The Six Responses: Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm

This one’s for Lezlie.

The Six Responses: Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm
Date: Mon 15 Jun 1998

Ok, here is a theory.

When someone looks at a transgender person funny, challenges them, there seem to be six possible models of response. Usually, they are used in combination, rather than just one single option.

1) Conceal: “I didn’t hear anything!”

This model uses the power of denial to ignore challenges, choosing ignorance. It’s very effective with people who like to live in their own world, their own closet, but has the consequences of not being open to anyone, to never really be open to connection or constructive comments. We ignore.

When people pass perfectly, or even just believe they do, they use concealment, ignoring the challenge by hiding, either real hiding or the belief they are hiding well.

Note that showing only the assigned gender is the most common form of concealing — we are sure we have hidden our transgender nature enough that nobody can guess we are not normative.

Our concealing may be conscious or unconscious — we may be deliberately hiding or just deliberately ignoring, but the truth is the same.

2) Concede: “I’m sorry.”

We concede our own moral authority to others. This model plays on the shame of transgender, on an innate sense of trying to fit in and be “appropriate.” It drives people back into the closet by keeping an eye on the walls that other people claim, keeping them down by letting others define the walls. We flee.

3) Confront: “Screw you! What are you looking at?”

This model is a confrontational model of independence, an “in your face” idea of how to put the challenge on other people. It builds walls by blaming other people, staying in a defensive posture couched as an offensive posture. By being offensive, it moves ground but does not create connection. We fight.

This is the technique people who use shock value use.

4) Convert: “If you just let me explain, then you will understand. What you say is debatable, and if I just prove you wrong, you will have to see things my way and accept me.”

We live in the loophole when we want to rationalize and justify our choices, to argue our point in a way that creates conversion, be that religious fervour, even pagan religions, or legalistic, a logical argument which gets trans though as a technicality.

5) Clown: “HaHa! Almost fooled you! Aren’t I wacky! I’m such a clown!”

This is the essence of drag queen armour, the notion that if I make them laugh first, I defuse the threat. “As long as they think we are crazy, we are safe.” It is a classic model of transgender, as buffoon or clown, a softening of the atavistic sense of potency that always comes from being beyond social limits, walking between worlds.

6) Calm: “Thank you for sharing, but I have another view.”

This attitude is the hardest, because it demands we not have a strong emotional response to people’s comments, that we unwire the buttons that are easier to cover up with denial, respond to by fleeing or by fighting. We are open to what other people are saying without taking it personally, confident enough in our own choices, our own moral authority, to be open to others.

This is the model that lets us connect by addressing other people’s fears without triggering our own, but it demands that we have addressed our own fears, come to our own answers and our own maturity.

There may be one more, a sort of nurturing kindness which has sympathy for the confused, but I think that may well be part of “thank you for sharing,” a kind of acceptance.

Expediency, Integrity

I have been listening to Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It In The World, a history of the building of the US Transcontinental Railroad.  We are deep into the race now, the Central Pacific building furiously from Nevada and the Union Pacific building furiously from Wyoming, both trying to claim as much track in Utah as possible.

Ambrose relates the story of Strowbridge having to fire a man off the CP because he misloaded one train, even after years of good work.  It did scare people, did motivate them, and the man was rehired after a month, but Strow felt bad about what he had to do in the name of expediency in the heat of the battle.

It’s easy to rationalize, justify or even not question the call to expediency in battle.  I suspect that is why this president likes being a war president so much he started his own elective war. The problem is that today, the forces of business like to promulgate the notion that we are always at war, that there is always a fight to be made, that expediency — the end justifying the means — can always be demanded.

I know that this is the experience of many transpeople.  We feel that from an early age the world is at war with us, trying to destroy our own nature.  It’s an asymmetric war, parents and school and peers all ganging up on us, so we learn to be secretive with our plans and clever with our tactics, keeping our heart hidden and protected at all costs.  We have limited resources, so they have to be used powerfully, seducing some others with what they want to hear, and sacking the ones that will not be seduced.

What do we lose when we commit to the expedience of stories and ploys that work in the moment, that go though the weak spots, manipulating others?

It’s my sense that the cost of a commitment to the expedient is a loss of our own integrity.  We can no longer stand up for what is right, moral, balanced and proper if we only care about what is effective, quick, cheap and expediant. 

Where, in this fast, furious and thin world do we have the chance to be supported in our integrity, our standing for truth & the golden rule, our own attempts at integration?  I know that my mother has told me in the past that my problem was that I wasn’t compartmentalized enough, that I didn’t have enough sincere faces.   As someone who has been committed to integrity — heck, I was product manager for an integrated software package — I knew that wasn’t a choice I could make.

The problem, though, is that while I won’t tell a yarn, slip on a face, or lie to placate someone, I also know that the truth may be a little too complicated, or may not be what they want to hear.  That means that my choice for expediency is silence.  I just keep my head down and shut up.

It’s not enough, of course.   Others around me often tell me that I have to fight harder, just do what is required, be who is required, say what I know others want to hear.   I just shut up more, just die a bit more.

This struggle between integrity and expediency is a defining one in my life, a defining one in a world that wants to break queers, and a defining one in a modern world where relationships are fleeting and integrity is not always highly valued.

I need to be able to speak up, from an integrated and integral perspective, with truth and integrity, and not just shut up and stay hidden for the comfort of others.

But damn, that doesn’t feel expedient — or supported — at all.

FlamGirlAnce

Flamboyant comes from the French word meaning “to flame.”

What was it that The Christophers used to quote?  “It is better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.”  

That’s what TBB knows, why she succeeds; you cannot create good by fighting darkness, by being focused on sickness, rather you can only create good by spreading light, by expanding health.

So, this is the question: when you go out into the world, how bright & how hot are you willing to be?

How much are you willing to just say, “Yeah, I know I’m bright and hot.  Go ahead and look.  I am a candle, and that’s good.”

For me, the question isn’t how much I want to be seen as flamboyant — I really don’t want to choose to act in an affected manner — but rather, how much I try to avoid being seen as flamboyant, for whatever reason. 

I suppose there are a list of reasons, including a desire to be seen as serious & elegant, worthy of credibility, a resistance to being a clown, a fear that being too visible will bring too much crap down on my head.

I remember The Oprah, on one of her makeover shows, talking of how women of size have a higher obligation.  Because you are noticed, she told us, you have to be more perfect than women who are average — the hair, the shoes, the depilation, everything.  Fat women have to be more polished and more together, said The Oprah.

Now, Oprah was probably playing out some of her internal fears and self-talk, being a woman of size herself and clearly striving for perfection, but her injunctions resonated with me.

As a transwoman, I always feel on the cusp of slipping back into being seen as a guy-in-a-dress.   That is always part of my self-talk, that sense that if I slip, even a little bit, I’m just another sloppy fat woman, just another guy-in-a-dress, falling over the edge into icky stereotypes.

One some level, I know this isn’t true.  People respond to our energy and behavior choices more than they respond to some external look.   After all, the final trans surgery is when you pull the stick out of your own ass, when you loosen up, open up and let other people in.

Yet, seeing my own energy is almost impossible.  The moment I slip from participant to observer, from performer to critic, my energy slips, becoming tainted by my own fears.  I stop trusting my own instincts, my own rehersal, my own training, and that lack of trust reads as a moment of fright, which conveys fright to others.    People respond to confidence and authority, and when that slips, so does their confidence & trust.

Reynolds Price in A Whole New Life (highly reccommended), talks about people feeling that illness entitles them to demand answers and offer opinions that they never would about someone’s normal life.  As I write this, I have another window where commentators on fundamentalist sites feel entitled to comment on the case of a twelve year old in Germany who was offered gender transition.   I understand that people feel entitltled to express judgements about me and my choices, to the point of imposing their own opinions in ways that they would never allow others to judge and impose opinions on them and their life.  After all, they are normal, not sick.

I went to one church and talked to the co-pastor and she started offering me some of her opinions about what makes people trans, and how they should handle it.  If she was talking to a black person, would she have the arrogance to define their life, their experiences and tell them what the right choices for a black person should be?  Well, maybe she would, but it would be wrong, and no one would blame the black person for being offended. 

I know that it is easy to slip into the assumptions, ignorance and arrogance of others.  That’s one reason I have learned to keep my head down, to work hard at stifling my own natural flamboyance.

I know lots of flamboyant drag queens and even flamboyant crossdressers.   And I know that I am not one of them, no matter how much I like music from Broadway musicals and false eyelashes.  I’m not the only woman who loves showtunes & lashes, but the moment people know about my biology, that gets recast, deciding I am showing my “male energy.”  

I know what kind of woman I am.  I am a power femme, a ballsy broad, but I fear that when I show that side, all people will see is balls.   Not at all what I want.

The question is, of course, how I trust that people will see the health, the goodness, the light in my presence, how I stay in the moment and be just let myself bright & flamboyant, rather than always being suspect and ready to pull back & quench the light.   It’s about how I pull the stick out of my own ass and let myself flow, trusting that my essential nature is beautiful when I just dance.

In other words, it’s how I learn to have a deep faith in my special kind of flamboyance — in my own special FlamGirlAnce.

Speedo

I was talking to someone who related Caroline Myss’ injunction that today’s challenge is not to seek enlightment in a monestary or ashram, but to seek it out in the wider world, where it can be transformational.

To me, that’s another way to express Joseph Campbell’s idea that the challenge of each new generation is to speak the truth in modern language. 

One of my skills is directly from the television age.  My mother lost a daughter before I was born, so we had a television from my birth, and I was connected to it.  I knew the voices of announcers at age two, learned about tsunamis from Gilligan’s Island before Earth Science class.  That glass teat, in Harlan Ellison’s term, fed me a bigger world, where more existed — even, in Jonathan Winters, people like me.

I move at the pace of TV.  I ended up hosting my own daily magazine show, because that’s what I love, being in that moment.

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows that my voice is fast and supple, that I don’t offer just empigrams or infrequent essays, rather I write almost daily essays that mix my experience, pop culture and a lifetime of learning.  Give me a subject and I will connect it to the world as we know it, while seeing it from a different angle.   These are the skills of a collumnist, or a TV host.

It’s where my viruosity lies.  People loved the Marianne Williamson tapes, but those usually captured only the first part of her sessions, where she spoke on a topic.  Those who attended said that the second half was a real hoot, seeing her answer questions on the fly, bringing it down to the choices in people’s lives.  I remember a collegue who complained about a workshop leader that because he hadn’t internalized the material, he was unable to use it in the workshop, addressing real concerns.

If I go too slow, well, I lose the connection, fall off the wave upon which my spirit board rides.  It’s at speed that I feel flow from the godhead, one reason why if something I am writing isn’t working, I usually just throw it out and start over, looking for the energy to catch & carry me.  Other people may find this way of working odd, may be unable to imagine how I sit and write well, but it is the way creation works for me.

Marianne Williamson said that the big breakthough in her study of ACIM was the injunction to relax.  She had been working so hard to be who others expected, and failing at that, that she was just tired and beat, unable to imagine she could work harder.  It was when she began to relax and feel her own rythyms, her own energy, that she began to take her place in the world.

This is incredible to my parents.  The one lesson my father always looks for reasons to repeat is the idea that I have to slow down and think more.  The lesson my mother in the sky always reminds me is that when I speed up and relax, things go easier, better, smoother.   It has something to do with having enough ∆V to achieve escape velocity, I think.

I used to know how to move fast, and when I acheieved any measure of viruosity it has been not from plodding but from dancing, moving fast enough to break free of measured strides and take flight, if only for a few moments.

I saw a bit of Kristi Yamaguchi’s Boniva Skating extravaganza yesterday.  You know Bonviva — the magic medicine  that saves you from the excrutiating and wasting torture of having to take one pill a week for bone loss, only demanding one pill a month.  Ah, marketing crap.

The bit I saw was the skater’s children coming out in a little train, and then being escorted onto the ice.  These are professionals who are used to executing a perfect and exacting routine on the ice, but the moment they turrned on parent role, perfection became impossible.   All of a sudden, safety became the first priority, protecting the children, followed by helping them do their tricks, which were simple for the little kids and ranged to high comptency for the big ones.  The skaters were in their stylized outfits, but their faces were the faces of parents, improvising in the moment with professional skills and deep caring. 

Others may have watched the cute kids, but being the grandparent I am, parent to parents, I watched the parents encourage, empower and care for children, and I was moved.  I saw these people use their skills in the moment to improvise, and it was powerful, at least to me.

I have the chops to do good work fast and have it turn out well.

It just turns out that’s hard to do when your feet are immersed in cement.

Two Stories

The story about meeting a big fit Mountie in the (straight) hotel bar, going up to his room, kissing some, going to the door & unlocking it, announcing she wasn’t always a woman, and when he said “Not a problem to me,” barring the door again so she could spend the night in his arms, well, that was a story my friend could tell with wit & pride.

But the story about seeing the leftover pizza in the car and then seeing the homeless man sleeping on the grate and offering it to him, about seeing him the next night and going to McDonalds to buy him a sack of double cheeseburgers, about leaving a bag of t-shirts and a bible before she left, well, that story was harder to tell, one saved for special friends, for safe space.

The encounter with the Mountie was a standard story of being affirmed in status, one that touched bodies, but the encounter with the homeless man was a secret, sacred story of being vulnerable and caring, one that touched hearts.  

It’s good for me to know that we can have enough social standing to entertain and warm another through a long cold night far away from home.

It’s better for me to know that we can have enough compassion and wherewithal to open our hearts to those who we can help.

Why, Shut My Mouth!

My mother asked my sister if I shaved off the beard.

She couldn’t ask me.  It’s not something she knows how to talk about with me, nor I with her.

In the exercise for the Life Coach workshop, I knew that I had to make sure I didn’t overwhelm my exercise partner with “too much information,” as the kids say.  She didn’t then ask about any details, and, of course, I will never know if that’s because she was trying to be gracious, because she didn’t think to ask, or because she just didn’t want to know, either because of simple disinterest or cloaked disgust. 

The quote from a Brit who employs a transitioning transwoman often comes to mind.  “I know that her gender issues must be terribly important to her, but to me they are terrifically uninteresting.  I hire her for other reasons.”

My experience teaches me to shut my mouth about my own gender crossing and related issues.  Beyond the normal social graces, it doesn’t feel proper to talk about issues that might make others uncomfortable, and it doesn’t feel safe to speak about those things.  

The problem is that silence leaves me isolated and separate in my own experience, which can’t be shared, which can’t be seen as shared, unless it is surfaced. 

I know the classic “liberal” response to gays:  “Well, I don’t care what they do in the privacy of their bedroom, as long as I — and my children — don’t have to hear about it.”   Of course, this asks those who deviate from the norm to take responsibility for the comfort of others by making their diversity invisible in the world.  It demands self-policing of the boundaries of propriety, and that always means those under the gun will mostly err on the side of self-denial.

But I also know that the demand for silence has a cost, especially when enforced by threat, making people feel unsafe to speak.   When ideas and lives are marginalized, they are also moved beyond the pale, where there is no social balance or control.   The Oprah was stunned by the lesson she took from Hurricane Katrina, the lesson that there is povery in the US, poverty that is easy to find if you just look.  What an asshole!  After spending a mint building a life not looking, a beautiful and elegant and isolated life, how can she be surprised that poverty still exists?  Shouldn’t she be more surprised by the dint of her own determined ignorance, where she ignored the marginalized until their lives became horribly visible in a national catastrophe, and she chose to be shocked, shocked?

I know how to shut my mouth.   I know why that is a polite and tasteful choice.

But I also know that until I I have the ability to speak and be heard, I am lost, my loneliness insured.

Blieving that people just don’t want to hear it, that they won’t understand, that I am “too hip for the room” and my words will just sound queer, well, that doesn’t affirm and empower me.

Free Pain

Champagne for my sham friends,
real pain for my real friends.
    Noel Coward 

The brilliant Yarrow has always been kind to me here, with both comments and mentions in the blog, has commented that sometimes it’s hard to read my stuff, because of the high levels of pain, but that the insights that come out are worth it. 

Ms. Rachelle has noted the same thing, that my difficult and painful subjects are balanced by art & truth.

If I was to talk to an editor, they may well tell me that taking out the painful and hard to read stuff would make my work more accessible, more saleable.

Fall Out Boy has written a song based on the Coward quote above, but they switched the quote to “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.”   Much nicer and easier, right?  You know that when Biblical scholars look for “copying errors” between different bible versions, they assume that the more complex and challenging quote is correct, because they know that humans have a tendency to simplify rather than to complicate.  The complex comes first before it is oversimplified, and the nuances of meaning removed.

It’s my sense that without the pain, the wisdom has no impact.  The medicine won’t work unless you let it in, the surgery won’t happen without cutting to the bone.

The life coach, Merci Miglino, talks about the importance of being both observer and participant, of both feeling your feelings without dropping into them while recording them, and how many people find that hard to learn.  Of course, that was the key survival skill I learned as a child.  TBB has noted that it’s good that I can both feel and think about those feelings, because otherwise she thinks I would be dead.

I can’t imagine the kind of learning I have found myself without experiencing the pain.  Pain is a gift, says Brand & Yancey, because without it we wouldn’t know where healing is required, wouldn’t know when we were hurting ourselves.  And, as Miglino noted in the workshop, it isn’t the pain that is the problem, it’s the suffering, the way we hold onto expectations and feel those crushed bythe signals of pain that tell us what we are trying isn’t working so well.

It’s not pain, it is how we experience pain.  The doc in the emergency room was surprised I didn’t want pain meds when he tried to reset my ankle.  I didn’t want to pay, knew I couldn’t pay, and I know how to manage pain.  It’s a key skill of my life.

And there are blessings to that, including wisdom, which clearly I value highly.

That’s why I understand Noel Coward.  “Champagne for my sham friends, real pain for my real friends.”  It’s not bottled anasthesia that brings the gifts, it’s real pain.

Thanks to all  who share a bit of my real pain to get the real lessons and insight that come along.

Girl Story

I’ve been listening to country music on the car radio, but it’s making me a bit queasy.  You see, today the target audience for country is women in SUVs with kids in the back, and those proficient hacks in Nashville know how to make them happy.

Proud women or men saying how happy women make them, that’s the entire oeuvre, with a bit of party music thrown in.  Carrie Underwood, who was so happy to let Jesus take the wheel, is now happily keying her ex’s car, which is not the answer I would expect when asking WWJD.

I listen to this claptrap about earnest daddies buying Happy Meals and women paraphrasing the Paradoxical Commandments (Do It Anyway) in a happy-sap-pappy way, and I squirm.  To me, the message is clear: success as a woman has clear and understood parameters.

Women, I know, are pack animals as much as any male human.  What they want is to be an esteemed part of the group, and that means having what other women value.  Unless other women value it, it is often difficult for women to see the worth in it.

This is, of course, the heart of the girl story in this culture.  Heck, for all I know it may be the heart of the girl story in every culture.

I know, though, it has never been the heart of my story.   My story is the essential tranny journey, one that walks away from what other people want to find some individual expression.

This is often hard to explain to people.  They assume that I make choices for the same reason they do, wearing short skirts to attract men, for example.  They make their choices to get what they want, to get what “everyone values,” shaping their expression around common desire, including the desire to have status within the group, and assume everyone makes choices for the same reason.

It’s possible that if I had been one of the girls in high school, I would have bought into this story.  But I wasn’t, and I wasn’t one of the boys either, as was clear to them.   Part of me does wish I could have bought into this story, learning how to get status and prestige in the group by enacting the shared story of success though achieving shared desires.  But I didn’t, and now, at an age when other women are putting aside the dreams & patterns of girlhood and claiming their own unique expression, power & status, well, it’s not going to happen for me.

Still, I flip on the country radio and I am reminded, song by song that I am never going to have a standard girl story, am never just going to get to accept the common ideas, desires and dreams which populate these tunes.   That makes me sad, and I often respond with classic cynicism, rejecting the commercial manipulation occurring, which is simultaneously true & smart and lost & empty.

To be comfortable with our own unique story is the ultimate goal of any human life. 

But yeah, being comfortable we have operated within the shared story, the shared girl story, has attractions too.

Otherwise, why else would so many women be so happy to have it affirmed on their car radios, and work so hard to enact it in their own lives?

Management Issues

I went to a workshop on how to make a good living as a life coach.  I came away with two conclusions

  1. Because I know how to ask questions that enlighten, listen without judgement, and empower people to move beyond hidden blocks to find their own voice, I have an extremely good skill set for this work
  2. Because I have claimed my own enlightenment and surfaced hidden blocks, people who have not yet done the work may find me scary, so marketing myself to do this work may be very hard.

The workshop leader was great.  I could believe that my transstatus was a non-issue to her.  It was an issue to others in the class, though, and the woman I paired with for the exercise had no skill set of making people feel comfortable and safe to explore the blocks.

When I got back, though, I had to do two coaching sessions.   My sister’s big boss came and decided to troll the store for problems again, and her staff said that my sister wasn’t warm and nice.  She may turn in some of the top numbers of 250 stores nationally, but she isn’t a schmoozer, and now her assignment is to schmooze the staff to get them to like her.  Big boss didn’t express her confidence in my sister, rather she told my sister she has 48 hours to convince the staff that BB has confidence in her. 

As a sibling, I want to kick BB’s ass.  As a sibling I want to empower my sister.  As a coach, though, I know that she has to work it out for herself, that I can’t teach her another way to be present in the world.  I tried that when we were in high school, and decades later she told me “I know you were just trying to get me to engage my anger, but I wasn’t supposed to be angry at you, and it just felt creepy.” 

Next, I had to talk to my mother, who has been sick in the Orlando timeshare.  They haven’t really done much there, no real events, and she has been watching my father take care of her.

“This is probably our last trip,” she tells me.  “I don’t want to have to make your father do all this work.”

She’s holding feelings of frustration and inertia, and while I address them a few times a day, even when they are on the road, well, her empowerment is her empowerment.

It turns out that coaching is what I do, what I always have been doing, but that doing it at close range means that the challenge of beng both engaged and detached at the same time is very, very hard.

I looked at the people in the room last night, and saw only a few who were even close to understanding the management challenge of empowering and developing people. 

The big breakthough for these folks comes, it seems, when they stop simply being a participant and also engage the role of being an observer in life.  They find this freeing.

Speaking as one who was forced to stop simply being a participant in my life and become an observer very early, learning to channel & limit my own energy through the gateway of that external & conscious awareness, I don’t find it as freeing.

I do understand why it’s simple to them.  “Don’t worry that you don’t have anything new to say in a book.  All self help books say the same things.  It’s your view, your voice that makes it different and valuable, your own beautiful vessel filled with the common wisdom,” the teacher tells us. 

The trouble with man is twofold.
He cannot learn the truths which are too complicated;
he forgets truths which are too simple.
 Rebecca West 

Most people just need to be lead to their own knowledge, the stuff they hide from themselves.  “If you knew the answer, what would it be?”   And to do that, we need to be gentle management, waiting until they are ready for the questions  –“Don’t try to sell anyone on coaching.  Doesn’t work.  They need to be ready” — and then ask them gently and in their own time.

Wait until they are ready to heal, because that’s the only time that they are open.

When I had to do my intro for the group, I talked of being the guru, the one who engaged the new and then brought it back, of crying at Tom Peters books because the empowerment was so sweet,  of my own path, and of being the “grad course” in my community, asking the questions at the front edge of awareness.

I love management.  I’m good at it.  But, when strong Gwyneth asked what I wanted, it was to be able to be in the world without having to be in that bloody management headspace, all filters and observations.

Down here in the unread end of this entry, I’ll tell you a truth.  I felt the power of flight from the first moment I walked into the classroom, and I had to fight it even an hour and a half into the class, especially after that gaping look one of the participants gave me.   There is a cost to that reaction, but when I got though it, I got to the point where I realized that I didn’t really have anything to get from these people beyond the view of a successful coach, who may not know that Ries & Trout defined marketing as the art of oversimplification, but who knows that process in her political communication manager trained bones.

Supportive & empowering management, but with little challenge or push, is what most people want and crave.

But the requirement to always be the manager, to be the one who hears without being heard, well, I find that an issue that I have trouble getting over.

Tito Puente

I listen to Tito Puente and the band playing Cha Cha Chá live at Grossingers Hotel in 1959, and my first response, after I have started swaying, is to smile slyly and think “Oh, he’s gonna get lucky tonight. . . ”

I missed my time, I really did. 

And my sex, too, it seems.

Harsh

It occurs to me that, maybe, in the vacuum of my own mind, I might sometimes be a little harsh in my own self-criticism, and that this may limit my connection to others who see good things where I see flaws.

Re-Normal

TBB thinks I have the idea of “normal” wrong.

To her, normal isn’t some model of what would be good and what wouldn’t be good.

Being normal just means being comfortable in her skin and her world.

When she decided to transition, she abanoned hope of being normative, blending in somehow.  Rather, she committed herself to creating a new normal, whatever was normal for a big, beautiful transwoman, a big bitch, as it were.

She thinks she’s achieving that.  So much so that she’s ready to leave the space where she shed the cross-dressing man facade and revealed the transsexual woman beneath.  Now, that transsexual woman is ready to move on, to go ahead and leave gender obession and do her work.

Part of this is the result of the tedium of the stories she hears from trannies in that space.  They all have begun to sound like the same story, the same myopic, needy, canned story, the same story of sickness & desiring.

The big breakthrough for her?  She can’t believe how much her way of seeing the world has changed.  It’s amazing to her how much her perspective, her awareness and her choices have changed.   It’s something she never could have imagined, something she could have never understood before she experienced that.

I get that.  I tried to explain it to her in the past, but she didn’t hear, she couldn’t hear.  She had to be where she was.

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

If transpeople stand for anything in the world, it is for the possibility to transform beyond biology, history & expectations.   It is to trust the continuous common humanity we all share, trust that spiritual being living a human life, rather than the quick and easy walls of projected separation which maintains the status quo.

I was talking to someone yesterday who talked about breaking though the barrier of fundamentalist fear.  I was struck by The Right Stuff — I am the child of a jet engineer after all.

Breaking the sound barrier was hard.  It was hard because just before the breakthough, just before Mach 1, the air gets thick and roiled.  It’s a scary and unsafe place — men died trying to get there — and many experts said that barrier just could not be broken. 

I suspect that is common to barriers; the resistance is greatest just before the breakthough. 

And after the breakthough, we find a new normal, a new kind of stasis, a place where going beyond the barrier becomes commonplace, routine, and yes, becomes normal.

No one else will lead you though your breakthroughs.  In fact, they will probably be part of the resistance encountered.  But once you establish a new normal, they may well follow you to that new space.

I think TBB is right.  What needs to be abandoned are dreams of becoming normative, being who we want to be.

What needs to be claimed are dreames of becoming normal, of being who we are in a comfortable & potent way.

And that’s the breakthough that may be possible.

p.callan, P.Callan

As it turns out, I don’t care much about blending in as private callan, p.callan.  

Well, that’s not quite true. 

All my life, I have deeply cared about having the ability to simply walk in the world as a girl or woman.   That would be magical, on many levels.

But I have never had an interest in walking in the world as a crossdresser, a man-in-a-dress.  Never.  And I doubted that with my bones, my hair, my voice, my adams apple I would ever be able be able be able to walk as just a woman.  Maybe if I started early, maybe.  And if I could have had a baby after the surgery, well, I would have jumped, whatever I looked like. 

I have ended up walking in the world as a transperson, though all the pieces of that.  I have done that work, deconstructing, analyizing and reconstructing, until I can speak woman pretty fluently, but as an immigrant and not a native speaker. 

But still, my public persona — P.Callan — has been ephemeral, text on a screen, moments of appearance. I have kept my head down, not showing much in the world.

I get dressed and think about just going out to the store.  And when I think about going out and just blending in as a guy-in-a-dress — something I know how to do in my own defensive posture — well, I just don’t care much.  I’ve never cared much, as I recalled going to the bar where I came out working to be androgynous and gender fuck before the term was born.  That was a long time ago, a very many me’s ago, a me exercising defenses rather than authenticity.

If I can’t be out there as P.Callan, the big femme dragmom trans-shaman, then what the hell am I going to be out there as?  Some kind of pleasant compromise? 

p.callan, well, gender neutral whatever, simple and hidden.

P.Callan, well she is a public figure with presence and power.  She has to be to make her voice heard in the world, to return the gifts she found on her journey into the wilderness to fight the dragon with “thou shalt” engraved on every scale, as Joseph Campbell said.

If beauty is about confidence, well, I have no confidence that I will ever pass as having been born female, no confidence that I will ever blend in as one of the norm.  I do, however, have some confidence that what I have to say has value & power, that my creation has beauty & grace.

I find all this difficult to say, because I have seen too many trannys who don’t look beautiful to me, who do have a strong indvidual style, but who seem disconnected.  I fear that my style will look odd and silly to others, even though I do know that I don’t think like those other people — I think like me, make choices like me, not like anyone else. 

“There is only one of me,” I reminded ListMom Linda on Saturday. 

“Oh, I know that,” she said.  “I just can’t remember your name.”

Of course, I’m writing about this all because I don’t have anyone to talk about it with.  That’s probably why I learned to write like this, in an attempt to find an audience.

There really doesn’t seem to be an audience for p.callan, all those jewels covered in shit, vomit & blood.  p.callan is a bit too messy, a bit too lifelike to feel comfortable around.

But P.Callan, a big performance person, appearing with authority, well, now she has something people can listen to. 

The appearance of transcendence is transcendence to most people, people who really want to believe that if they can just change that one problem in their life — appearance, money, family, whatever — that they can find true happiness and joy.  Of course, those of us who have changed many things know that the human side stays, the scars still decorating our body, the wounds still possible.   The only way to get over that is to build walls, like Oprah does, but those of us speaking for continuous common humanity don’t really have that luxury, the luxury of separating ourselves from the bad people.

I have three workshops penciled in on the schedule — a day on tyhe power of doubt with Jennifer Hecht at the Unitarian, how to make money with life coaching with Merci Miglino, and a meeting with performance coach Lezlie Dana.  Let’s see if I make them, lets see how I get out there, beyond the  tongue cut on the broken tooth and infection, and be.

But I suspect this theme continues for a while.

Can I trust P.Callan, trust finally letting out the big stuff — the overwhelming & scary stuff — in the world?

Maybe.

Hiding, No

Just here, hiding in the house, avoiding going out.

But today’s the first day with any snow, so the kids are sliding outide the back window, and Brandon showed up to ring the doorbell and sell clean air systems.

Nope, she wants me to know, that hiding isn’t an option.

In The Hands

There are so many things that we, as humans, cannot control.  We can’t control the weather, or the reactions of other people, we can’t control the luck of the draw or where obstacles are located.  We can’t directly control disease or healing, none of it.

The best we can do is control the way we respond to these things.  The things themselves, our blessings and our challenges, well, all we can do there is pray.

Praying takes lots of forms, from shaping our lives in ways we think might appease the gods — “If you only make this happen, I will. . . ” — to simple requests for intervention, usually direct and injunctive.  “Dear God, bring us money and healthy and success and joy!”

There seems to be plenty of evidence that prayer doesn’t really work that way.  While both sides may pray to God, in the end God has to let the process happen, can’t give everyone everything they desire.

For me, prayer is an injunction for miracles as defined by A Course In Miracles, where the miracles we pray for are miracles of our own transformation, of our learning lessons from the world that teach us how to walk more in love than in fear, how to trust connection more than separation.   This is based on the belief that being open to miracles can help us heal ourselves and help us get what we need, both in this world and in our larger spirit life.   It teaches that our strength is in our defenselessness and our power is in the way we connect with others to make good things happen.

It is, then, very possible for me to see getting a traffic ticket as a lesson, and also to see avoidng dealing with another ticket as another lesson, one of the essential power of love, and the other as a lesson about my own fear.

To live with this belief, like living with any belief, requires a kind of faith.  Some beliefs require faith in a vengeful and interceding God, others require faith in a random and chaotic universe, but my beliefs require faith that becoming more actualized, more integrated, more whole and more authentic will bring more connection and more lessons that help me grow.

So many of us have heard the injunction to surrender to God, to surrender to the song she put in our hearts, to surrender to the lessons she offers us in this life, to surrender to the principle that all we can do is the best we can and leave the rest to her process.

For me, faith requires me to put myself in her hands, trusting that if I open more, she will offer more, protecting me, challenging me, surprising me and nurturing me though the hands of the people & the world of her creation. 

Faith is so uncool because it is inherently niaeve and childlike.  It demands we let go of adult notions of control & power, demanding we only take power and responsibility for doing our best, for making the best choices we can in our own views, and leaving the rest to our mother in the sky.  If we make her proud by our choices, we have to trust that she will be there to help us get though and get what we need.

Still, the opposite of faith, the idea that somehow we can be smart enough to manipulate everyone and everything around us, that our own tricks can control the world, seems to always turn out to be a dead end.  It is the dead end we face in recovery, forced to face our limits and the long term effects of creating a false self to control others.

I need to put myself in the hands of something or someone bigger than I am, to have faith that making good choices and surrendering to the world with love is the best choice I can make.  For me, that surrender is to my mother in the sky, who teaches me with wit, warmth and a stern hand that I am more than the sack of shit I have taught myself to be.

And that choice to trust those unseen hands, hands I can only know by the shadows of them I have seen in my life, by the shadow stories others have left in their tales, well, I find that hard.

But I think that trust is what love — agape, eros and all the rest — demands.

Acute Ain’t Cute

You know, having an acute and exquisite sense of the world around me doesn’t tend to make people see me as cute.  People tend to be cuter when they are really focused on something they are doing, not seeming to be aware of us, because their awareness of us puts us on our guard, makes us feel observed and a bit defended.

This is all, for me at least, just an aspect of living in the question rather than in the answer.  People tend to prefer questions to answers, and especially to questions that tend to shatter the assumptions & expectations that underlie their worldview.   Of course, it is always the questions that open up the view and reveal connection that I love most.

Somehow, though, I don’t think these aspects of me are going to change soon.  The question is how to be compelling and attractive while still being aware and questioning.

Anyone got a good trick for that?

Chasing Normal

Pamela just wants to be normal.  

Her wife, well, she just wants to be normal too, but since her husband wants to be a woman, well, that doesn’t seem to be going so well for her.

Pamela is in her late 50s, working a less than rewarding job.  She has a degree in theology, which to her means Bible based religion.  She hasn’t been going to church, though, since she mentioned transsexualism to her pastor, and he swept it into the mortal sin of homosexuality.

Living in small towns, she doesn’t get read out a lot, so to her she walks in the world as a woman.  Now, that’s a world of shops and karaoke bars, and not a world of work and congregations.   She dressed for Halloween, they told her she couldn’t, so she wrote the corporate diversity coordinator.  Next day they parachuted someone in, and started creating a transpolicy.

Tonight it was the Indian casino or the trans group, so she joined the ten or so in the old closeted gay bar, now a hobby jazz bar, that has hosted groups since before I came out there in 1984.

Pamela isn’t wired into community.  She worries that if she decides to emerge, to go full time, she won’t be able to take hormones; her cardiologist is worried enough that she sometimes has to skip meds.  nd surgery seems farther than that.

Pamela just wants what she wants.

Pamela wants to be normal.

I tried to be normal getting ready tonight.  A nice denim skirt, a brick coloured top, you know. 

But normal didn’t feel right.  So I pulled out the new long black skrt with sparkles, wore it with the black robe/jacket, my dichroic pendant, lashes.  You know — vestments.

I smiled at Pamela tonight.  I understand what she wants.  Isn’t chasing normal, or at least normative, what everyone wants to do?

Well, maybe not everyone. 

Normal feels lost to me.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to hide or talk or whatever.  I get bollixed by normal, it feels like a trap.  If I’m going to try to be invisible, my gender neutral boots, jeans, polo shirt and fleece do the job just fine.

My comfort, though, is outside of normal,  actively following my own path, being visible in my own beauty.  

I just don’t think I can explain that to people like Pamela, who have so much invested in their own chasisng normal, who really, really want that dream that they can just fit in.

“Do you know lots of transsexuals who just fit in?”  Pamela asks.  I tell a story about a local gal whose doing great, but she’s a primary, transitioning in her twenties, and well, it’s different for the gals who emerge young.  They don’t have as much to peel away, less history, less body steeped in maturing sex hormones.

But still, all those WBF and Transsexual Rights people, demanding that people see them as they see themselves, as having achieved normal.  They are chasing normal, aren’t they?  Or maybe trying to hunt it down with big-game rifles.

It’s the confidence to not try to be normal, not to get lost between a normative I can’t meet with my body & history and a desire I can’t really speak if I am trying to be in the woodwork, that I seek.

It’s the job of the tranny to hold open the space for transformation beyond biology, beyond history, beyond expectations, to trust the connective urges in the heart of people, the urge to beauty & expression that speaks boldly not of social separations but of continuous common humanity.  Or at least, that’s what I believe, though I also believe it is a job that is hard as blazes.

“What the hell is a trans support group where you can’t wear lashes?” I ask. 

And I might ask, what is a world where you can’t wear lashes?  Sure, the masses want comfort over power, but how much do we have to sacrfice our own power to be accepted and acceptable?

I don’t know.

I do suspect that chasing normal is the wrong thing for me.  

And I know that scares the shit out of people around me.

And I know that stimulating their fear scares the shit out of me.

Why, Yes

Why, yes, it occurs to me that there are a number of skills & attitudes that, if I accquired them, would serve me well.

The problem, it seems, is finding people and places that can teach me this.

Fucking World.

Well, I finally got out there today.

Lucky I didn’t start too early. My sister called and wanted to meet up, tell me stories she has heard about the goddam bosses where she works.

A salon for a hip new theatre company, 6:30 to 9:00. Then the hot mature bar is having disco night at 9:00, with an hour of open bar for those in costume.

I took my time and got things ready. Enormous hair — when I bought it in Atlanta, the gal told me how natural it looked; Ha! — and a tangerine and rasberry satin jacket with huge self scarf, right out of Designing Women. Platform boots, new lashes, and 1980s Borgese makeup that glows in the dark. Yallow Disco! (but lots of pressing and such)

I presumed people in the theatre company would assume I was going somewhere after, but heck, even if they didn’t, they needed to affirm Theatre, right? And what if I wore something small and blendable; would I be anything other than the big, old tranny in the back of the room, even then?

I got ready. One glass of Merlot, listen to my new theme music, the amazing Sutton Foster singing “No More” from The Drowsy Chaperone.

I walked out just as the neighbors were leaving, the lovely next door neigbors with two kids. Shit.

When I got to the main road, someone was parked in the shoulder, headlights shining into my eyes, blocking the view of traffic coming down the road. Shit.

I went a mile and there was a huge police presence at the Aquarium store, all lights and sirens in the road. Shit.

I drove through the snow and past another cop, then parked. That’s when I got a spasm in my side, all cramping pain and short breath. Pain. Shit.

I made it across the road and in. Nobody spoke to me, at all. I thought of speaking to people, but no one was open. Finally, after they read, there was something I could say to the young women, but they were so young, so desperately young, that I knew when it was time to learn those lessons, I would.

They want to build community, even the “the crazy old lady with dogs,” but me, well treated me like Albany. Shit.

I leave, and it’s 7:30. 7:30. An hour and a half to kill. Shit.

Oh, well, punt and go back to parent’s house. Maybe I can come out again, even though the empty gas light is on.

I see they don’t have internet in the room — aren’t on Skype, haven’t picked up mail — so I call the place. The phone rings, they are out.

I’m finishing my drink and thinking about leaving. It’s 8:30, and there’s a call from my mother’s cell phone.

I get the extension, and call back, twice. Both times it rings right to voicemail. Shit.

I call again and get the operator. She gets though, but my mother hasn’t hung up the phone, so she can’t connect me.

I call on the cell phone and tell them to hang up the phone.

I call once, on one phone, and the automated system “can’t hear my entry” when I punch the extension.

I try again on another phone, same result.

I try again on another phone, same result. Shit, shit, shit.

Finally I call and go though the operator. I have a chat with my mother, who tells me there were problems with her falling in the toilet, brusing herself, because she couldn’t wait for my father to help, and then they had to go out late, so it got dark, which is a problem for my father’s driving. Ooo, that hurts, out of my control.

I listen to her and put together the note for my brother and sister.

I tell my father an abbreviated version of the story I got from my sister, the same story I have just told my mother. Whith his touch of autism, he doesn’t understand the relationships in the story, and I have to go over it a few times, trying to make them clear, a frustrating task.

My father wants to tell me he didn’t get to the Whole Foods in Winter Park because it’s too close to the International Airport. My recollection of the maps is that it is nowhere near the airport, so I try to pulll up the maps on a 400Mhz Celeron.

This takes time, all the while, my father telling me about the Airport. I implore him to wait until I have the maps up, please, wait.

No. He thinks I’m yelling so he hangs up on me. Blip.

I know they are tired. But, well, I’m not doing all that well either, and I mean that as a life statement and a report of status.

Now it’s 9:30, no way to get to a party in any mood other than too tense.

And this is my goddamn day.

Now do you see why I just want to die?