Nancy

Since they don't allow cell phones in the ICU, I was climbing the stairs to go back into the Hospital after calling my brother and his wife to give them an update on my mother.

She was there, on the steps, with a recovery daily meditations book opened down on the cement next to a pack of Marlboros, which she was chain smoking down to the fliter just before using them to light another. Her hair was big, frizzy and wild, once black, but now mostly gray. In her expansive face, teeth are missing, and under her hospital gown the gray athletic t-shirt was worn inside out.

It was a perfect spring day, tulips painting the park, trees in boom, warm sun competing with crisp clear air. "Beautiful day, isn't it?" I offered her in pleasntry as I climb the stairs.

"I'm caught in 'coulda, would, shoulda,'" she replied as I smiled and moved past her.

I continued walking but she wanted to talk.

"Are you staff or visitor?" she asked.

"Visitor," I said as I continued to walk. "My mother is upstairs."

"I'm really stuck in the coulda, shoulda wouldas. Do you know what they are?"

"Yes, I do," I replied. still wondering if I wanted to engage this plump bundle of rags sitting on the steps. Was she really accessible?

"Please, please talk to me," she implored.

I went back to her and stood on the steps.

"I am 54 years old and I have screwed up my life with bad choices, and now it's too late," she told me. I understood this. I'm 52, and I wasted the vigor, resilance, beauty, enthusiasm and liscence of my youth because I understood the lessons of stigma very well.

"It's a beautiful spring day," I told her. "There are new choices to be made. Isn't that pink tree over by the VA hospital magnificent?"

We talked of her life, of how bleak she felt, of how she had wasted her life, of how she felt she had no more chances left.

I understood very well her feelings, and talked about the truth that she wasn't her choices, that she did what she did then, but she wasn't that thing. She could choose again, find something new.

"Are you in the program?" she asked me

"No, but I know a lot about it," I told her.

"Are you a counselor or something? You do know it well, and are good at being here."

"Nope, I just write," I told her, though she continued to want to know about me, my age, my work, and so on.

"So what is your problem?" she asked. "Gambling, Eating?" She wanted to known what desire l used to fill my empty spaces, because that's what she understood.

I looked across to the big portico, where I spied a tall & pretty blonde person in a wheelchair sharing a smoke with a friend on this fine afternoon. Was she someone like me, was he a gay boy? I didn't know, any more than I knew when I heard a deep voice and looked up to see a black woman with a developed chest and no hips checking into the doctors office with her boyfriend. I looked, and she caught me looking, but did we know about her history or was I just projecting.

This woman wanted to know how I got my scars, why I had to go to hell and learn the essential lessons so well and so completely that I could be there in a way that challenged her sickness in a healing way.

But I knew she wouldn't understand that this big, balding, bearded guy in a bright orange polo and faded HRC cap, here to take care of aging parents like a dutiiful daughter, wasn't quite what he seemed. I couldn't imagine how I could make her understand my challenges and my journey in a few words. Look at all the words I share here, and still I get no reflection that people understand.

She asked again, and I looked across, so I said it.

"I'm transgender," I said.

"So you want to be a be a girl?"

"I already self-identify as a woman," I replied.

"So you are gay and like to dress up?"

"No, I don't identify as gay, and while often present as a woman, I don't consider it dressing up any more than you do," I said, thinking my unisex polo and jeans weren't much different than what she was wearing now.

"Not gay? So who do you sleep with?"

"I haven't slept with anyone for a long time," I replied.

"You haven't?" she replied, stunned.

By this point, I knew that she was looking for someone new to sleep with who could help fix her up. The right person could make her feel better, and avoid having to do the work she needed to do. The right person could be her new drug.

But me? She didn't know what to make of me.

She was using her "What about you?" to identify if she could get a fix off of me, but she couldn't really even get a fix on me. I wondered if there was something I could get from this woman that I needed, but I knew that the best I could get was a moment of shared projection. In my years of longing that might have been enough she could tell me I was pretty and I could tell her she was beautiful, but I knew that wasn't enough.

Could I ever become someone who is happy living in the addictions of another, the things they use to stuff their pain?

I don't exist there, and I can't even find the language to make myself visible.

I can help, yes, and that is of value, but what value to me?

Well, my father has turned on the TV and the noise from his treadmill is squeaky and repeditive so I can't even hear myself think. And in less than an hour, I have to accompany him to his church, the one where they claim they are being "Biblical" by denying gays & lesbians any role in leadership, branding them sinners. And it's the beginning of their stewardship campaign, too. Even though he prefers and uses company, he made it clear I "don't have to go," because he demands my complicity in my facing these abusers, wants to not have any responsiblity for my discomfort. He can't say "Thank you for supporting me, even when that makes you uncomfortable," because he can't yet simply support me in things that make him uncomfortable.

And so, even though it's another beautiful spring morning, that's where I have to end.

Lookie Here

Ms. Kate_S34s at Yahoo has chosen one of my quotes as her favourite!

When you see your life as a series of stories,
you will understand your life as a series of performances.
Callan Williams

I have long said that my goal was to be quoted by others as I quote other people. I guess I am done now.

A correspondent noted “You are very mysterious. Are you perchance Callie Addams?

Ah, yes, we know so few trannies in the world. I have been getting naked on the net for over a decade, and I am still invisible.

But if you have known me for any time, you know that question made me laugh.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

FYI: My father & I were at the hospital until midnight, when we left my mother who they wanted to look at for intestinal bleeding & heart problems, along with a bladder infection & high blood pressure. My father has a doctors appointment today because his oncologist is concerned about high blood pressure before treating the reccurance of prostate cancer that is now hormone refractory. Life is facing death.

Years Of Longing

Drive by a little bridal shop out in the country today, and I remembered when they also advertised having costumes.

That memory was from what I call the “years of longing,” the years before I went to my first tranny group meeting in 1986.  Those years were followed by the guy-in-a-dress “years of exploration” that lasted about until I went to my first transgender conference in 1994, then the TGIC “years of helping” that lasted until about 1999 (documented on http://callan.transpractice.com), and since then, the “years of going deep.”

While I can talk about the other periods easily enough, I don’t like to talk about the years of longing very much at all.  Putting myself back there makes my stomach hurt, leaves me queasy and squirming.

In those days, I was so crude and clumsy that my only hope was to ask women in beauty shops and costume places to help, under the guise of fakakta cover stories about costumes and such.

I remember those days, but boy, that person, so deep in the closet, still makes me tense up and sweat.

Except for PalVal, with whom it’s been an interesting 25 years since I asked for help with a makeover, to all the salesgirls and beauticians and store owners I made uncomfortable by my clumsy requests to help me find magic I deseparately needed, and maybe still need, I apologize.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be present, sorry for my manipulations.

But if you do have any leftover magic you neglected to find for me, do give me call.

Amazing Babble

If you were to ask me what part of myself still amazes me the most, it would definately be the chatter I produce when I am alone.

I don't just hear voices, I become voices, characters in my head with their own point of view.  They are under my control, just vents from my subconcious where the voices bubble away all the time, having their own conversations.

"Radio Plays," people I know have called them when they sometimes get heard, me doing radio plays that amuse, delight and question.  That's what they are, how I see them — snippets of chat and outbursts of speech that let me be aware of my churning connection to the godhead.

I don't do them out loud around people much, and I very rarely do them in text.  It's hard enough to keep a voice in text, but one that shifts to irony or another view?  That can get lost very easily.  You can see this in what Steve said amazed him about me, my ability to speak in the voices of others, or even in places where some didn't believe that the same person was writing in two so different voices.

I remember the first time I met The Prince in person.  She said I wasn't accepting my femme self.  I asked which femme self she meant — the wisecracking English babe, the earnest mom, the party gal, or any of the other ones that come up.  She waved me off as crazy, but an evesdropper said that she understood.  She wasn't just one or the other.  It's like I told TBB — we will never be just one or the other: we are trans.

So I listen and I hear and it amazes me.  What comes out would be hard to process to text, but it leaps from my tongue like magic, voices that make me laugh and think and be aware in a way that I consider central to my own spritual calling.

The problem, of course, is that it's hard to have others engage these voices.  I may laugh to myself when I say something funny, but without context, well, it's just all "you're so weird!" to most other people.

That's why I like play, why I have written on the importance of play, of my need for play and process.  I know that TBB laughs the hardest when she hears me speak in a voice she recognizes, just hears the shift in tone, lets the poetry take over from the literal, and gets a taste of some realization that rings like a bell.

I babble.  Sometimes, the babble is almost totally crushed.  When I was down with the move and the surgery and all that mess, often I couldn't even form words.  I spoke slow and with difficulty not finding the words.  That's such a difference from moments like now when my fingers fly on the keys, words coming out easily, that it may have been the hardest part.  That's not to say that what comes out is always fun & joyous — often it is not that at all — but at least when it's flowing it is better than when it is clogged, jammed, smashed.  Even when I feel the pain and challenge, if I can speak it out, I have something of value.

Babble without someone who can listen, hear, understand, empathize or even "grok" is just noise that gets in the way.  I know about being noise, because no matter how clear I try to be, stupid noise has been my ususal characterization, just babble that is so hip it is junk.

I'm not an author, writing for you, because I don't think you will get it.  But I do babble for myself, in text and in my "radio plays" and it is that babble that continues to amaze me, full of what I could never build with blocks but that still flows like a mountain stream flowing over a rock ledge, falling, splashing and babbling into the brook below.

Maybe that's just my femme thing, a vibrancy and life out of logic that I have had to try to bottle up in my own septic tank.

But what ever it is, it is amazing, fun and pretty.

Even if it's just noise to you.

Pressure

I have learned to drive with a full bladder.  You know, like when you are cruising the Thruway and don't want to fall asleep, so you don't stop at the first rest stop, you just let the pain keep you focused.

To keep small, I have learned to keep the pressure on.  If I am always worrying and dreading, I won't lapse into some kind of bliss that I can't leave.  I will be fearful and tense, holding the pain inside, so that crazy drive to wear high heels and dance won't scare people more than they need to be by me.

But now, today my father goes to the oncologist for a reccurance of prostate cancer, this time metastasized, and next week my mother goes to the cardiologist for a serious concern found in her echocardiogram, and I find the responsibility to be the keel, all my weight & fear under the water, keeping others focused & upright, well, it just adds in. 

I didn't sleep so well last night, and the bad part is that there really isn't anyway to be myself, get beyond the pain so that I can stay breathing.  There doesn't seem to be anyone who really can help me with joy & context so I can feel empowered and healthy. 

Who heals the healers?  Who heals the healers who have to stay with sickness because sickness is how others limit themselves?  

People want and need comfort, I know that, so I have learned to cultivate and aggrandize my own discomfort.

It's just that now it feels like it's way too much.

I Smell Tragedy

The Drama Queens performed a decade ago in Portland Oregon at the IFGE conference.  We did sketches on a 2 foot by 2 foot platform, and TBB & I are not small people.

After the show, a woman born female came up and said that she was watching me on the platform in heels, hoping I wouldn't fall off.  I didn't, which she obviously thought was remarkable.

I knew what she was seeing.  She was just identifying with another woman, a femme, who, wearing heels, had to dance around someone and not fall off the stage.  It was a skill, a talent, something remarkable.

I was talking about my life to TBB the other night and she said "I smell tragedy." 

I understood.  If you think it's hard for me to stay stable and grounded in a tiny space wearing heels, imagine how it is when I have to wear clodhopping heavy boots. 

Eventually, you just fall off.

Self-Policing

The Chinese system relies on a classic psychological truth:
self-censorship is always far more comprehensive than formal censorship.
New York Times, 23 April 2006,
Google's China Problem (and China's Google Problem)

The common thread for anyone who has been shamed, stigmatized and frightened into the closet is that they have a higher obligation for self-censorship than normies.  That then often spills over to believing that they have a higher obligation to censor those who don't censor themselves.

Now, I might call this internalized phobia, taking social fears and using them to beat our own nature into submission.  I might say it's intensely and immensely self-crippling.   I might say it aggrandizes the demand that normies not be made uncomfortable by challenge to their own assumptions & expectations in a way that denies the conflict that leads to growth.  But then again, I bet you know all of that.

TBB says that her co-workers, who have seen many transsexuals, have seen few who are comfortable in their own skin.  How uncomfortable do you have to be when you know that any failure in your own self-policing will be seen as an affront to all that is good & holy, not just someone learning how to create new boundaries which let them grow?  And doesn't that explain scary-trannies, who have to learn how to not engage others, to be wild, separate and unassmilated so they don't have to be strangled anymore by their own self-censorship?

I know that decades of self-censorship have crippled me.  And I know that I am still asked, even by people who I have had a deep connection with over many years, to make sure I police myself to stay small enough not to challenge her, not to offer ideas & insights that might disrupt her comfortable status quo.

And the problem is that censor lives in my own head.  I can't reprogram it without facing the dangers that censor was enable to defend against. 

Whoever we are, we circumscribe our choices to stay safe & appropriate.

And that means we will never be all we can be.

Process Bitch

The Blonde Bombshell was driving last night, so I had the joy of a call.  TBB was smiling because she was at dinner at a friend's house and a lovely, mature Polish woman in the area who had just started experimenting with women sat across from her.

"She thought I was fascinating and smiled at me," TBB said.  "We have so many interests in common!  Imagine this: she takes her kids to Broadway shows and I take my kids to Broadway shows!  I'd love to see her again, as a friend or more, but the one thing I know I can't do is the usual thing: overwhelm her with flowers and a big dinner and such."

"I hope for your sake that she is a process bitch," I said.

"Process Bitch?" TBB asked.

"There are people who love performance because they love to be amazed.  There are people who like to perform because they like to fool people.  They are illusion people, wanting them or wanting to create them.

"But some people, some people, love both the performance and the performer, both the illusion and the creation, both the amazement and the humanity.  Those people basically love the process of expression.  They see both the art and the artist, value both the work and the process, and they are the fun ones.

"The people who want to be amazed, well they are just the rubes who stay in the illusion.  And the people who perform to fool people, well, they hate people who see through their illusion. But the people who love the process, well, they want to be better, to learn and embrace.  They are the fun ones."

"Yeah," TBB said.  "I hope she is a process bitch.  But truthfully, if the past is any indicator, this relationship isn't going to go anyplace anyway."

"Well, at least you are a process bitch," I told her.  "And that makes you always a delight."

Self-Induced

Detective Goren knows what he sees.  "He's stopped paying his bills, taking care of his life.  He's despressed."

Really?

I remember the first time I was prescribed anti-depressants.  It was in the late 1970s where a puzzled young pyschologist was trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  I wasn't able to talk about trans yet, didn't have words or courage, so I was baffling.

"Well, it sort of looks like depression, but not really.  But maybe if we try this drug, it might help."

It didn't.  Anti-depressants weren't as much fun back then, weren't like jellybeans.  I know one woman who got prescribed recently, and when her doctor explained that the drugs were like a beautiful collection of shoes in a Fifth Avenue shop, all looking nice, but she would have to try them on to pick the perfect pair for her, that sounded lovely.

Of course, my depression is and always was self-induced.  The problem wasn't trying to block the depression, it was trying to unblock the depressives that I gave myself. 

Creativity turned to the past is destruction, as my sister remembers Wm. Sloane Cofffin saying on Fresh Air.  Instead of making new it just explodes the old, and that cripples us.  I learned early to cripple my own creativity, because it just made people crazy.  I turned it inward and backward and every other way to try to defeat something so weird it called me to wear a pretty dress & tights.

Self sabotage becomes a habit, and though my scars are inside, I have been no less self-hurting than any cutter.  My bones have such deep rents that they might break at any moment, and that means I couldn't even take care of my aging parents well.

I do remember the first time I was prescribed anti-depressants. 

I just think that it's too bad we haven't figured out how to prescribe pro-blissants.

It's true that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely
but it's also true that powerlessness corrupts,
and people who feel absolutely powerless get bitter and corrupted.
Wm. Sloane Coffin

Earned It

I read reports written by my cousin on the progress of her six year old daughter with brain cancer and their family. In the last one, the daughter was being cast for a head mold that will be bolted to the table when she gets radiation, and tears were coming from the eyeholes.  Her mother had trouble watching her child in discomfort and said "No one should ever have to go through this."

That statement creeped me out, made my skin crawl.  How awful to have to go though something that no one should every have to go though.  It's hateful.

I think that, rather, what she is going though is something that some people have to go through to claim their health, to claim their lives. I think that no matter how hard it is, it is the best process we have to let her embrace life, that many have done it, and it is what it is.

Which tastes better, a candy bar someone hands you or one you got for winning the sack race?  Which is sweeter, a candy bar from the dish, or one you got special for getting all your assignments in over a month?

It's what we earn that is always better than what we are given.  And I don't know why, but creation has asked this girl to work for her life rather than just have it being given to her.  And it's my suspicion, my guess, my hope that because she has had to fight for her life she will value it more than those who have just been able to take it for granted, that it will be sweeter and more full because she knows how precious her life is, knows how precarious and how precious life is.

I'm not sending this to her family, because I know that this idea might seem crass or odd to them.  After all, they just see her as a little girl being placed into unfair situations that no one should ever have to go though.  They can't yet work on the part that sees challenge as a gift, sees crises as an opportunity for learning & growth.

But I hope someday that pretty little girl will have someone who can help her see her life that way, who can remind her how the darkness helps us value the light, how going though our own fight can reinforce the good things we value in us.

It's hard, and it seems capricious, but lots of humans go through things that we would rather no human ever need to go though, from wars to famine, from disasters to racism, from illness to abuse. To me, it's important that we see those challenges as part of the process of being alive, as part of the requirement to make hard choices in a finite & challenging world, choices that reveal what is fundamental and what is essential, what is comforting illusion and what is of real value.

You sweat, you fight.  You do the difficult immediately while the impossible takes a little longer.   And you find out what is important, using what is precious to you in the best way you can.  It's when you are cracked wide open that you grow, opening new spaces and being open to new people who also are touched by pain, sweat, challenge and possibility. Maybe everyone has to go though "something no human should have to go though" sometime in their life, maybe even seeing their children in pain they can't stop.  Maybe that's what really connects all humans, "having to go though what no human should have to go though."

May God bless that little girl, bless all the little boys and girls who are fighting illness, bless all the humans who fight illness around the world, all the people who fight their own battles, and show them that by moving beyond comfort we can find what is really beautiful and sweet in this life.

Amen.

I Am A Phobogenic Object

Oprah says you need to know who you are and accept that.

OK.  I am a phobogenic object.  I create fear in others.  I may do that because I appear smart or visionary or queer or challenging or cutting or intense or whatever other reason, but that is my experience in the world.

It’s not my identity, really.  My self understanding is that I am a liminal tranny shaman who sees through and walks though walls others see as solid and real.

I have been standing up for my own vision since I was like four and told my mother that the busdriver took the route he wasn’t supposed to take, or when I was like three and identified voices on the radio.  I thwart, and that’s both magical & terrifying.

There is more in the mix.  My introversion, my apparent lack of subceptability to social pressure (“You just can’t be emotionally castrated, can you?” one accquaintance noted,) and probably lots of other things make me supect, scary and kind of unknowable.  Hell, I have had people get uncomfortable when they actually understood what I was saying.

I know that the fear of others isn’t really about me.  It’s about them needing to maintain their stability & comfort, their desire to keep their patterns & expectations intact rather than having them challenged.  I don’t think I really am an asshole, I just think that I can’t play along, and being unwilling to play along makes me an asshole.

I certainly haven’t chosen to be a phobogenic object, but I have chosen to trust my own clear vision, to trust my own questioning process and my own conclusions more than I trust the prattle of others.  I trust my own process for many reasons, starting with a rigorous process of doubting & questioning and ending with the fact that my conclusions seem to match with the conclusions of many schools of thought that I value.  I chew deeply and work hard to not fall into the trap of dismissing others to believe I am right, but opening my understanding so it includes the truth of others.

The fact is, though, that my experience is of being feared and my feelings are those of someone who is feared.

My brother and sister-in-law are letting one of their foster children move off after this school year because he scares her.  He observes too much, considers too much, and isn’t all self-involved like her kids.  Yeah, I know that makes her uncomfortable: it’s why our relationship has been strained over the years.

I know social graces, really I do.  It’s just that I also know challenge.  I have been remembering the story of a woman who was stuck being with me at a tradeshow.  She was one of the marketing gang and didn’t trust me much, thinking I was weird.  But after three or four days of me pulling into the drugstore when her luggage was delayed, stopping at a party & dancing after dinner, after she watched me growl only in reasonable and clear ways, she decided I wasn’t so bad.  She joined my team at the amusement park party, leaving the dozen chatters to run with me and another techie and ride as many rides as possible.  And she considered offering me to her single friends after, inviting me to a party.  She figured out I wasn’t really an asshole, even if my job was to ask the tough questions.  Tough, fair, considerate, funny, all those things.

I don’t know how to be one of the crowd.  Never have.  Can’t imagine I can learn.

But how many out trannies are in it to be like everyone else?  None, I say.  The path is about being ourselves, and if we want too much to fit in and get approval, we stay in.

I am a phobogenic object.  That fear that I stir up isn’t my fear, it’s the fear of others, and it’s pretty much completely unwarranted when you look at my actual actions.   It’s their fear, but they see it on me, and feel better calling the problem my being fearsome rather than their being afraid.

And that’s who I am in this society.

Who’s afraid of the big bad smart visionary tranny?  I suspect almost everyone, because with my history, suspicion is safer than getting hit again.

Inspiring

I wrote this inspiring piece on rebirth this morning, about hips and dancing and Elaine Strich and death & birth together.

WordPress reported it posted, but then WordPress.com went down for hours (or minutes, as the techies said, though the minutes were easily counted in multiples of sixty.)

During that time, I had a frustrating day making meals, having people not show up on schedule, then being peeved that things weren't ready when they wanted them.  It was hard and painful.

WordPress.com is back, but apparently my post was too fresh to be backed up.   Gone.

WordPress people did a good job restoring, but me?  Long-Lost, as it has always said above.

What does this mean?  I started off frustrated, it got worse, and the idea that saying something upbeat seems just stupid, because all that effort just gets wiped. 

For me, it's a message from God.  Just give it up.

Clear as a bell.

(BTW, if you ever meet my mother, ask her who that Kellen is…)

Sprung

I'm like last seasons garlic: old and bitter.

I'm in charge of the spring festivities here.

Now, to most, that means Easter, but not identifying as Christian, and my parents choosing a church where LGBT people are seen as too sinful to serve the lord and their fellow Christians, means that Easter is kind of unpleasant.

And this year, Easter Monday is my sister's 50th birthday, so festivities have to be planned and executed for that milestone, too. I remember my 50th birthday, two years ago. It was the day my sister closed on her first house, and I was stuck running around with errands and preparing a barbecue for 15 or so. My mother did buy a cheescake from a Christian Fundamentalist community in Florida and then had it inscribed with my slave name. She wanted to bring it out during the big party for my sister, the one I was serving at, but I hid it. I didn't really feel like being a pimple on the ass of the other big celebration.

This year, though, I ain't feeling the rebirth. They booked a vacation the week of the ESPA lobby day, and I thought I might have a chance to go. But a doctor's appointment was remembered and the week canceled, though today there is a note from the Doctor's office saying she has to cancel.

My sister will ask why I don't just change in her cluttered bathroom and go anyway. It's hard to explain that I actually forget how to put on my makeup when I have to have everything put away in those plastic tubs, and an hour in the am isn't enough to find that knowledge again. A week or so ago I just felt the need for my beautiful black tights, thought I could wear them to bed like I did when I was nine, but I couldn't find them, just couldn't find them. I sucked it up, muscled through it and died just a bit more.

I know that spring is potent, I do. I know that it's important for others, and I need to affirm them if I want to affirm the possibility of my own rebirth. But I also know it means one more season passed when I needed to stay dead, one more call of warmth and sun that isn't for me.

I'm aging garlic, not really fit for breeding nor even for delighting the palate. Yet it's spring and I am being asked to run the celebration.

I wish I could come up with a creative and beautiful feast, delighting all, I really do. But all are almost impossible to delight, and me, well, workman like seems the best I can do.  But when my sister chooses to leave here without even saying goodbye, every step gets tougher.

I wish you blessings for spring.  May rebirth be yours.  And when you find it, can you drop me a post card? 

Chilling

I have been accused of chilling transgender expression because I expressed a negative opinion on a short film called Gnome, produced by Glamour Magazine.  I criticized the film because the transwomen don't feel at all authentic, and one list member felt that I was putting down unpolished transwomen, or bad looking transwomen or inauthentic transwomen or something, and that was chilling to real transwomen who are unsure of their expression.

I think we get to talk about the media representations of people they say are like us. 

But, on the other hand, I have to agree with the poster.  My experience in the past is that when I offer my thoughts, it often has a chilling effect on discussion.

In the past, when I wrangled lists, I used to use that to effect.  I'd offer a recap of the discussion so far, and my precis would usually chill those "You said/No I Didn't" kinds of flare up. Putting it all out there in context made the little biting off the edges fights pointless.

"Well, once you have covered a topic, there often isn't much left to say," offered one of my correspondents.  And that, I find, is chilling to people who want to contribute, but don't want to have to go to a high level to do so.

People need space to work out their own beliefs, to cast their own fragmentary ideas on screen and then get feedback at that level.   I know that.  I needed that.   And they don't need someone coming back with it all worked out.

I honor that.  I left a list yesterday because I saw that the list owner is doing that for themselves.

But the fact that I am a chiller tends to leave me out in the cold.

Secret Sickness

My cousin's six year old daughter has a brain tumor. They have operated, and got one out, but the other one, well, harder. And it's a nasty cancer. The future for them holds radiation therapy and uncertainty.

The big surprise for my cousin, though, has been how many people she knows have been touched by brain cancer. One acquaintance came up and gave her a casserole with some words about a friend's daughter touched by this kind of disease.

She's in the family, now, my cousin. It's the family no one wants to join, the one people shy away from, the family of people who have been touched by sickness. And now that she is one of us, she can finally see us, and see how many of us there really are.

If you can't see someone's pain, you just haven't looked deep enough, or so the old saw goes. We are humans, born between piss and shit, and that means we have all been touched by hurt, by sickness, by difference, by tragedy somehow, somewhere.

It's only been a couple of weeks of the patient journal she keeps for her daughter. What I saw was bully-bully, chin-up, sweet pink hope writing. That's started to break now, though. The Sunday party she saw the girls happily not even thinking about illness. In the next entry, when they couldn't sleep that night, when they didn't want the weekend to be over, well, then she remembered the spectre is always there.

That's the problem. Once you have seen the monster we all live with, well, it's hard not to see him. The old normal is gone forever because death and sickness is at your door. In this culture where victims get to tell the court that it's about them and the changes they had to go through because of their losses, even people who weren't direct victims, it seems so easy to say "nothing would ever be normal again."

Problem is that nothing has changed, really. Human life is just as fragile, and change can come in a heartbeat. The only difference, the only real difference, is now we know that. We are one of the family, and all the challenge we wanted to keep plastered over so life would be nice seeps into the crack in our visions.

You can't possibly have compassion for others until you have let your heart break open. Problem is that so many people have broken hearts that they have so duct taped up, wired together, slathered with cement or just wrapped with kevlar to get though the day that having to face a heart broken open is just too hard.

We teach people only to show their broken heart around other broken hearted people, and now others know that my cousin's heart is broken as her dear child faces suffering & uncertainty, they welcome her to the club.

Anger, depression, denial, bargaining, withdrawal, acceptance. It's not just a dance some humans do, it's a dance we all have to do when we engage our own hurt, our own pain, our own sickness and our own seeds of wellness.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Oprah is shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover how much of a gap there is between the haves and the have-nots in this country, shocked at how many poor people suffer just over the hill from nice & comfortable middle class communities. Me, well, I'm not really shocked this stuff wasn't really visible in Oprah's World, the place she invites women into an hour everyday. But now, we have to see the brave and poignant side of poverty, just like we see the brave and poignant side of sickness, touching our hearts without really having to open them.

Oprah calls poverty the shocking secret of America. I think that says more about Ms. Oprah and the America she shapes than about poverty or bad people. The sick or broken is unpleasant, really really.

The real shocking secret is that all of us are messy, dying humans. And when people like my cousin get slapped in the face with that truth, they are amazed how that truth has been there all the time in front of them, they just never really saw it.

Until we can have our heart break open, there is no way it can expand to encompass more of the world. Too bad, then, there is so much commercial pressure to keep the heartbreaking truths hidden.

Burden

The heaviest burden I carry is the possibility of you changing.

I know that in order to truly be a force for transformation, I have to be willing and able to encourage & embrace change wherever it occurs. Every change is a step towards something better, even if it is one of the proverbial two steps back; sometimes we need to go back or get deeper before we can move ahead.

And that means I have to greet every situation, every moment and every person with the possibility of transformation, even if it means knowing that the probability is that the same results are going to occur.

This is the killer part of transgender being about pure transformation or about nothing at all. Unless you are committed to the possibility of transformation in others and in the world, how can you be committed to transformation in your own life? Unless you are willing to open the space for others to be new & different, how can you affirm your own ability to be new & different?

Courage, many have said, isn’t about not being afraid. Courage is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Committment to transformation isn’t about forgetting about the past. It’s about remembering what didn’t work in the past and trying again anyway.

And that’s the burden. Kids don’t carry this burden. They know everything will change, because they don’t know how it has always been. It’s only when you know, when you have seen, when you have a good and accurate model of the world that being open to change becomes an incredible burden?

You remember that satiric part of the note read to me in an orgasm workshop full of kids who couldn’t see the two old people in their midst? That was a part about letting go, seeing new, beginners mind. To the expert there are few choices, to the beginner many. Yes, I understand the power of now, but when you need repairs, do you really want to hire a beginning plumber? Or worse yet, a beginning doctor?

Wisdom is a good thing. But an unwillingness or inability to accept change, well, that is a bad thing. Being both wise and open to the new? That’s just an incredibly hard thing.

I was chatting with someone and expressed my assumption about what their new writing meant. They asked me how I knew, why I made that reading, what if I was wrong?

I told them that functioning in the world requires assumptions in every moment. We can’t reinvent the wheel, tell the whole backstory, reimagine the fundamentals every moment. Some things we need to leave to the assumed, the common, the expected. The problem comes when you are so tied to those expectations that you can’t see the different.

My friend laughed. “Yes, of all the people I know, you are one of the most willing to be open to changing your assumptions based on new input.” I think that may be why Kate Bornstein called me the queerest person she knows.

But that being always aware, always open, well, that’s a burden that gets heavier and heavier for me to carry. That is especially true in the face of people who couldn’t change their mind if God grabbed them by the puddenda. They don’t have mindspace to be open to changes in me, but I need to be open to changes in them. They want to pigeonhole me fast, naming and dismissing me, even as they say I need to be new. Problem is, they think I need to be new in the same old way that they are new.

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

Nancy Nangeroni once asked me to write a piece telling why Dallas Denny is an asshole for naysaying. Instead, I wrote this. Ms Nangeroni didn’t bother reading it, but her successor did.

I need to stay committed to the possibility of changing beyond the expectations hung on our bodies, beyond the conventions hung in our history. But I also need to be committed to my own knowledge, to the fact that I know what I know. I just don’t have much extra resilance to be bounced around more; I’m a crispy critter.

And that’s the burden, to stay open to change even while knowing that mostly, things and people don’t really change, open and flower. Mostly they get scared, close down and stay defended, acting out of their own fears and pain.

But damnit, when a bud comes someone has to be there to open a path to more sunlight, give a drink and just keep encouraging.

And that, these days, feels like a wonderful calling and too damn much of a burden.

The Same

At the Cerveciaria in Lima, the older woman serving Tony Bourdain the fish cooked in citrus juices doesn't speak English, but she watches him with the same attentive concern as the Chinese woman who served him pig stomach in China or the Vietnamese woman who served him porcupine.

They are all of a piece, and if they ever got a chance to look at each other, I suspect they would see their shared habits instantly.  They are women who take care of people, feeding them, and that care & concern, that love & life isn't much different at all between a Guyanese woman and a Tibetan woman, between a Peruvian woman and a woman from Indiana. 

That's what's so amazing about travel.  Là plus qui change, la plus c'est la même chose, the more things change the more they stay the same.  We travel to be awed by differences, to learn more, but what we learn the most about is how other animals that share our own human nature have transformed their world in astounding ways.  We learn about us and our connections.

And me?  I notice those women, those mothers of the communities, the ones who have now become grandmothers and are taking care of parents, young mothers who take care of children.  Kids aren't stupid — they know that as kids, they share more than what divides them.  Throw a bunch of kids together and it doesn't matter what their heritage, ethnography, language or much of anything else, pretty soon they will be playing together.  That connection is easy to see for them, but as we get more sophisticated, it can get lost.

And the granmothers sitting on benches watching those children play?  They know their connection, very clear.  They know their connection to thousands of years dead women in caves who watched children and to women half a planet away who watch children. 

I have been watching people around here who call themselves spiritual who want to be clear about separations, want to be separatists.  I see no divinity in separations: separations are a part of this earthly world we live in, not part of the divine. People who speak for separations speak for the mundane and limited, not the eternal and infinite.

But when I see those women, who whatever they speak and wherever they are, just want to make sure there is something nourishing & tasty on the table, to sustain life and sustain community, I see part of myself there.

And then I feel a bit lost.