Out There

I get the premise of vesting for ceremonies, for events, for services.  That makes sense to me.  It’s work, and they are work clothes

But the idea that we should walk in the world vested, that it counts when we vest up and do errands, well, that just feels a bit, well, terrifying.  There is work to be done every moment, they say.

The premise behind this seems to be immersion, the idea that when we dive in & committ, crossing the threshold, being in touch with our calling in every moment, or at least in most waking moments, we gain power, authority, and imprematur, creating synergy and integrity, leading to integration and actualization,  beecoming more than the sum of our parts.

It’s like that quote attributed to  Göethe quote passed ’round the net:

Until one is committed
there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),
there is on elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas
and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising in one’s favour all manner
of unforeseen incidents and meetings
and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamt
would come his way.

I have learned a deep respect
for one of Goethe’s couplets:
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it
.’

Begin it now.

      WH Murray, of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition
      Gothe quote is from a “very free translation” of Faust by John Anster in 1835.

Thats the argument anyway.

But boy, what a pain in the ass, eh?

One key question is if transpeople want to lie about their birth, or if we want to tell the truth about who we know ourselves to be.  My answer is truth, but the truth is that to walk in the world I have to create myself in an asthetic that fits into that world.   That asthetic doesn’t include transwomen who don’t make an attempt to pass as being born female, or assigns them as odd men.

This means that when I walk into the world, if I want my woman-centered truth to show, I need to be concerned about concealing my birth sex, and the minute I do that, I end up worrying more about how I am working the look past the world than about how I am open, free and truthful.  It’s not easy to be big and be visible.

I look here, look for places to go and people to see, and they are scarce.  There is a workshop on how to make big bucks as a life coach, one at the Unitarian church on the power of doubt, and a salon tomorrow night at a theatre group, followed by a disco costume party, with free drinks if you show up early and in costume.   Yet the performance coaach, a local actress, hasn’t returned my call in 24 hours now, and I just don’t want to assume she heard trans and passed, but I do know that it happens.

But just dressing right and going to the mall? What’s the point of that?

I know how to blend in.  It’s to appear powerless, lower class and abject, normative, run-of-the-mill.

But that’s not what I need to do, not the calling that echoes in my deep dark heart of desire. 

My desire is to speak, to be heard, to be potent in the world.  We each have our role to play in the world, our song to sing, our questions to ask, and I have known about mine since I was very young, just before I learned that playing that role, singing that song and asking those questions would end up with other people pouring shit on my head. 

To appear both powerful and vulnerable is very tough in a world of people taught to reject their own power.   It often reads as a call to social pressure, a call for people to show how they can maintain the norm with their own rejection.

It can also, however, appear as a beacon of hope, a walking encouragement to the best in us.  I remember a workshop at the Unitarian where two participants, including the leader, couldn’t make head nor tail of me, but one young gal wanted to talk, and hoped I would come back, because I clearly had something to share that she felt was valuable.  My blown ankle stopped that, but it is true, there are people out there who know they need to hear what I have to say.

That’s the reason, of course, to walk in immersion.  It may feel socially uncomfortable, but it feels much more spiritually comfortable, walking in harmony with my own heart, my own passion, my own Eros, my own bliss.  And it does make me more potent in the world, ready to be there when required, rather than trying to squeeze connection into some shattered schedule.

But being out there?  The lessons of my life, and worse, the continuing lessons of stigma, marginalization & projected fear, teach me how hard it is.  But the lessons of my heart, the continuing lessons in truth, beauty & power also work to teach me how important it is.

Shit.

No Joy

I sent this out, under the subject “Joy,” a week before I spoke to TBB.

 Have you ever seen the tagline of my blog? 

It’s “the loneliness of a long-lost tranny.”  

I get the loneliness. 

I really, really, really believe that the only thing others can do is unlock what is inside of us.  Our great passion is within us all the time, and when we meet a special person, or have a child, we understand that we can turn on that energy and give of our passion and our concerns. 

The question you and I always struggled over is “who heals the healers?”  When we give to people who are blocked from giving, for whatever reason, it feels like we don’t get back what we need to survive.  And once we feel like our resources are thin, we hoard them, and the cycle continues, us giving less, getting less, etc.

It’s my sense that the only way to break this cycle is to ignite our own passions, to fall in love with ourselves, to delight in the gifts that our skymother placed inside of us.  Believe me, I know how hard that is to do; the world thinks someone passionate about something they consider sick is sick.   Passion scares the world, and when we burn, many may want to circle us, to watch and to warm, but very, very, very few will enter the fire and dance.

But, at our age, what the fuck is the choice?  Playing small has failed, denying passion to satisfy the world hasn’t gotten us what we need from the world. 

I was with my father at the oncologist today and saw a couple in their sixties.  He was rail thin — cancer will do that — but impeccably dressed in a dark suit, white tie, neat haircut and such, like an warm investment advisor.  His wife was next to him, and while it was clear that at one point they matched, today she wasn’t in Talbots, rather she had shiny makeup, spiky blonde hair, funky stitched boots, a bight corsage of raveled fleece.  When she chatted with people she knew, the classic woman was there, but it was clear to me that she was in a new time, claiming her wild crone energy, caring for her sweet husband yes, but also back to the energy.

I watch these transvestites who want to dress like little girls, and they baffle me.  Pinafores, curled hair, frilly socks?  What girl do you know who loves that?  Now, real little girls, all denim and neon, thick tights and funky shoes, princess and punk, well they look like they are having fun.  That’s the same energy I saw in the woman in the waiting room today, claiming her own femininity outside of the need to fit into a neat role.

It’s about play, and the faith in our own sense of play.   It’s about fun & joy, not earnestness.  Where is the joy?

My sister, who, as a retail manager, feels the need to live with her head up her ass, serving customers, employees and bosses, told me today that she thinks doing what makes you happy is a valuable thing, because people who are happy bring better things into being in the world.  I agreed, of course, but don’t trust her, as she will eventually shift into manager mode and shut down the energy.

Grief can take care of itself,
but to get the full value of joy
you must have somebody to divide it with.
     Samuel Clemens || Mark Twain

For me, the goal of my next two months is to try to find my Eros and share it with others.  I am far from sure that I will succeed, but I am intensely aware of the costs of failing.

When writing to you, I had to face a number of things, including how I felt about those limits of yours, how I needed to be honest, how I wanted to support you.   I accepted your affirmations and worked to affirm and empower you.

You have the power, beautiful.  You are a hitter.  But so often that power has been locked in the small service of giving others what they want, rather than the big service of giving the world what it needs.  You lose the joy in the pain.

The world needs you, intense and erotic, playful and loose, potent and precious.  The wounded healer who can celebrate not just the wounds, the real, deep and intense pain of our flesh, but also the healing, the real, deep and intense joy of our spirit.

Compassion?  God, it’s what wounded healers do. 

But leadership, a public practice of encouraging and affirming the transcendence of joy, well, I suspect that’s what we need to do.

All my love, kid.

C

The correspondent I sent this to saw the need to take it apart, line by line.

One thing that they couldn’t imagine was how I could sit in the oncologist’s waiting room with my father and notice the people there.  How could I not be consumed with his illness?

Yeah.  Consumed by Illness.  I know the drill.  And I know why this person needed to be shocked at my callow behavior.  I know why they couldn’t understand when I talked about maximizing our own health and our own power though maximizing our own passion.

It’s because they live with the illness, rather than looking for the health, the wellness, the joy.

No Joy.  No Empowerment.  No Transformation. 

Sad.

Overview

I’m aware that people may find this blog and not know where to look to get an overview. 

I’ll turn this into a page soon, but here are some posts that I think get to the heart of me.

WH — Neither Sick Nor Invulnerable  — Unshelled —  Who The Fuck Wants To Be A Tranny?  — Queer Theory & Me  —  Ouch! — Mottled Skin —  Incommunicado — D/F, T/C — Circling Beauty — SCC 95 — I Am A Phobogenic Object — No Jihad // How Old? — Hot Trannies In Relationship  — Concious Womanhood

Heterosexual / Homosocial

The way a nice binary heterosexist world works is that it is both heterosexual and homosocial.  We bond with people like us, and pair bond with one person like them.  We don’t really understand “the other” so we hang out with people like us, getting support for being a good us, and that good us attracts and balances the other we mate with.

It’s a nice plan, I suppose.  It’s kind of hard to explain to lesbians, sometimes, the idea that if you like her to be more femme, you have to be more butch.   If you wear a jacket, t-shirt and jeans, well, she really has to dress casual, and you end up soft/andro/lez, but if you wear a suit with nice shoes, she can wear a dress with nice shoes.  And good underwear, good underwear for both of you.

But the challenge is that being a good trans-femme-shaman-crone really would be easier if I could hang out with some other trans-femme-shaman-crones, or at least some femme-shamans or trans-crones or some mix or blend that, and I say this with deep and intense meaning, that gets the bloody joke.

I remember DeLane Matthews, who played the wife on “Dave’s World” saying that every day of the first season when she was getting ready for work, she thought “Doesn’t this woman have a girlfriend who can tell her this hair color does not look good on her?”

Oh, someone who gets it.  And someone who can be our mirror, our ground, our sounding board and our inspiration.  It’s such a lovely idea.

Homosocial, friends who get what being someone like me is, the challenges and the possibilities.

Oh, well.

Looks

When I open my crates, I am astounded by the number of looks I carried off in low these twenty some-odd years of trans expression.

I started with the play stuff, the short skirts — I remember hemming my first jean cut Gitano pleather mini from Zayre’s with bondo — the glittery.   It went with my “guy-in-a-dress” expression, using my given name and showing a bit of chest hair, looking for androgyny.

I moved on, of course, but the challenge of not being able to try things on, and not having girlfriends from whom to get feedback mean things moved slowly.  Having a male body also means that clothes just don’t fit easily, and it takes time to get these things right.

As I walk though the stores now, though, I look at clothes and think of how I tried that, years ago.  I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, much like other women my age.

What is different than other women my age, though, is that there isn’t just one look that falls out of my boxes.   Since I need to wear wigs — I started balding around age 17 — the change of hairstyle & colour  can change everything.  Most women can’t pull their old hairstyles out of a box, except actresses, women of color, and women who have faced cancer.

When I open the boxes, what lies inside isn’t just one easy set of clothes, but a wardrobe.  To me, that means I have a vocabulary of clothing with which to build statements, expressing not just some finite me, but expressing the facets I have explored and discovered over the years. 

Madeline L’Engle says that one of the best things about getting older is that you remain all the ages that you have ever been, and Kate Bornstein says that one of the best things about crossing gender lines is that you remain all the genders you have ever been.  When someone wants me to appear to wave the tranny flag, I wonder if they want me to look like a crossdresser, a drag queen, a transsexual, a woman or something else.

A few years ago on Halloween I stopped at the MAC counter, where they know trannies, and some know me.  It was the assistant manager who greeted me, and when I came back later, in face, I read her out.  “You didn’t know if I was a drag or a transvesite this morning, so you didn’t know how to treat me.”  She laughed, by now having figured out that I am something else altogether.

For me, clothes are primarily vestments, an expression of my inner knowledge.  As I know myself to be liminal, I also know myself to shimmer, to flash though facets and show different qualities of light.  (Did you know that in Martinique it is considered bad to sit in a doorway, because you will pick up the problems and woes of all those who pass through that transom?)

All this means that I need to think about how I present myself, what look I create, in a way that most people don’t have to do.  It also means that I don’t have a sure map of how people see me, because my appearance changes, not based on how others react, but instead based on my own creation.

All those boxes, all those pieces, all those symbols, all those choices, all those looks.

And the audience, well, it still escapes me.

Power Vulnerable

People need you to be Callan,
because Callan is comfortable with herself
in a way you forcing yourself to be a guy can never be.
That lets you be a good mirror
who helps people see themselves, and grow.

It was a good week for TBB.  She let go of holding onto an investment, let go of twisting herself into knots to make it work, and surprise, now people want to help her make it work.

Since she was loose and free, she got good reactions from people — the closeted transperson who confided in her, the transperson facing change who wanted to talk, everyone.

One guy asked her to dance, and then after they danced, a bit in his own swing, wanted to arm wrestle.  TBB took him three falls out of three — bam, bam, bam. 

“How big was your penis, when you had a penis?” he asked her.

“Average size,” she replied.  “But it’s somewhere in Utah now.”

Another transsexual at the same table blanched at this talk.  “If anyone asked me that, I’d be out of here,” she said.

A gal at the table of this working class bar noticed this. 

“Take the stick out of your ass!” she told TBB’s friend.   TBB had to stifile a laugh, knowing that I often say that the ultimate tranny surgery is pulling the stick out of your own ass.

People notice that TBB is comfortable in her own skin, and that makes them comfortable around her, something that many transsexual women who have transitioned long before her haven’t quite noticed.

There are so few big, potent grown up trannies out there that if we don’t take care of each other, who will?  But as long as we can’t engage our own pain, can’t see how others also have touched the same pain, can’t see how it connects us, we will continue to act out our pain against others close to us, others who reflect the pain in ourselves whith which we have not yet come to terms.

Our defenses block our vulnerability, and we keep that stick buried deep.

I need to know that my power comes from trusting, releasing, being open.  That’s why I called TBB this morning, telling her that while I knew the drill, it was hard to trust when it came from me.

She told me the stories I told to you, and then she ecouraged me to loosen up and get out there.

People need you to be Callan,
because Callan is comfortable with herself
in a way you forcing yourself to be a guy can never be.
That lets you be a good mirror
who helps people see themselves, and grow.

I teared up, and she was touched that I trusted her.  But I have trusted her since we got up on stage together in 1994, knowing we had each other’s backs.

People need me to be Callan.   Even if they don’t know it.  They need me to trust my heart, to come from my spirit, to be open and loving, not in denial and serving at a low level.

After all, TBB said it, and she has a beautiful connection to God, so it must be true.

 People need me to be Callan

Yes. Please.

I asked by an old friend to leave her list, because she found it offensive that I was writing under a nom de plume.  Today, she finds masks improper, even though her history is in theater & magic.  She picks at my note, line by line, dragging it though all those filters installed in her head so as to offer her judgement, sure in her intellectual sniffing.

I suspect it’s because she does not want to look behind the mask she wears, the earnest and judgemental mask of self-righteous spirituality.  She wonders why she isn’t having fun, why no one finds her fun to be with, but she can identify it as a problem with others, rather than a problem with the expression of her own pinched & dessicated pain.

She doesn’t really want to hear what I have to say, which is “Yes.”  Yes, be playful.  Yes, trust your desire.  Yes, take the stick out of your ass.  Yes, laugh with God.  Yes, you have to dance. Yes, you have to allow yourself to be as exceptional as you are.  Yes, you have the divine in your heart.

TBB, when I tell a particularly cutting truth, laughs with pain & delight.  This gal, well, she puckers, rejecting the truth and the teller in one fell swoop.  We live in a  finite world, and that means every statement contains both truth and falsity.  We have to decide which is more important, looking for the big picture connective truth and focusing on that, or picking for the bits that can be denied as false and throwing any truth out with the bathwater.

It’s not a surprising behavior.  Lots of the world do it, deciding that protecting the status quo is more important than enlightenment.  It’s just when someone who claims to be comittted to enlightment does it that it smells kind of rank.   I get her need to hold tight, I just don’t think it’s serving her anymore, but if we as humans don’t hold onto defenses that no longer serve us, what do we do?

The one big, big stanky thing about trans-support groups is their unwillingness to affirm the positive.   It is, instead, fears that get affirmed.  We see someone doing what would scare us, and we feel the need to denigate those choices in them as we deny those choices in our life.   Rather than affirming choices we would never make for ourselves, and asking people to affirm the choices we make that they would never make for ourselves, we act as monitors, defending the right way to be trans in the world, the way we have chosen.

As I look to being out in the world for a while, walking past neighbors and into places where the presence of a tranny can bring fear, laughter and derision, I know that my own intention feels thin.  I know that I need affirmation, feedback, encouragement and empowerment.

But where, oh where, can I find this kind of affirmation?   I know lots of people who agree that it is important, but when their fears get hackled, well, they freeze up, pull back, decide to ask for responsibility and not to offer compassion.

I need to hear yes.  Please, I need to hear yes, Callan, you have to go out and be big, to be visible, to try and risk and try again. 

And, from long experience, I know I have little hope of hearing it now.

Facing Myself

The thread I hold on to is service to others.  I deny myself, but help them.

And now, when my parents are on the road between Fayetteville NC and Savannah GA, there isn’t much I can do for them.  That doesn’tmean there won’t be to do for them tonight — last night, I had to try and understand what my mother’s camera was doing when it had words on the screen (it was asking her to set the time and date).

I know they will call and I know that their son has to be here to take care of them.  I can’t really immerse in my own stuff, losing that servant.

But I also know that if I am going to survive I have to face myself.  And the first step of that is literal.  I haven’t shaved since last March.  Oh, I buzzed the length off in June when it got hot, but didn’t shave.  Now, long and white, children identified me as Santa in stores this Christmas.

All that time, all that hiding, and it has to go.  Pity.

But the true pity, I fear, is what I find under there, the blemishes and bumps, the longer nose, the worse teeth, the thinning lips, the age and decay of a year in a life of denial.

And then, beyond that, I remember how hard it is to cover all that again, to box it up when you have to show your mask to the world, the hidden face they find comfortable.

Today, I have to face myself.  My neck tenses and aches, my head hums, and my infections flare.

But it is Saturday night, the ritual night before Sunday morning, a night I have always opened, and then stayed in.

Time to face myself, after a year.

Ouch.

Stupid Smart

My sister has been told that she makes her staff feel stupid.

She wondered why and finally figured out the reason.

They feel stupid because she treats them like they are smart.  Instead of just answering their questions, she explains to them the thinking behind the answer, so they will understand more.  That’s a family thing for us — we want to know the concepts, so we understand.

Some of her people like that, but some just get baffled, wanting a simple answer, and they assume that she is trying to make them feel stupid.

Imagine that: treat people like they are smart enough to understand, and some feel like you are trying to make them feel stupid because they have no interest in understanding. 

Should we just assume that they are too stupid to understand, and let them feel normal, or is there some sort of code we can look for that separates concept formers from keystroke people (those who just want to know what button to push, not why) and then take responsibility for other people’s level of engagement?

Is the only way to be stupid and satisfied for other people to be smart enough to recognize and honor our own stupidity?

Do we really have to be smart enough to never challenge the stupid so they won’t complain that we made them feel stupid?

Omens

My sleep was deep and banal. 

It was quiet, this being is my first night alone in the house, my parents setting off this morning towards Florida, and now tucked in their beds at a Comfort Inn in Maryland, where my mother checked in using the SKYPE based cordless phone over the hotel’s wifi.  I was pleased to know it worked.

It was a day of sleep and errands, cleaning up after the stress of packing them up.  My pride is located now in how well I take care of them, and I worked hard, from hours upon hours of sitting to have the car repaired, fresh soup my mother trashed, filling it with odd whole wheat pasta, and overcoking the zuchinni I had saved to add at the last moment so it would stay fresh, big blackberries as a treat for my father, to laundry and cleaning and marketing, coming up with a bicycle seat cover to ease my father’s bum hip.

I may have wanted the time alone, but I also wanted them to be cared for, so I was up until two, after going to fix a flat on my sister’s car, talking with my mother, and up at five thirty to tie up the ends my father had.  Then it was repairing the tire and all that, all the work to take care.

The time alone is trepedatious, so much pressure, so hard to be out there.

So I worked and cleaned and slept.  A solid sleep, the house finally down to 60 degrees, the way I like it, cool room, warm bed.

It was the sleep of the dead.  At least it was until the crash.

I woke with a beating heart as I felt hard objects fall onto me.  I reached for the lamp, but it was crushed beneath the objects, denying me the light I needed to understand what had happened.  My hand threaded though the crushed shade to find the switch, and I finally twisted it on.

In the bed with me were the large plastic cartons that had been piled into the corner of the room.  They had been pulled into the basment from their storage under the porch months ago.

These are the tubs that contain the vestages of my life and my choices, what is left of my wardrobe.  They need to go upstairs again for the first time in a year, need to be opened, need to be engaged.

And now, in the middle of the night, they leapt onto me, scaring me, though not hurting me, and demanding my attention.

All these omens, coming up.  The $7 shoes, the $15 wig and clearance skirts that jumped at me today, laden with the magic of my own clerical power.  The sales woman in the store that I had to look up to, tall, mature and graceful, reminding me of context, that other women were also big and visible.

And then there is the rainbow, a January rainbow that shone at me just a few days ago.

It’s hard to keep the faith.  It’s easy to dismiss signs.

But when they jump at you in the middle of the night, so hard that they make your heart pound, well, then it’s hard to ignore them.

Blessings be.

Right Desire

Let’s face it: trans is about desire.  It is about knowing what we want and getting it.  Call it passion or bliss or Eros or desire, it’s all about getting what lifts our heart.

Of course, those are the two hard parts. 

First, how do we know what we want?  Do we just want to find a path to orgasm, or do we want to claim a place in the world in a gender not traditionally linked to the sex assigned us at birth?  Do we want express though obvious performance, or do we want to do what comes naturally?  Is our desire to be wild & free, or to be well assimilated with only a trace of crossing?

Second, how do we get it?  How do we face social stigma, keep our connections and the way we get what we need, while also getting what we desire?  How do we negotiate between the normative pressure and exceptional desire?

Obviously, these two questions are inexplicably linked.  In the end, we want what we can get, and what is available, the costs to getting it, shape the expression of our desire. 

The problem with all this is that desire is a dangerous thing, because it can take us out of social control.  Society has a vested interest in blunting our natural desire and replacing it with desire for consuming what is on offer, often with dangerous consquences, as Clarissa Pinkola-Estes reveals in The Red Shoes: On Torment And The Recovery Of Soul Life.

What this means, in the end, is that what separates transpeople is the denial of desire, the separation of passion, the exclusion of Eros, the breaking of bliss.  We each have a quick and facile answer as to why our desire and path to achieving it is good, but why their desire and path to achieving it is bad.  They are deluded, perverted, fetishists who don’t acknowledge the truth that we embrace.   Our desire is pure, wholesome and balanced,  while their desire is impure, rotten and sick.

In the end, the challenge for each of us is getting our desire right, desiring the right things, not the fillers, and handling it in the right way, without too much denial or too much indulgence.

And, like anything else, the way we start that is by affirming the desires of others, even the desires that seem non-normative, the desires we could never imagine desiring for ourselves, or worse, the desire that we deny in ourselves & demand that others deny also.

I know that the vast majority of theological themes in trans are about what desires are pure, and what impure, what can be tolerated and what must be purged.

I just think that a theological theme that affirms the truth that trans is about filling the desires placed in our heart, the ones we knew were there from when we were a little child, well, that theme might help me and help others.

Trans is about desire. 

Trans life is about getting that desire right.

Little Leica

Annie Liebowitz is on “America Masters,” a life filled with astounding images that thread though my life, my times, shared experience.  Amazing stuff.

I watch, and I remember when I was young and loved my little leica, a Yashica fixed lens rangefinder with a leaf shutter.  I spent a few years in high school with that camera, filling the yearbook; not my graduation year, but the year before, of course.  Gawd, all the triex I could shoot, the ilford papers with this cheap cheap enlarger and trays balanced on the toilet.

That Yashica was lost, and replaced with an Olympus SLR, great Zuiko glass, solid, almost unknown, but with a big clunk in the focal plane shutter.  I couldn’t be hidden anymore, and that really was an echo of my maturation, no longer being able just to make my pictures.

After that, well, me and the camera fell out, and I went without images.

There were a couple of years selling cameras, and I was good at that, it was fun.  The cameras were just props for the story, though, leading people into the excitement of the technology.

The video paralleled that, from when I got my hands on the first 1/2″ (and even 1/4″) VTRs — my mother freaked when I came home with a few thousand dollars of portapak on me, sure I would destroy it.  But on the TV, the images were second; my vernacular came from studio magazine shows, not from elegant film pieces.  Live TV, live, and lively.

But the images I used to make well, they were still gone and hidden.  It was that Yashica that matched my style, an observer in the hidden open space, just looking and seeing. 

It was finding my own voice.  I own the images now,  but not with a camera.  I went to DiversCite in Montreal, their gay pride, and I felt naked, not because I wasn’t wearing eyeliner, but because I was without a pen. 

I see and fill that “one inch frame” that Annie Lamott talks about in “Bird By Bird,” making little images that can be assembled into something bigger.

I have access to a few digital cameras, but even though they can be silent — one Kodak has a synthasized shutter sound you have to turn off — they don’t have the speed of my little leica, that cheap Yashica.  I love the ability to shoot/shoot/shoot, but the lag, well, the lag is killing.  My PC is a 400 Mhz Celeron with 284 Mb of memory, and as it lags along, well, my head gets banged.

I wonder if I could still make pictures, have even a little tiny shard of that magic that Annie Leibowitz has.  Would they be different now, after the journey from images to lost, to being back to some kind of sense of self.

But tonight, I see the images of Ms. L, and I miss that old Yashica, and the times when I was able to just see and capture.

But life goes on, and we have to get professional at something or other, skilled and focused.

But it’s still there, in the moments we can observe and capture.

Queer Theory & Me

It is very, very frustrating when you are trying to tell a story about yourself, a story about expressing what you know to be true, and someone says “Well, that’s all well and good, but aren’t you just like them?  You use the same words as them.  And they are really fucked-up!”

It’s tough enough to speak for ourselves, to explain our own choices, let alone to be asked to speak for others, to explain the choices of others that people decide are like us.

When faced with this challenge, there seems to be only two choices.

The first strategy is to explain that we are the good kind of people like us and they are the bad kind.

This exactly the kind of strategy that social pressure would want us to take.   Social control comes when we deny others, work not to be the bad ones, separate from and stigmatize others.  The gang wants us to turn on others and show that we really belong with the normative bunch.  That’s how they divide and conquer, keeping stigma and control in place.  We can only hate in the abstract, because when we know someone as a human, our relationship with them is much more nuanced, so abstract groupings are the way society creates separations for control.

Queer theory, on the other hand, makes another choice.  It says that dividing the world into groups is unreasonable and controlling, instead saying that the individual is the locus of their own actions.  Rather than separating the world into us and them, Queer theory separates the world into us and us, and says that we as individuals have personal responsibility only for our own actions, not some group political identity.

This is a hard leap for many people.  It takes away the facility to locate oppression or evil in fabricated identity groups and instead demands that we take personal responsibility for our own actions.  It means we can’t just try to jump under one umbrella or another, can’t just try to separate from some other umbrella or another.

If we want people to affirm our individual choices we have to find a context to affirm their choices, even when they make choices we would never, ever make for ourselves.  We have to support them when they make choices that squick us, that make us uncomfortable or queasy, as long as those choices are within the bounds of consent and decorum.

For those who have always dreamed about becoming an insider, who have dreamed about not being an outsider, queer theory demands we drop those dreams and accept that everyone is an outsider, and that becoming an insider too is a facet of our choices to affirm outsiders.  Queer theory supports diversity rather than separations, and for those who feel too diverse, too liminal and to unique for their own good, it says that accepting that uniqueness in us and in others is the way to creating communal strength.

“There is naught so queer as folk,” goes the old saying, one that affirms the diversity of humans rather than homogenizing them.  To me, a queer perspective affirms that the true similarity and commonality of humans isn’t in our affect, our choices, but rather in our fundament, the stuff we are made of.  There is only one human nature, and we all share it.  Nothing human is foreign to me.  It may well not be that people hate me because they hate “people like me,” but rather because my choices lead them to hate me.

This is not at all the same as feminist gender theory, which locates many differences in the bifurcated sexual identification of heterosexism.   That theory locates power, and therefore responsibility, in groupings based on birth genital configuration.  It’s almost impossible to allow for trans-expression, which is the outward manifestation of trans-truth, in this context, because in this system, biology is destiny, which is exactly what the first wave feminists were arguing against.   To join that belief system, we have to change our group classification by constructing a change in our biology.

Queer theory doesn’t demand that, rather it demands that humans are the sum of their choices, and the meaning their choices hold.  It takes away the easy fundamentalism of separation, but offers personal empowerment, yet only at the price of personal responsibility.

I hate it when people try to demand I be responsible for people they think should be like me.  They want me to justify the choices of crossdressers, when I never identified as a crossdresser, ever.  They want me to to hew to their own beliefs about what a transsexual should believe or deny me the use of that term for myself.  They want me to pick a group and turn on others in the “bad” groups, even if I know people who fall under that label who are bright and good and healthy and self-actualized.

That’s why I had to find a way to walk away from that trap of “them versus us,” the limits & comforts of grouping identity, and move to queer theory as a defining practice in my life.  I had to affirm individual freedom and personal responsibility, not just try to find a new way to explain why I am not like the bad people, why it is right that we all hate the bad people.

What I am talking about isn’t some perfect academic explanation of queer theory, based in textbooks and manifestos.  I am talking about how queer theory defines a mindset that helped me move beyond my own fears and limits to an empowering place.  I also am not, of course, defending everything ever said, written or done in the name of queer theory, because I don’t subscribe to it as an external scripture, rather I hold it as my own beliefs,

It’s my personal belief that in cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity, across lines of determinism that some think are inviolable.  Transgender expression is a reminder that it is not separations that define humans, rather it is connection.  That is my deepest belief statement about why transpeople have always occurred in the population and why they continue to do so.

That belief leads me to affirm all forms of expression, from deeply assimilated trans roles that are only different from normative roles with close inspection to very wild trans roles that demand public space for personal expression beyond the limits of gendered convention.   The key question for every human has always been how tame is too tame, when our assimilation loses our own personal power & responsibility to the group, and how queer is too queer, when our wildness becomes destructive to the group rather than contributing to it.  Both assimilation and individual expression are required from all of us, and our own balance wild and tame defines us.

I believe in assimilation, and honor those trans women & men who take that on as their primary expression.  I believe in exception, and honor those transpeople who take on being exceptional as their primary expression.  It is my hope, though, that both groups understand that this is not a binary choice, and while one sister may be a bit more out there & in your face, and one brother may be a bit more in there & group identified, that they all understand that these differences are what diversity requires, and that to be respected in our choices means respecting other choices, even those we would never make for ourselves.

“Since when did you ever have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?” Lillian Hellman asked, and I agree with her.

Justice, in queer theory, is justice for individuals, not for some kind of imposed grouping that doesn’t respect the whole messy, contradictory and connected individual.   Queer theory reminds us that we can probably find something we share with an individual, even if they don’t fall into our grouping of race, class, gender, ethnic origin, religion, or whatever.  Queer theory, to me, reminds us that fundamentally we are all humans, and we share a continuous, common humanity.

And queer theory allows me to look at people who demand I speak for others and say “They can speak for themselves.  Now, can you speak for yourself, and not just for your own group identity?”

And that’s why it’s useful to me.

Another Countdown

It’s a bit sad to be taking down Christmas this year.

In the past I have put the lights on the tree, and my mother & sister have hung ornaments.  This year, well, the lights were all that made it up.  There are lots of varied lights — I made sure of that —  so it look’s very nice, but it means that, well, things are slipping.

I’m taking down Christmas — the blue lights on the front planting, the clear lights on the planting by the door, the garland twisted with red and gold lights, the wreath with the big round berry lights my father bought on one Black Friday jaunt with my sister & I because my mother had seen some and liked them, the forest over the closet with the neon tree, the carnival tinsel tree with blinky leds, the garland on the balustrade, the dancing leds in the garage door windows, all that and more.

And it feels like this time, well, they may not go up again.  My sister is pushing me to resolve finances so we can be ready if there is a big change, the unsaid big changes that may or may not happen this year.

We are past the milepost, and now head into another stretch of long road, winding and bumpy, not knowing where we will come out when we pass this time again.

It’s time to take down Christmas, and this year that makes me a bit melancholy.

May the gift of joy surprise us — and you — on this journey though 2007.