to make invisible to stay stable in the world that moments where you can celebrate your nature by making it so visible it screams can keep us sane, healthy and creative.  Affirming how we stand out, not just how we fit in, letting our queer flag fly, lets our soul dance and our possibilities breathe life back into us.

We want to fit in, yes, want to be a normie, want to be valued for what lies inside rather than how our outside is different and a bit strange.   To do that, though, we have to have some way to reveal the contents of our heart in the world, to show why nurturing what makes us unique offers benefits to those around us.  We need to make it clear that continuous common humanity isn’t on the surface, it is in the way our souls share truth.

I feel the need to celebrate life, not just to bull through it.   For my people — and you can see them as women, as trans or as clergy — dressing up special to reveal style and symbol has always been a part of that.

Getting pulled back into the mundane and required just closes me down rather than moving me forward.  I find it hard to build up the internal pressure needed to support transformation when I keep having to dump it off to satisfy the small expectations of those around me.

Bold, brave, and beautiful, beyond convention, queerly different.   Drag is a celebration where you claim your own beauty, invoking glamour in the world.

And I miss it.

Motivation, Persistence, Zeal

It’s really not that hard to figure out the right thing to do.  Exercise more, eat better, work harder, take considered risks, let go of bad habits, be honest and diligent.

You can look in any book, take any advice to get a quick consensus on the smart choice, which is just waiting for you to put your effort and focus behind.

The hard part is actually having the motivation to put those wise plans into place.  It is the ability to move outside of your comfort zone to learn new things, to sweat more, to deny yourself pleasure and do the damn work.   We see the costs of doing the work but just don’t believe that the work will bring us what we want and what we need.

Grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.    In a choice between a brilliant notion with weak execution and a weak idea with brilliant execution, always bet on the better execution.

Why then do people often think that the way to help people is to tell them what they should be doing?     They most probably know what they should be doing.   What they lack is the motivation, the drive, the hope, the belief in the possibility of change to act on that knowledge.

My sister is pushing me to go to a gym.   She’s right.  I should be more fit.  But will the cost of having to get naked and stand with the men ever be worth my own vigour?  No.  To her, it’s just simple.  To me, it is being destroyed and erased.  Can she understand why I don’t have the motivation to tough that crowd?   Does she get why that seems a huge cost without a corresponding benefit, why pushing me towards it only puts me in a deeper hole?

Having hope, hope that our work will actually lay the foundation for meaningful change, is at the heart of giving courage and motivation.  Why bust our butts just to be pounded down once more?   Isn’t that a kind of silly ask?   If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  But after a while, go look for something else.  No use being a damn fool about it.

Persistence is the heart of success, no doubt.  Revolution, though, is exhausting. Our own zeal is the only thing that can keep us going, based in some sort of deep belief.

Feeding the zeal, though, is not easy or comfortable for those who want to help us.  They don’t hold a vision for us that transcends the conventional, one that empowers.

ShamanGal’s father is introducing her to some old friends this weekend.  His instinct is to dig out the old, carefully crafted letters about gender transition and rationale, to prepare the dog and pony show to sway them,   SG is resisting this making a big deal out of her emergence.

After two years of being out at work, her “I’m trans, so what?” attitude works for her.  She doesn’t need to explain and justify to everyone, doesn’t need to open that can of worms.

Her father doesn’t understand that idea, though, because he doesn’t live in the world as a transwoman everyday.  To him, the idea is fresh & scary, so he resists it.

I had to remind SG the emotional throes she went through starting work, flipping between wanting to pass all the time and wanting to hold meetings where people were lectured on trans topics and had to sign up for doctrinal acceptance.

To move to “So What?” SG first had to believe that “So What?” was really even a possible attitude towards the world. It was hard for me to get her to “So What?”  to stop thinking of trans as huge stinking deal.   Now she has the challenge of getting her father there, as his vision, his fears haven’t transformed over time, so he can’t yet even imagine it is even possible to just say “My child is trans.  So what?”

The challenge in the world is not knowing the smart choices, the challenge is acting on those choices with grace, smarts and persistence.  It is pushing beyond entropy to endure the deep costs of change.

To do that, you need to have the motivation, the zeal, the belief that enduring the uphill battle can lead you to someplace better, towards the possibility of happiness, comfort, joy and satisfaction.   You have to have robust, shining and durable hope.

Hope isn’t primarily about smarts, it is mostly about belief which manifests in determination.  Doing the work, with an open mind and an open heart, will smarten you up quickly enough.

You can offer suggestions to other people, you can try and use a carrot or stick to get them to comply with those suggestions.  Until you can help them believe their own change, their own healing, their own transformation is possible, they will still resist doing what they know is the right thing, will still shrink away from demands that don’t seem to acknowledge how broken their dreams are.

It’s easy to know good choices.   It’s hard, however, to find the zeal to pursue them.

Zeal is a scary thing, because it isn’t easy to control.   We struggle with it inside of us, so we find it hard to encourage in others.

The zeal that is unlocked when we follow our bliss, though, when we believe bliss is possible, is at the heart of all motivation, all change.

Yes.   Yes, it is.

Want To Be

What do you want to be if you grow up?

To answer that question, you have to a vision of what the possibilities are.  You have to have seen something that draws your heart, a role that looks delightful and satisfying, something you might love so much that you will do the hard, hard work to achieve it.

While reality will always transcend our imagination, without dreams of some kind we won’t have the impetus to go and do the work.    As General Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.”   No plan ever survived its firs encounter with the enemy, but the act of engaging logistical, tactical and strategic  options gives us the power to make better choices when reality intervenes in our dreams.

We read history to inform our choices.  We collect cultural possibilities to shape our own dreams, our own visions, our own hopes.

For transpeople, though, the possibilities we see are mostly broken, mocked, or stigmatized.   Transpeople who have found success have learned to keep their head down, trying to get people to focus on their work and not on their transgender history.

When we see other transpeople in the world, we often see negative images, examples of who we don’t want to have to be in the world.   Rather than dreams, images of other transpeople seem a bit like nightmares.   On one hand, we admire those transpeople for being out and taking the blows, but we don’t really see ourselves as wanting to be like them, wanting to have to suffer the hits they took.

Some of this is internalized transphobia.  We dream of being normative, of fitting in, of being not just “successful for a tranny,” but instead of just being successful and happy for anyone.   We want to see possibilities for ourselves in the wider world and not just inside our own ghetto.

When we try and express those dreams, though, it is hard to get them shared, reflected back from those around us.   Instead of seeing possibility in our own bold claiming of our own queerness, they hold fear for what the world has always done to misfits and deviants.   They cling to a kind of thirdhand fear that even if they can see a glimmer of good in us, others will never see beyond biology and history to our shimmering, human hearts.

Our dreams are the fuel of audacious risk, the energy sustains us through the everyday slights and struggles to master a new kind of embodiment.

You only really love someone
when you love their dreams,
love the possibilities inherent in them.
— Callan Williams

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one,
but from being unable to communicate
the things that seem important to oneself,
or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible
— C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “Retrospect”

How can we work towards becoming the best us we can be if we have no dreams, no images to provide shining examples towards which to shoot?  Those imaginings will never hold the reality we can create, but they must feed our own endurance and energy.

Don’t part with your illusions.
When they are gone you may still exist
but you have ceased to live.
— Mark Twain

Who do you want to be if you grow up?   What is the dream that gives you hope and encouragement in your darkest, loneliest night when others seem to chill your life, diminish your possibilities and return only fear & resistance?

What do you think might just be possible for someone like you to achieve in the world?

Playing Honest

They called me “Stupid” as a nickname in my family from around the age of 7 to the age of 13 when the shrink they sent me to over gender dysphoria suggested that always calling me that might be a bad idea.

I was stupid because I spoke up too much, was too challenging, pointing out too much truth.

Wouldn’t it have been smart to say what other people wanted to hear?   Isn’t that the way we get what we want in the world, telling people what they want to hear?

This is the way of the player, this willingness to use whatever words work to get us what we want.   A player’s expression isn’t about integrity and  honesty, it is about finding and using the emotional buttons of other people to make them like you, make them do what you want.

There is only one reason those tricks work: most people crave hearing what they believe they want to hear.   They want to be swept away into a place where we might get what we have have learned to desire, get the special relationship we believe will save us.

You can’t cheat an honest man.   You can only play a player, someone who believes that they have the smarts and skills and whatever to change someone else to our version of perfection, to have them pay out the way we want them to.   The first person any liar learns to lie to is themself, convincing themselves of stories that they really want to believe.

It is our neediness which exposes us to players, our willingness to believe that there is a short cut, a way to avoid pain & discomfort, a way to make our imaginary dreams come true.    We deceive ourselves because we desperately want to believe in fairy tales, even after we have learned time and time again that we live in a real world where choices always have consequences.

I knew how to be manipulative.   I didn’t know how to be deceitful.    Buying into fantasies was not something I wanted to do, as doubting and questioning were the foundation of any strength I had.

They were, of course, also part of my weakness, creating corporate shills who needed to destroy my credibility and silence me so they could continue to spin their tales, angering transpeople who needed their bubbles as defence and more.

Was I stupid not to buy into the dreams and promises of others?   Was I stupid to not go along to get along?   Was I stupid to challenge rather than to flatter?

Was I stupid not to be a player?   Somehow, I still don’t think so.

Possibility Culture

As a change eater, someone who stands for the possibility of real transformation in the world, one of my hardest and most wearing jobs is to hold open the space for others around me to become new.

It is this job, though, that is the foundation of any healing power that I offer.  To achieve healing, you first have to believe that healing is possible.

The only real healing humans can achieve in the world is transformation into a new mode.

That’s not the healing most of us think we want, of course.   We crave healing that takes us to some ideal dream of who we want to be, healing that doesn’t demand engaging loss, healing that moves us towards something in our comfort zone rather than into the new and unknown.   We want to believe that if we just achieve the one thing we fantasized about, our life will be perfect, a new special relationship to heal us into our dreams.

My job as a change eater, as a transitive person in the world, is to always affirm the process of growth, healing and transformation,   Standing for queer, wounded human power and beauty, for the truth that you can make another good day, beyond your dreams but inside the realm of possibility is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Two-thirds of help is to give courage.
— Irish proverb

Encouragement is always rooted in possibility.  Possibility is always rooted in loss.   You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.   Only by letting some of it go can you embrace the new.  Rebirth always requires accepting some death.

Dr. Phil may want to dismiss that loss as failure — suggesting that we only change when we are “past our prime” and have been forced to give up our manly sword of power — but I suggest that it might be better if we let go of our big stick more easily, instead finding the new, tender, connected and actualized.

While I believe that the power of transformation, rooted in the possibility of the new beyond convention and expectation, is at the heart of transgender, I know that many disagree with me.   They see transgender as abjection, loss and dis-empowerment without transcendence.   This comes from a political viewpoint that says transpeople shouldn’t be revered as powerful, rather they should be pitied for their oppression, that society should respect us as broken people.

For me, the notion that transpeople are seeking to embody possibility beyond loss is the only thing that can offer hope to those who are still being crushed by the brutal demands of the closet.  While I understand the choice is always between the brutal demands of hiding or the brutal demands of being seen as too queer, only one of those choices affirms blossoming, hope and possibility.  Transgender is about pure transformation or it is about nothing at all, as I said in 1995.

I fear for those growing up who do not have the possibility of transformation affirmed in the world.    I know from deep personal experience how hard it is to find someone who sees and affirms  something in you that you do not yet see in yourself, some kind of possibility that exists beyond your current level of thinking, beyond the choices that current thinking holds you to.

It is a tough sell to assert that possibility is based in loss, that rebirth always requires death.   Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.  It is tough to tell people that until we embrace loss enough to move beyond it, we cannot embrace new, passionate and beautiful life.   And the loss of our imagined perfection, that ideal we worked so hard to gain control for, is always the hardest loss of all.

People really like the notion that they can predict and control the future, the idea that somehow, it is their fixed knowledge and imagined changes that are needed.   If you ask them, though, if they could have predicted the best things that happened in their lives before they happened, most admit that no, it is the surprising and transcendent bits that gave them most joy.    As much as we don’t want to admit it, our salvation exists in what isn’t visible or even imaginable at our current level of thinking.

Embracing revelation and transformation beyond the walls of separation we draw in to calm and comfort ourselves is the tole of the queer in the world, of those who claim connection to continuous common humanity over the pressure to play small, cede to social pressure and work to cut ourselves down to be who others expect us to be.

The primary duality is wild vs tame, being boldly ourselves or being one of the crowd.  The queer know that our deepest connection is not how we look the same on the surface, but rather on how we hold fundamental humanity in our heart.

My calling is to speak for possibility culture.  That’s very hard because I find it almost impossible to find someone who can see, reflect and affirm the possibility in me, someone to say yes.

It’s hard for me to hold open the space for others to change even as they have great difficulty holding open that space for me.   I just can’t imagine my life having meaning if I make any other choice.

Romantic Sensible

“It is amazing,” ShamanGal told me, “how much my experience of the world has changed just because I think differently now.”

Transvestism is about changing your clothes.
Transexualism is about changing your body.
Transgender is about changing your mind.

After a special, personal weekend intensive workshop with a 19 year old cast member at Esalen, SG was clear that her experience of sexual intimacy has changed drastically.   Her hormones haven’t been changed in the past few years, but her thinking has, dropping defences and opening her heart.

An open heart, though, is a challenge.   Open hearts tend to get gooey and romantic, seeking sensation over sense, falling in love with the feeling of love.

While many would like an easy solution for this sensitivity — only being open to good and enjoyable emotions and not being open to bad and unpleasant ones, for example — feeling your emotions is always going to put you on a bit of a roller coaster ride, taking you places you don’t always want to go.

Every woman knows that she has to come up with her own balance of being romantic and of being sensible.   Gals who are just romantic find themselves with broken hearts, unwanted complications or worse.   We have to be able to say no, to set boundaries, to be sensible.

Like any balance, it needs to be dynamic.  We must constantly adjust between our rational brain and our emotive heart.   Become too sensible and we dry up, losing our connecting energy and passion.  Become too romantic and we get too wet, losing our footing and stability.  We

Every woman whose life is too sensible dreams of romance.   That may involve reading a trashy novel, checking into pop culture drama, writing fan fiction or a huge range of other escapes into emotion.

Every woman whose life is too emotional gets lessons about sensibility from all around her.   Mothers, sisters, girlfriends, the woman behind the checkout stand all want to help her protect and value what she has, pushing her to sensibly take control of her life and relationships.

Changing your mind always means taking down the compartment barriers that seem to separate your feelings and your thoughts.   For transpeople, this means learning to come from the power of emotion that we were taught was too corrupt, too dangerous, too dramatic and altogether too romantic for us to trust, trusting that part of our makeup is there for a reason.

There are some who argue that the entire historical goal of religion is to constrain the passions of women, setting them on the straight and narrow, so that they serve the desires of men rather than challenging them.   The goal was to keep glamour in check, transferring it to the church, to keep women in thrall only to their reproductive role.

Finding the right blend of romantic and sensible is a challenge for every woman. Transwomen, who have had to bury their own emotions deep under heavy compartment walls, have a great deal of mind changing to do to shift their own balance of assertion and emotion, creating a new blend which engages feelings rather than denying them.

Changing your mind, though, reworking your choices to be more integrated, more balanced and more authentic, always changes our experience of the world.  We create a new balance, opening our heart and brain and the same time to dynamically be in new possibilities.

The world needs sensible choices, yes, but it also needs romantic passion.  We start engaging that balance by changing our mind.

Heal Thyself

I was drawn to a drive today just in time to happen on an episode of RadioLab on The Power of Belief in Healing, ranging from the attention of a mother’s kiss to shamanic ritual to placebo pill colour to the power of the white coat.

One of the themes on this blog for the full decade of its existence is “Who heals the healers?”   While I think of myself as just a caregiver, I know that for my family and for others, I serve as a healer, with the experience of my wounds offering confidence and insight.

The interview with Dr. Naji Abumrad very much touched me.   He is a senior medical doctor who understands the power of belief and performance in helping patients move beyond sickness to find healing.   He does believe in the best medical practice available, but knows that healing isn’t just technical, rather it is an art.

In the story, one of Dr. Abumrad’s patients speaks of how she is able to leave survival mode for a moment because of trust in her doctor.    She could let go of her burdens, putting them in the hands of her sure, white coated doctor.   She got the power of his skill, his confidence, his belief, helping pull her from all the noise so she could focus on this moment, so she could focus on the notion that while she might never be the same, some level of relief, of healing was possible for her.   As a doctor, he had to be fearless about what she faced, instead looking for ways that can make tomorrow better, knowing clearly that no tomorrow will be perfect or unblemished.

My sister was clear about the most important thing I gave my parents: they trusted me completely.    They knew I wouldn’t lie to them, but they also knew that I would be there, doing whatever it took to give them one more good day.

That was my commitment, my service as a healer.   I could not take them back to an old, lost normal, but I could be there to help them today, changing their minds to find possibilities.

This is the power of belief in healing.   If you don’t believe that one more good day is possible, it never will be.   Rolling back time is impossible, but even if you are unable to erase the accident or the illness, you can transcend the sickness and suffering around it to claim some kind of healing, some kind of possibility, some kind of new normal.

I sobbed listening to this story because I remembered how important my role as a healer always has been, how I value it and give it freely.   I sobbed too because I felt the lack of a healer in my life, someone who could hold my burdens for a bit, giving me wisdom, confidence and faith that healing is possible for me, too.   Who heals the healers?

The binary of either sick or well isn’t valid.   We all are broken and we are all transcendent, we are all wounded and all healers.  Shamans know that, which is why rituals — tricks — that encourage people to choose healing have power.    Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even us, but we can support and facilitate healing by doing the work.

A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, said Osler.   The limits to our power to get outside our subjective self and see ourselves in context are profound.

RadioLab reminded me of the value of my work as a healer, of the work we each do to facilitate healing in the world.   It also reminded me how hard it is for healers to find healing, instead being constrained by the fears of others.

Who heals the healers?  I struggle with that.

Am I a healer, working with belief and possibility?   No doubt.

I sort of suspect that in the end, empowering growth by facilitating healing is always at the core of doing the work, for others and for ourselves.