It was 1998, and I asked Nancy Nangeroni if she wanted me to write anything for Tapestry
“Yeah,” she replied. “Write an article telling that asshole Dallas Denny to shut the fuck up.”
I thought that might just be a little too much “on the nose.” But I did understand how trannys sabotage each other, how we externalize our own pain, blame others, and take potshots at people trying to do good.
I saw that again this week, when an old tranny hand blamed the leader of one gathering of not welcoming their partner last year, and now their partner shows no interest in connecting with trannys any more. How sad, this person opined, that one leader destroyed the concern of a potential ally, turning her against trannys forever.
Jeeze. Let’s blame one experience where someone was more concerned about the group than one person for hurting someone so bad they can’t be reclaimed. In other words, let’s externalize the problem, so it’s not our fault that we can’t start over, be reborn, find peace.
Transgender is about pure transformation, or it is about nothing at all, as I said in 1995.
And transformation requires starting over and over and over again.
Here’s what I wrote for Nancy in 1998. She didn’t read it, but I got someone else at IFGE to read it and it was eventually published in Tapestry.
And it seems relevant as ever today.
Subj: Starting Over — And Over, And Over, And Over. . .
To: Info@IFGE.ORG, firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting Over — And Over, And Over, And Over. . .
Callan Williams Copyright 1998
Life begins again in every moment.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
It’s common wisdom, and for transgendered people, it is crucial wisdom. We reinvent ourselves over and over again, searchng for that mysterious balance, trying to find that magic combination that lets us both be effective in the world and true to our hearts. We start over in a new mode, and then adjust and start over again. For us, life is a series of chapters, a range of approaches, a series rebirth, a continuous change, new in every moment.
People, however, like to try to predict the future from the past. “Well, it didn’t work last time, so why should it work now?” Worse, we believe “I was hurt when I tried something last time, so why should I try it again?” This is the voice of the ego, trying to protect us from discomfort and pain by extrapolating the future from the past, and keeping us guarded, limited and avoiding trying again.
As any successful person will tell you, it’s peresistance that pays off in making change, in creating the changes we want to see in the world. Kate Bornstein says one of her favourite quotes is from Calvin Coolidge:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsucessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race
As transgendered people, we are faced with this challenge of starting over and over again until we find a mode that works for us. We have to see failure not as defeat but as learning, see failure as a gift that, if we accept it, can teach us how to better win in the future. This is the difference between pessimists and optimists, as Martin Seligman says in “Learned Optimism,” that optimists learn from failure and risk again and pessimists recoil at failure and quit trying, give up and just whine.
In the transgendered community we are faced not only with our own pessimism, the fear and expectation of failure that we carry, but we are also faced with the pessimism of others. Many people want to point to failures as defeats, use failures to prove the inherent impossibility of what we are attempting to do. They want to use our failures not as events to learn from, but as signposts of defeat and disaster.
People highlight the failure the others, turning them into defeats, to further their own ends, whatever they may be. They may need to convince themselves that their own dreams are impossible to achieve, they may need to put people down in order to put themselves up, or they may just be frustrated because they aren’t doing their own work and feel the need to criticize the work.
To succeed though, we must accept failure as a friend, and use it well to learn how to do better in the future. We cannot allow failure to daunt our persistance, cannot give into pessimism and defeat, or we are doomed to lose. Failure is only a chance to learn. As Thomas Alva Edison said “I have not failed in making a lightbulb. I have simply learned 1000 ways that it will not work.”
When, as transgendered people, we are faced with these naysayers, the people who trumpet failures as harbingers of doom rather than as the natural result of risk, growth and learning, people who are determinined to project the future from the past and see every misstep we take as a personal pain to them, we have to think carefully about how to respond. Do we buy into their pessimistic predictions, or do we leave open the possibility that change is possible, that the learning of today may bring a better tomorrow? Do we give people the chance to start over, or do we close off the possibility and declare doom and betrayal?
The only thing that we can judge is how people learn from their mistakes, how they honor and accept them, and then how they go on to learn from them, doing better everyday. The learning curve for being a human is often steep, but it is only when we dive in, make the mistakes and learn what we need to focus on that we end up learning to swim, to become powerful and strong. Natural swimmers are only natural because they have immersed themselves in the water and learned to act with strength and grace, not because the first time they swam they were perfect.
We accept that learning curve in children, seeing in them the honest determination to learn and do better in every moment. We know that they have to fall down some to learn to walk, and we accept their failures as a natural and beautiful of learning to manage their own strength, power and grace.
Today, many transgendered people and organizations are learning to reinvent themselves, to do better and better everyday and in every way. We have to make a choice how we deal with stories of the daily failures that these people face. Do we see them as a sign of defeat or a sign of growth? Do we honor the inveititibility of failure, or the possibilty of change, rebirth and renewal? Do we come down hard or give them the benefit of the doubt?
Anyone who is ready to declare falure “defeat” is someone who is mired in their own sense of defeat. As long as people and organizations show a willingness and intent to learn from failure and grow into success, having a defeatist attitude is to call for defeat, and that call is a call that must be rejected by all who have a positive and powerful hope for a new and bright future, where change can occur.
For me, starting over, and over, and over, and over is the sign of someone who needs to be supported in creating the future self. Calling for the defeat of those who are trying to learn and grow is the sign of someone who has to go and do their own work in finding a positive hope for tomorrow.
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