You first have to be who you are,
then you have to be it like mad.
Quentin Crisp’s advice to queers or definition of style
You first have to be who you are,
then you have to be it like mad.
Quentin Crisp’s advice to queers or definition of style
Speak your heart. Speak from your heart. That’s what people keep telling me to do, as if somehow that was easy.
I learned very young that speaking from my heart was dangerous. That’s when I learned to route everything through my head, as a means of control, as a means of defense. Didn’t want that weird trans stuff to show, you know. Controlled, Considered, Calculated; there’s the ticket.
It would have been good to try improvisational comedy when I was young, I thought recently. Then I remembered how clamped down I was, and knew that I could have never opened up without opening up, and that seemed impossible. Doesn’t seem so possible even today, in a world where even the shining TBB fears that being out as trans is costing her work she needs to take care of her family and herself.
I don’t think I can talk like normative people who don’t consider every word, don’t think I can just speak out. My life myth, that I am too big, too intense, too queer, too whatever for the room plays up everytime.
I don’t like it when people are distressed by my words, especially people I care about. On the other hand, though, I don’t like having to run everything through my brain, my filters, my censors, my controls, either,
I don’t know where that balance is, that sweet spot where I can just let my emotions out with trust & confidence, and where my defenses don’t get in the way. Just don’t know.
And until I can feel that safety, I have to trust the controls I have built into my brain, controls that keep me small, stifled and oppressed. We learn to oppress ourselves, yes we do, self-policing that can seem like excuses at times, like good manners at other times.
I don’t know how to “just be.”
And I am not sure that I ever will.
I go clank.
I know I go clank; it’s all this damn armor I wear around to keep myself small & defended.
And I know I need that armor.
These last few days getting my parents up here to Toronto have been hellacious. It’s about herding cats to prepare, details, details, details. It’s about the terror of being in the back seat as my father drove 300 miles.
It’s vital, of course, that I don’t show my feelings through this process. They just muck up the process. I have to swallow & deny.
People who care about me, though, know that this process isn’t good for me, that no matter how good or well made that armor is, what was built to defend me is killing me.
They want me to get out from under. That is an idea that terrified me, because every time I have had to pull the suit of armor back on, it’s more chafing, more constraining, more painful. My own Pandora has had to climb back in the box too many times, so getting if getting out means getting back in again, well, maybe it isn’t worth the effort.
Still these defenses are mine, tailor made, and with me for more than half-a-century now. I have some pride in them, whatever the limits. And when you come at me frontally, the old reflexes kick up, and I defend.
This is something I have explained to my partners. If you want me to consider your feelings, tell me. If you want to fight with me, then expect a fight. I remember Liz finally figured out that she shouldn’t push me, that I would digest it and consider it.
Yesterday, I blew. I just let the emotion out in expletives, after my old patterns flared up. I heard “You are a poor excuse for a human,” just like I heard “you are too picky” when I resisted the bad pizza my mother dragged us to.
I am spam in a can, locked away, and I know that. And I know no other choice this week locked in a room with my parents, woken up with a fright when my mother has to go to the john in the middle of the night.
TBB & Miz Ruby & Vickie and others think that I need to let loose, to get around the armor. That is so seductive, but also so frightening, because I know it means I have to crawl back in, and that is horror.
But now, now, now, it’s can time.
Maybe next week. But thanks to those who love me and see how much it costs me to stay in my movable cell.
Melissa Gilbert reminds us that if the love you feel as a child is conditional, like hers was from the crew on set who only loved her when she was good, then you become very insecure.
I bet having to keep your nature hidden to get whatever love you can find counts as conditional, and leaves you insecure in your worth.
There is a candle burning for me at Notre Dame De Paris, reports Rachelle.
The plane ticket she sent is good through the beginning of October, Miz Ruby reminds me, and the back with the markdown Jones New York knee-length cardigan & two tops, bought on clearance with her gift is in the trunk of the car.
Southern Comfort is the week of my birthday, and TBB suggests I fly down to see her, then drive up to Atlanta with her and stay in her room for the week. Mara Keisling is looking for a new NCTE director, she reports.
September is when it is OK to wear black tights again.
Too much to invest in, but get through this week and there is glimmer. Or not.
— Oprah says that if you work for someone bad, you die a little everyday. She’s wrong. If you live you die a little everyday. The problem is that if you feel required to deny yourself, you don’t also live a little everyday. There is no joy to keep you buoyant. Of course, this is the same woman who celebrates people who claim their inner acrobat, but has hard questions for males who claim their inner woman.
My mind is a vat of slush, and this is my slushpile.
— Miz Ruby says that if someone can make you feel less than proud, then you don’t have real pride. She’s probably right. Around here, my goal is always to get finished before they come around, not to do things to a level of quality. That is the act of a human doing, not a human being. Oprah says that being appreciated is the key. I disagree; I am often appreciated, but rarely valued. People appreciate I do what they want, but they don’t assign value to who I am. That means I am always ducking & hiding. Probably not pride.
— It seems to me that most stories use the theme of us knowing the right thing for the protagonist to say and their struggle to say it. Life cast as a struggle where we know the right thing to say or do, but we resist that thing, because of the amount it would cost us to do that.
— If I had a themesong, I think it would be “No Satisfaction.”
— I remember watching a televised rugby match in a driveway on an estate in Canberra, all guys drinking beer and eating kobossy. I wore a UCLA sweatshirt I bought at the Champion outlet, and a drunk fellow asked me about it. I said it wasn’t important. He looked deeply at me and with a strange intensity said “Barrack for your team! You have to barrack for your team!”
I was never a barracker, but it occurs to me that many people see themselves as better off as a group member, a follower. I can’t come to that, never wanting to join a group that would have someone like me as a member, I guess.
Still I never found a group that embraced & understood me.
— After putting an ad up on CraigsList and going out to straight bars, TBB has decided that if those she is considering dating ask her if she was a man, she will say no. But if they ask her if she is transsexual, she will say yes. While this distinction may baffle some, I get it. She acted a man because she felt required to, but being a man is different. She is a transsexual, though.
— Thanks to Miz Ruby & P. We can only hope I can claim myself around my birthday. This beard is wayyyy too long.
This has been hard to write and my head aches. But probably last entry for a while.
And so powerful, I can barely write about them.
“You have to be house proud to sell your house well,” said Nate Berkus on The Oprah. I suspect he is right; how can others see the value in something that you don’t value?
If you want someone to take responsibility for something, don’t you have to let them have pride in what they do? If you don’t value their work, or at least support them when they value their work, how can you expect them to have enough pride in their work to do it with excellence & quality?
I know that I don’t really have ownership of much around here other than the electronics. I may own the cooking, but my father owns the kitchen, for example. That means that little I do is valued.
And without some sense of pride, well, it’s just all drudge.
We seem to be back to status quo around here.
Now I am told I need to spend a week doing logistical support in Toronto, finding lodging, handling the driving (doing it or standing it), sleeping on a bed in their room, managing all the hesitation and such.
These events are very wearing to me.
Just after Midnight, and I am back from my sister’s house. She had a bat emergency, when, after 11PM and locked in one room she called for help.
I was with her this morning too, moving out the photos stuck in internal memory on the camera, uploading them to Picasa Web, backing up the phonebook on her cell, entering her contacts into Grand Central, trying to get her new VOIP phone running.
This was stuff we discussed yesterday when I got there at 7AM to once install the rudder on her kayak, the one she broke, that I got the stuff to patch up, that she broke again, and my father got frustrated at the fix, then came back with a stereo system I found for 2/3 off and called her about, setting it up and such, leaving her melon.
I don’t mind helping, I really don’t.
But why the hell is it so hard to understand that no matter what it looks like, I am often the damsel in distress?
My favourite lines from Pretty Woman:
“So, what happens after the handsome prince rescues the beautiful princess?”
“She rescues him right back.”
I feel the constant need to apologize.
I need to apologize for what I don’t do, for how much it costs. My sister hears an ad for someone to do menial tasks, and she suggests I check them out to see my value, which must be menial. The insurance says that the accident I had in 2004 after spending a night sobbing and being asked to be silent wouldn’t cost, it did cost, and without any control, any check on my part, I get shown my costs.
I have lived a life of apologies, both explicit and tacit. I have explicitly written many long and florid apologies, explicitly been told that I say “I’m sorry” much too much. This is just the face of the tacit apologies that I make, the ones rooted in my own denial of self, a denial I make for the sake of politeness, destroying who I am to fit into polite — and oppressive — society.
“Life is full of disappointments. Just ask my parents.” says the button still in the car my sister now owns. It goes with the book she bought for them, “When Your Grown Children Disappoint You.” (Note that it is not “When You Are Disappointed By Your Grown Children” which asks parents to take some responsibility for their own feelings.)
I spoke with TBB yesterday. Her story over the last week is full of ups and downs — women laughing at her, men finding her attractive, a big, big bill from the IRS for money she took out of the 401K to support her emergence, good job connections, struggles with mom, contact with old co-workers who are now supportive, good times paving, a cancer scare with her son, a nice dinner with family, an interview for a $10/hr job, and more.
To TBB, though, all this is good. They are all steps ahead, good or bad, fun or tough, happy or sad. She looks forward to the next step, whatever it brings, because it brings her closer to herself. She has Dr. J, who has always seen her as a woman even when she was just a guy in drag, and who keeps reflecting the woman who should trust herself, who should get out and get big. “Sure, people will salsa dance with you, and when you dance, you get that stick out of your ass, sway & shine, and people see that.”
It’s not about overthinking. To TBB, growth is about taking the steps & moving forward. To her, life is a dance.
To me, though, life is an apology.
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I really am.
And more than that, I’m sorry that I am so sorry.
Larry King had four transpeople on last night, including Susan Staunton, formerly the city manager down in Florida who was let go for coming out as trans.
My mother watched it, and I heard snippets as I walked through, trying to get the damn phones working.
At one point she stopped me and asked if most transpeople born male (fumbling that phrase) desired to be with women. I replied that there was a range, from those who seemed like gay crossdressers, identifying primarily as gay men and straight crossdressers, identifying primarily as straight men, but also early emergence transsexuals who identified as straight women and young people who identified as queer. I also noted that there were many who changed as they emerged, because they are primarily hetro, and the more they identified as women the more they were comfortable with men, and some who are primarily homo, like FTMS who come out and end up being gay men.
In the end, I said, I believe that no matter who pulls their heart strings, all trannys are politically bisexual, because we demand our partners love all of us, that they not be squicked by the idea of being with a man, or being with a woman, not be squicked by us.
She seemed to understand, even as Susan Staunton was saying that six months ago she would have said she would never date men, but now she likes men, and when she starts dating doesn’t think dating a man would be bad.
Larry, though, needed to get into Susan’s panties. He asked about the operation, and she said she hadn’t had it, and he wondered how she could be a woman with a penis. Wasn’t it wrong? Didn’t it feel funny? Did she stand up to urinate in the women’s room?
Ah, yes, pull out the dick and drag us into the bathroom. Isn’t that the essential difference between men and women? If I knocked Larry over the head and gave him genital reconstruction surgery (GRS), he’d be a woman, right?
Well, no. He’d just be Larry King with a neo-vagina. And Susan will be Susan when she wakes up tomorrow, and when she wakes up the day after her genital reconstruction.
Gender isn’t all about having or lacking a penis, no matter how phallocentric & heterosexist Larry King may be.
And, of course, like most trannys on TV interviews, these were newly-out transpeople, our adolescents, who fell into his line of thinking rather than coming up with their own view.
It was sad and nasty and unpleasant, at least to me.
And my mother saw once again what transpeople are like, oy.
Miz Ruby offers:
Leadership is a quality you either have or don’t have.
It’s not something that’s “allowed” or “disallowed.”
That’s called “management.”
Management has very little to do with leadership.
Don’t think that because you’re trying to herd cats
that you have no leadership skills.
Cats have to be managed.
You can’t lead ’em.
Ruby Ruby Quite Contrary
I had thought about how I was conflating leadership and management as I wrote, but dear Ruby’s note spurred me to think about it some more.
There is quite a bit of discussion on this difference, apparently coming down to the idea that leaders lead people and managers manage projects, that leaders inspire and managers conspire, that leadership engages risk and management is risk averse, that leadership is transformational and management is stabilizing.
Of course, everyone comes back to the idea that good management requires good leadership and good leadership requires good management. You can’t manage well without an inspiring vision of how things can be better, and you can’t lead well without a dynamic vision of how things interconnect.
It turns out is that my parents respond neither to leadership nor to management. To me, that all connects; only the vision of a leader can offer a forward vision of why management is important, a vision of the benefits management can bring. Otherwise, the only vision of management is backwards, a swill of avoidance, management that attempts to limit loss and avoid change.
But more than that, the idea that management is the only possible choice, that leadership isn’t even possible, well, that is an idea that ends up squelching my own call to leadership, my own charisma & vision. Heck, that’s probably something they wanted to squelch from a very early time.
And I think that’s what Miz Ruby wants me to remember, that we have to work to make sure that those with no vision of leadership who force us to manage from behind never are able to use their own resistance to leadership to kill our power to lead.
It’s a good reminder, I think, though right now it feels a little late for me.
Thanks, Miz Ruby.
if i have to get out
by crawling through a keyhole
to quickly squeeze into myself
always ready to pull back
the frustration will be more than the freedom.
for me, it seems
the only way to be out
is to just open the damn door.
I’m never allowed to take the lead here.
The key reason for that is that my parents have never been willing to follow. My mother has the sense that every request is being made by her mother, and she instinctively resists, and since my father just can’t understand the world through the perspective of another, be that the group or a manager or whatever, he can’t imagine following anyone else’s lead.
Of course, if they can’t follow, they can’t lead, either. Leading means taking responsibility, and my and if my mother can’t take responsibility for her own needs & choices, there is no way she can take responsibility for the group. And leading means service to others, and if my father can’t understand what others think & feel, there is no way he can lead with them in mind.
I know how to lead, and have done so many times. My sister knows too. And that means we both know how to follow, to support the team’s goals & agenda by getting tasks done.
But when people won’t follow, you can’t lead, and when others won’t lead, you can’t follow.
This whole thing plays out in so many ways, where I try to lead, to shape a shared understanding and a shared agenda, and it falls flat. That means I have no support in confronting challenges, so I don’t confront in front of my parents, because they will just turn back on, me, focusing on how they feel embarrassed, on what I am doing wrong, and not trying to help get it right.
Leadership, followership, it all feels like too much of a burden now.
And that has always been an impairment to me being big, bold, bright and strong.
Miz Ruby listened to my phone message and read my blog about Sunday’s drive with my father, and while sharing some insights about her father’s growing tunnel vision as he aged, she offered the understanding that I “must have been terrified.”
I guess that I must have been, but somehow that wasn’t what I was thinking about. One some level, I have to be clear that feeling or expressing my feelings is a completely counterproductive exercise around my parents. Adding pressure to an already barely in control situation doesn’t help.
My entire life, though, has been a journey on the edge of terror. I have been terrified of my parents, terrified of myself, terrified of what other people would think, terrified that I would do the wrong thing, just bloody terrified. Or maybe, just bloody terrorized, whichever.
It is that terror that keeps me small. It is terror that has always kept me small. It is the terror that underlies my anxiety. It is the terror that lives with me, terror that I know people don’t want to hear about.
When your life is about managing terror, the terror of stigma, of threat, of control, it becomes hard to differentiate between the terror of a specific incident and the free floating terror you live with, that always being tensed for the “third gotcha.”
Was I terrified? I must have been.
But really, all I noticed was a small bump in the standard terror alert level.
TBB wants to have an act, wants me to write something funny for her.
Before I can write for her, though, I need her to have one thing clear: her point of view.
People who become visible in this country do so because they have a clear, defined and understandable point of view. I gave TBB examples of this from George Burns to Ann Coulter.
TBB doesn’t think this way. She thinks about doing physical comedy, being big in a world that is too small for her; a too tight chair, a broken weight bench, whatever.
The leap to what that means in context isn’t as clear to her. I asked her what one sentence she would say to a group to explain herself, and she couldn’t come up with anything.
She asked me, and I said I would describe her in three words: “The;” singular, unique & special, “Big;” with a huge heart, a vast spirit and an open & growing mind, and finally, a word that describes her wit, humor and edge, “Bitch.”
“Yes, but not a bitch like many of those black women.”
“How would big black women deal with those women who laughed at you when you stopped at McDonald’s?”
“They would have been big and bold.”
“I didn’t even have time to pay attention to them.”
“Yes, but you noticed and told me the story about your challenges of the day — the broken A/C on your long drive, your mother’s passive-aggressive response to you telling her her car was broken, and those women.”
It’s about POV. I did talk about my POV, and how it’s engaging but not at all simple, as Lezlie reminded me in February, and Gwyneth reminded me in November, and many have noted before.
I know how to write to explain & exploit a strong POV, but without one, well, it’s hard to figure the right note.
That’s why so many people never explore their own POV, so they never have to figure their own notes.
But now, it’s something TBB has to do, something that might help in her plodding the job fair tomorrow.
But it ain’t simple.
My father didn’t do anything wrong today.
When, on our way back from a craft fair in Vermont, my father chose to drive over that plastic toolbox in the road, rather than to stop or go around it he didn’t do anything wrong. It was the fault was with the fellow who dropped it out of the back of his pickup, even if he was upset as it drove past him running back from that parked pickup, riding under the new Subaru. My father stopped, backed up a bit, and left it in the road again, closer to him.
He didn’t do anything wrong.
When he realized he couldn’t slow enough to make the left turn, and then made the right turn instead, well, he didn’t do anything wrong. It was the driver of the huge blue jeep running fast and crashing by just an inch from the the passenger windows who was wrong, who, probably assuming we would go left, passed illegally on the shoulder, and then got surprised, driving behind us but not having enough control of his vehicle, too much speed and too close following to handle my father’s choices.
He didn’t do anything wrong.
When my father drove on, he knew he hadn’t hit the fellow, and since there was no crunch, thought his car wasn’t hit. It was the other driver who tailgated him for 20 miles, the first five honking and blinking and driving real crazy that felt like road rage. When the driver came up and pounded the window, saying “Do you know you hit me?” and then chose not to follow us the next block to the police station, it was the other fellows fault.
He didn’t do anything wrong.
There are some scuffs over the passenger front side wheel well, but they mean the other driver was passing on the right, bad magic. Still, he called the sheriff first, made the first complaint, and things need to be straightened out.
All this pain & trauma, and my father didn’t do anything wrong. No, not wrong.
He just didn’t do much right, either, from choosing to go over the box to not slowing down, not considering the challenges he offered to those behind him.
I know what adrenaline tastes like, as I ride in panic, as I wait, as I slam together a dinner, as I think of how little control I have, as I understand how things will continue to go wrong unless change is engaged. My ears ring as the resistance to change, the dance of disconnection gets more intense.
He’s not doing anything wrong. But, then again, he’s not doing much right, either.
I think of how my parents have always related to me, trying to point out what I did wrong, and never taking time to focus on what I do right, how I can do right more or better. They just cared that things didn’t go wrong.
After the box hit, I was thinking about how they have always required me to stay away from confrontation, because it scares them. As long as they don’t do wrong, they don’t have to confront others, confront what might be more right.
But that’s a life, and to me, a life lost.
And now I go see what’s left in the bottom of the vodka & rum bottles.
These pieces belong to their authors (and their employers,) but the line I used as header is powerful to me.
Still, the everpresent warning:
When you first come out as a transgendered person,
you spend your first year in absolute euphoria.
Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
Joan Roughgarden, NY Times Magazine, 9 May 2004
“Why sure, I’d like to be a lightening rod for all people’s fears and angst about gender and fundamentalism. I’d like to be the one on whom they take out their own frustrations at the gender limits they have experienced in their life, and upon whom they take out all the fears that their children won’t be normative. I’d like to be treated like a freak, a pervert and a clown so that this society can work out its own aggression over gendering.
“And why not let them use me to take out their own rage at intellectualism that challenges their comforting rationalizations too?
“That would be great. Where do I sign up?”