One friend was stunned to find that I have a collection of books that Judith Martin has put together under the sobriquet “Miss Manners.” They couldn’t imagine that a big old queer like me has use for manners at all.

Another woman warned me strongly about going south. “Those people will smile at you and tell you one thing to your face, but that’s not what they mean!”

I actually like manners because they allow people to say what they mean without being rude, if one is just gracious enough to read the code. Sandra may have had to explain to the tranny that she may have not been explict about why, but she was clear that the tranny wasn’t welcome this weekend, and still allowed face saving.

I was at a meeting at IFGE, and after, the one woman born female in the room came up to me and said “I like you! You know how to say ‘Fuck You!’ in so many nice ways!”

This is one reason I love to listen to the BBC, because in the UK, manners allow explict conversation without explosion. The words may be moderated and polite, but the meaning is clear underneath those words, if you just care to listen. In a small country with a long history, this grace allows a stable and robust social structure where a bit of manners keep change & growth happening without too many big brawls.

America, though, is a country where only the visible seems to count. If you can’t get it out there, big and bold and brazen, absoultely true and completely divorced from anything you have said before, well, then, it may as well not have been expressed at all. People only believe what they see, and if they can’t see it, well then, it never existed, and if comes out, a lie is revealed.

For those of us with mature, complex, ambigous and nuanced lives, though, the absolutes you can see can never express the whole picture. Only more detailed expression can convey this.

For that kind of explicit expression you need manners, and for manners, it means that you have to have two (or more) people committed to understanding not just what someone says, but what they mean by what they say.

Virtual Sick

It was almost 20 years ago now.  I was chatting with an Australian while I was down there building a big e-mail system.

“You know, in the future, we will be able to share things electronically.”

“Yes,” I said.  “That’s good.”

“We will have virtual world to enter from anywhere.”

“Yes,” I said.  “That’s good.”

“And eventually, they will be 3d.”

“Yes,” I said.  “That’s good.”

“And we can have jacks into our brains and sense the experience completely.”

“Yes,” I said.  “That’s good.”

“Then we can get rid of our bodies completely!”

“Wait,” I said.  “I think that may be going too far.”

“You bloody old-minded luddite!  Can’t accept any progress at all, can you!” he retorted.

I am sick of the virtual.  My entire life for the past decade or so can be stored on a 700Mb CD-ROM, the notes, the essays, the mails, the chat logs, the web sites and so on.  It’s all freeze dried into text, all filtered though a keyboard, and what wasn’t stored may as well not exist.

This viruality may be a good way to express the eternal — after all, from the moment we are born our flesh starts to die and our story starts to grow, and when the flesh dies to the world, all that is left is story — but it’s not a good way to live a life.

Somehow, when the requirement in the world of flesh is to try to play nice, to meet expectations to get what we need, that can often channel our unpleasant feelings into the world of the virtual.  In that world, we don’t have to be considerate and gracious, don’t even have the range of feedback to see the cues, context and nuance that others convey to us, and that means we can vent and spew venom without caring about the effects of our actions.

Since the virtual world so clearly exists in our own head, something that the metaphysical teachers also say about the so called “real” world but that we find harder to remember, it’s easy to think that everyone else’s actions in that world are about us, and not about them.  In theory, this distance, this lack of bandwidth could allow us to be more considerate and gracious about our choices, but in practice, as most of us have found out, it usually means we can be more selfish and self-centered in our posturing, dismissal and attacks.

I have been virtual way too long.  And it means I am off the real-world grid, not getting what I need, but getting others own virtual drama, often detritus from their own life and pain.

And I’m sick of it.

Never That Young

A friend and I were sitting out on the deck of a bar, hard by the Mohawk.  We turned to look at a boisterous group across the way and looked at each other.  I knew what she was thinking.

We were never that young.  And we were never that young because we were never that free, never that uninhibited.  For some reason, both of us were in the class that grew up early, learning to be an adult before we were a child. We learned to restrict our choices, to observe and consider before choosing, making a concious performance rather than a loose one.

Harvey McKay, in How To Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, talks abouthow we can be a shark because we remember what it was like to be a shark when we were young, wanting what we wanted and getting it.  But for those of us who didn’t feel safe enough to be loose around our family, who had to learn to keep our heads down early, well, that sharkness was never ours to own, so getting it back seems just like a call for danger.

When Bear talks about how being a human doing rather than a human being resonates, this is what I think of, the obligation for so many of us to learn to stay small.  We become convinced early that we are “too” — too much, too messy, too weird, too smart, too visionary, too loud, too energetic, too overwhelming, too intense, too potent, too queer or too whatever the hell else. 

For so many who have felt that way, they think the solution is to buy into the game that keeps us small.  They explain why others are over the line, are too whatever, and why we are just right.  “Well, sure, I stuff gerbils up my ass, but he stuffs hampsters up his ass, and that’s just sick!”

Those people distress me because their search isn’t to value and affirm in others what they find challenging in themselves, it’s to find a way to rationalize their choices by selling out others.

Bear comments that it is faith in our own worth and beauty that we lack.  To have that kind of faith, we have to see ourselves in a context other than the mirror the world offers us, a reflection of how to play small so as to not challenge others.  Somehow we have to believe that our allowing our bigness to show, allowing ourselves to be young & fresh enough to let it all hang out serves some purpose other than indulging our own ego or pleasure. 

To me, that means the context of a creator who made us to “follow our bliss,” that our bliss, no matter how much it squicks others, is something that the world needs and will help raise all of us just a bit.

The question of where the line is between immoral & dangerous indulgence and healthy & constructive indviduality has been a big one for me.  Where does wild freedom become too much, and where does tame comformity become destructive?  How can we encourage beyond comfort, challenge beyond the status quo, while still protecting people and society from the effects of too much indulgence or too much fear?

That is the question I wish I could have asked older people when they started telling me to shut up and sit down, to take my own queerness out of their sight and tend to their fears & sicknesses instead.

How do we be affirmed for what we are — for how we are created & called — and not for what we do — for how we satisfy the expectations of others rather than challenge them? 

I’m not sure I know the answer.  I never was that young.

Mottled Skin

The point of life is to be delighted by its surprises. I know this because it was on an episode of Fraiser. Fraiser was at a funeral and had to explain the meaning of life to a grieving widow, and that’s what he explained. Then he got hit on by one of those actress pretty smart women that always seemed to be there when the plot needed them, but who never stayed around long.

Surprises can be great, no doubt. It’s always the things you never could have imagined before you got them that are the best things in life, the people & events that take you out of your expectations and to a whole new world. That’s one reason it’s so great to watch kids at Christmas, when everything is shiny and new to them and joy is unrestrained.

To be ready for the surprises, though, you have to be pretty healthy. As we I get older, I find there is more and more chaff to be processed to find a grain of nourishment. The vast majority of surprises are the kinds you can expect — the ones where things break, events go badly or people go wrong.

At this point in my life, though, my emotional skin is so tender that it’s easy to feel bruised when I am only brushed against. And I suspect that a big part of that rawness comes from the fact that my real skin is almost never touched. As a tranny moving beyond desire, I have had to learn to shrink from my own skin, the one that constrains and limits me with the expectations of others.

This is what people want to tell us, that if the empowerment and joy that comes from our choices doesn’t overcome the challenges of standing out as an individual, well then that’s our problem Joan Roughgarden notes that the first year of being out as a tranny is joyous, but after that, you have to face the grind, and that’s a killer.

And where that kills is on the skin, the interface between me and the world, the boundary between inner possibility and outer expectations, the liminal membrane between spirit and flesh.

The hardest part of becoming new is molting.  And as hard as it may seem to shed your old skin, growing a new one in the pressures of an adult life is even harder, expecially if you don’t want your new skin to pinch and constrain you like the old one.

Skin is where we meet the world.  And while having a thin one opens you to the world, and feels better than living behind a tough old one grown to protect a tender self, a thick skin is often required in a fast-fast, bing-bang world.

My skin hurts. And if your skin hurts, it becomes hard to be ready for those surprises that Fraser says make life worth living. When you aren’t ready for the kiss because you have had to squeeze between too many thorns, well. . . .

Cracking Desire

People often comment that the goal of eastern philosophy is to crack the ego, moving beyond self to something more whole.

Practically, though, that usually means replacing the indvidual ego with the shared ego. Instead of having our own desires, we internalize the desires of the group, which often means internalizing the desires of the guru, the current leader of the group.

It’s amazing how clear you can become when you cast off desire. Rather than being vulnerable to buying into anything or using any strategy to get what you want, you can see things from a distance. It’s something I learned to do early, to stand alone and watch rather than be in the middle and be swept along by the group.

The problem is that the life of the flesh is one that requires desire to move forward. This may be a desire clothed in altruism, sure, or one that seems frivolous (or, if you are Oprah, both together), but it’s desire and it comes from the ego.  Seeing the big picture and moving away from desire may give you the view from the mountain top, but it is cold and lonely up there, and without contact, getting what you need to simply live becomes very, very hard.

I had someone tell me that they were thinking of entering another self-help program, one that works on Lowen’s idea of breaking down engergy defenses in the body.  He tells me that most people get too defended and stay that way, so it has to be broken out.

I wondered what these people do with someone who has dropped their defenses and then feels too vulnerable, too exposed and not able to live with the jars and bangs of a life spent servicing the machine.  I suspect, though, that they get few people like that, because so few are willing to really move past desire, even if they are willing to subjugate their own desire to the desire of the group and its guru.

You have to want something bad in order to do the hard work of persistently striving for it.  And when you really crack desire, well, wanting something that bad seems to be the path to losing yourself again.

Stretching Thanks

It was a tough Thanksgiving.

I had shared a conversation, a messenger log, with someone I have known for a long time. I shared it to let them see where I was, what I talk about with other people.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when they took the post to be about them, and had to explain how the ideas and feelings expressed were odd and anethmetic. You see, they don’t identify at all with other trannies, rather they identify as a normie and find trannies queer & broken, scary & sick. Especially the ones who engage their sexuality.
Of course, this person’s real life is as a man & a husband, and their trans expression is limited to very clear boundaries — church, bookclub, and a screened crossdresser group, mostly. By simply not engaging any part of their trans expression that might be messy — like work & sex — they still feel entitled to claim womanhood and dream of being a grand dame in society while staying firmly in man camp.

I knew this stuf and it’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is what almost always bothers me. It is the obligation for queers to be able to enter normie space while normies feel no obligation to enter queer space. I spend a lot of time understanding and mirroring people around me, but very few people I meet spend any time understanding and mirroring me. I am expected to understand them, but their understanding of me, well not so much.

My mother gave her thanks before dinner. She used the standard trope, being grateful for not being as bad off as others. Does the man being devoueredby flesh eating bacteria give thanks that he is not being eaten by a shark?

When she got to us, she was greatful for all I do to take care of her and my father, but for my sister, she was thankful for her being wonderful. In other words, my sister was valued as a human being, but I am valued as human doing. I am valued for what I do, and not for who I am, because who I am is too damn messy.

People’s choices are about them, I get that, and most often they don’t even consider others. And even if they do, how can they consider what they do not understand, what they choose not to engage, consider worlds that they choose not to enter?

Hell, Jack Welch is sure that he was as broken up as anyone by 9/11, because that is the limit of what being broken up can be, his limit. I wondered, of course, if people who lost a spouse or parent might disagree, might know that they actually were broken up in a different and more profound way.

Give thanks for what you get. But when what you get often seems to be the demand to be normative, to change to do what others expect, well, it often feels that thanks can be stretched past the breaking point.


So, here’s the point.

I walk into someplace, and I have no idea who I am.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t have a clear self-vision and identity.  I know myself.

What I don’t know is how I fit into the worldview of all the people in the room.

Last night I walked into “The Bing BamBoo Room Modern Burlesque.”  Last time I went there I ran into someone I knew, another tranny.

This time, nobody.  So I sat and watched the cliques and gangs and couples and straight guys & gals, even the gay guy painted gold and standing on a box — a Halloween Oscar.   And I had no idea how I fit with any of these people.

I went and talk to a gal at the MAC counter just because I needed someone to smile at me.  Michi was lovely, smart and stylish, abnout my age.  We knew the same people and she was trying to place me — scared CD or gay drag queen.  Those were the two choices.  Without makeup on I was a CD, but with makeup, a DQ.  But like her former manager, I am neither of those things, even though I have basic merit badges in both.

But when I tried to explain where I fit, it was all mumblemouth and messy, with no touchpoints whatsoever.

And when I sit in this bar figuring out who I should smile at and how they will read it, well, well… well.

No good answers.

But my arm hurt and the vodka just gave me calm without buzz and it was time to go and change back in the car under the high tension lines and wipe my face with McDonald’s napkins soaked in mineral oil.  Between MAC micro glitter, cake liner and eyelash adhesive, it takes a bit to clean.

No pictures, no acclaim.

And in relationship, well, I have no idea who I am.