As a Southerner, you kind of grow up around a certain kind of theatricality that is very particular to the South.
It’s like people are living to be remembered, in a way.
Parker Posey, TV Guide, 10 March 2008
You know what the worst torture implement might be for me?
A neck brace. You know, just one of those regular orthopedic neck braces that people wear to keep their head up and supported, to keep their neck long and aligned.
When I walk in the world as a transwoman, I tend to keep my head down, looking for ways to stay in the shadows, avoid confrontations, to be invisible and hopefully unthreatening.
That’s not good. It’s not good for people around me, who wonder what I am hiding, and it’s not good for me, because I stay in shame and not in pride.
This has been my pattern for a long, long time. I hid under tractor caps, pulled the lever to lower my chair, anything to play smaller so people won’t be threatened by my energy. I remember one of the first times I was out as trans and I almost ran through the Champion Outlet Store, baffling my two born female companions. One of them could almost hear my heart pound.
I was recounting an incident to TBB.
“Wait, wait,” she said. “You had to remember to smile? You had to remember? Don’t you just do that?”
No, honey, I don’t just simply smile. Social graces weren’t high on the list in this family of introverts, all attending the challenges of our parents. I had so many reasons to stay closed, defended and close to the ground.
I wrote this in June 1994 for Jennifer, who had asked for a poem. She wanted to know why I didn’t write about myself, but wrote about her. Oy.
“You’re the only one,” she says,
“That ever fought this harder than me,”
her eyes a glimmer
that shows the humor
and that shows the pain
of spiritual rebirth.
She acts so strong
full of noise & bluster
the shell around her heart
the split between girls and boys
Bright and caring
and very funny.
So much to give, so much to shelter
“You let your hair down,” she recounts
“and they step on it.
“You learn to be more careful the next time.”
Years of playacting, of carefully crafting a self
tough and strong, the first to draw
a shell for survival
a shell to protect
the sensitive gal who cries inside.
And now that it’s time
to break open the egg
emerge naked and anew.
The baby inside shivers in fear
of remembered pain.
So the ego protects
and tries to serve
the job of a shell
keeping out the pain
keeping out the love.
Leaving a beauty
alone in her shell
for the pain of a child
learning to smile
all over again.
Head up, now, as if it was held aloft by a balloon on a string. Throw your shoulders back, keep your chest high, walking with assurance and elegance.
Make eye contact and smile, expressing the confidence of an attractive and powerful woman.
Bright and beautiful, walk in the world. Calm, centered, confident and graceful.
Easier said than done, at least for me. A lifetime of being taught to keep my head down, well, it tells. My family nickname was “Stupid” until I was 13, and then for a while it became “StupidOhTheShrinkToldUsNotToCallYouThat.” That kind of attention doesn’t teach calm confidence.
Neither does walking in the family, in society as a transperson. They broke us for our own good, or so they told us, even if the good was really not bringing shame and derision onto the family. People felt free to pound us with that same shame and derision.
Heck, I even say a comment on a college paper site yesterday that said trannys had failed parents who didn’t teach there were only two possibilities, and if college had to teach that, so be it. That student felt entitled, empowered and even ennobled in breaking trannys to their reality that anything outside M or F, M or W, was just sick delusion that needs to be corrected.
Stigma is self defining. Stigmatize someone and they won’t walk with pride & authority. See someone walking without pride & authority and think they have something they need to hide. Find out that thing, and it looks like something that deserves stigma.
That’s why Gay Pride has been around for so many decades now. But transpeople, now, so many of us still trying to “cure” or hide the way we were born, so many of us feeling flawed & broken, yearning to be normative, well, pride is something we don’t easily enable in each other.
But pride is the only thing that can keep our heads up, keep us open and connected, keep us standing up for ourselves and each other, keep us using our power in the world rather than trying to swallow it.
I know that unless I am going to walk in the world with pride and authority, not just skulking and hiding, then walking in the world with my trans expressed has no real power or growth. It’s not the clothes I need, rather it is the clothes and the confidence, the outfits and the assurance that being exposed I can connect with others in a positive and empowering way, for both me and the people I am around.
For so many of us, even those who own their own trans nature, this walking around with heads up, with grace and confidence is hard, hard stuff.
We have learned to exist on the fringes. It’s not hard to walk in the world as a powerless and unattractive person, avoiding and averting the gaze of others. As long as you don’t draw the attention of others, you can go anywhere.
But to be potent & powerful in the world, you not only have to tolerate that gaze, you have to invite it. You have to be willing to say “Look At Me!” have to be willing to ask people to listen to you, have to be willing to stand up, bold, brave and exposed.
To stand in the world passing may help you find some echo of normative power, if you are one whose body can be effectively femaled or maled. But to stand in the world passing requires you to deny your transformative power, the voice of someone who speaks for connection and change across our continuous common humanity.
Look them in the eye, smile and use your voice, honey.
I can walk anywhere, I really can.
But walking in the world, easily inviting gaze and being open to the connection which starts with eye contact, and continues with open conversation?
Harder. Harder. Hard.
There are two extremes of strategy in meeting people.
The first strategy suggests that you reveal yourself slowly, over time, so they like you and are open to knowing more about you.
This is the strategy of the salesman, who actually learns to reflect new people, showing himself to be like them first, in order to gain trust. He builds agreement and sameness, using techniques like mirroring and NeuroLingusitic Programming.
It’s certainly a good technique when you are one-on-one with someone, and when you have a specific goal in mind. Its one reason I like being one-on-one; I can adapt my focus to an individual and touch them.
The second strategy suggests that you be boldly yourself in every moment, so that others can see and be attracted to the unique you.
This is the strategy of the evangelist, building attraction & interest, drawing people into his world, his realm, his circle.
It is a marketing strategy rather than a sales strategy, using a qualifier to weed out those who aren’t ready for your proposition, whatever it is. If they aren’t going to engage, best to know that first and not waste time on them. You can always pick them up later as your circle expands.
I read Vickie’s response to my post on relationships, where she details her strategy of sales. She joined groups, pitched in, used her limited resource to expose herself slowly over time while giving others what they wanted. She let people get to know her.
Her results, both she and I are sad to say, were limited.
How much do we invest in building relationships in order to find commonality when we know from long experience that there is a very limited market for connection with us?
Is it better to be bold and unique up front, assuming that we can attract the pool of people who are attracted to us and then focus on them, even if we don’t connect with the masses?
This is a sales versus marketing question.
For people who do good in sales, having lots of commonalities and being able to maintain those over time, being bold and brazen seems like a counter-productive strategy to build relationships.
But for people who know that more knowledge often queers the deal, maybe being queer and unique up front is really the only choice. Being bright and bold and qualifying lots of prospects (or, more precisely, disqualifying lots of prospects) is really the only way to make connection in the world.
It is a strategy question for which there is no clear answer, because even after you meet someone who is interested, you have to build a relationship, sell yourself over time.
For those of us who are queer, though, classic sales personal strategies, even those tested over time, may not be productive.
We may need, I fear, marketing.
Go big, or go alone.
I went to Rhea’s Cafe and I did my tranny talk.
I pulled out the old stories, rehashed the old chestnuts, did the old bits.
It was fun, both for the two who had heard them before and for one or two to whom they were new and revelatory. A couple more didn’t really get them, since they were in their own “should-be” world.
Twenty years of memories, I have some good stories.
But I did them. And I really don’t need to do them for another year or so.
I know that some are still doing the pieces that they did the first time I saw them.
I admire them for that. This is real missionary work that needs to be done, telling the same story over and over again. There are always new audiences who need to hear it, or hear it in a new way, and old audiences who find comfort and delight in reinforcing the stories they find powerful. The oral tradition demands repetition and perfection, demands storytellers who perform the classics, even their own classics. It is so important.
I just have never felt that is me, which is a problem. I much prefer applying the basic premises to today, to new situations, which ends up with new invocations of old revelations. I’m best not in polished pieces, I’m best in questions and in questioning, taking the zietgiest and connecting it up.
This is, of course, why I loved television. Regis is always Regis, but his walking in the world creates fresh stories that illuminate Regis, that illuminate our shared world. He doesn’t do the same bit everyday while also doing the same bit everyday. Old stories may come up, but only once a year or so.
It’s just who I am and the way I approach life, with fresh eyes and old lessons.
But it means that I’m not very good at missionary work.
If you are trans, the odds are high that the most important thing you consider when you get dressed in the morning is how you can be well enough defended to walk through the world.
You see, if a non-trans person goes into the world dressed less than perfectly, some might think them sloppy or without taste.
But if a trans person goes into the world dressed less than perfectly, some might consider that a reason to deny them their gender.
There are lots of ways to dress for defense.
Some make it clear that their outfit is a costume, attempting to defend the normative identity beneath.
Some dress in androgynous ways and don’t expect to be gendered. They avoid gendered choices so those choices can’t be considered as wrong, and also to avoid the gaze that potent gender expression can bring.
Some work very hard to conceal their biology and history, dressing to hide rather than to project.
Some just put on a magical talisman, and let the amulet protect them.
Ms. Rachelle says that in her early days, when she didn’t pass she felt like a failed transsexual. After all, can’t a true transsexual always pass as being born female?
It’s this notion that passing is the mark of a true transsexual that becomes so challenging. It can feel like people want to rate our truthfulness by our believability, and only if we can be believably female-imitating are we really transsexual. This, I suspect, is why many transsexuals go to extreme lengths to alter their body, because every procedure they pay for and submit to makes them more credible, at least in their own minds.
I have real issues with the idea that the more doctors who stitch their name into your body, the more credible and truthful you are. My truthfulness, I fear, comes from acknowledging my biology and history as well as expressing my nature and spirit.
I just wish others always saw it that way.
When I get dressed, it’s very easy for me to get immersed in concealment too. Heck, I want to be female bodied, too, want it do bad I prayed for it every night of my youth. It’s just that I don’t believe that being altered to appear female by doctors actually does make you female, even though I damn well wish it would.
I understand how to dress for work. That’s simple. But if I don’t have a work appointment, well, jeans, shirt and fleece are jeans shirt and fleece, right?
To close doors, though, is to open them. Yet closing doors means being exposed, and too often I see transpeople whose exposure leads them to defense, a closing off of their own vulnerability. After all, it’s not everyday we feel powerful and divine enough to suffer more slings and arrows than absolutely necessary.
We get up in the morning and we get dressed. And we wonder how to be both true to ourselves and blended into society today, again, one more day.
We hide and expose, reveal and conceal, trying to make that balance, every time we get dressed.
My father has been, as he gets older, getting deeper and deeper into his private world.
This isn’t new, of course. It’s just more so. His Asperger’s style symptoms have always meant he has trouble understanding and having compassion for others who don’t think like him. He has always liked to imagine the motivations & intentions of others and deride them, even if his own imagination bears no reality to how they actually think.
For decades, I have been put in the position of translating between him and others. I rewrote papers and letters, and then watched as they were scrambled again. I tried to explain things, and felt beat up as he fought me hard to retain his tiny view.
His technique is the same. If you don’t understand, or even if he thinks that you don’t understand, he explains it again. This means that rather than having discussions, your comments or questions just trigger repeats of the same monologue, most often one where someone is portrayed as a fool or a slacker for not understanding in the first place.
Since he doesn’t think he needs an interpreter — others are fools if they don’t understand as he does — then anyone in the role of questioner represents all those shitbrains, and suffers the abuse that they should get.
We had an accident in early August. And since then, it has been a cause for hell, from endless rehashing to muddled reports — the other driver strong armed the reporting officer into a report that doesn’t match the damage to his car, nor the witness reports of us — and lots and lots and lots of bloody angst.
I was left with the duty of creating a claim to the other driver’s insurance company, six months after the accident. That meant I had to go into his stuff and get the crap he has been boiling on for all that time.
This morning, after putting it off, I tried to get him to help me pull stuff together. Bang, shit, bang.
I needed to find the documents. My most used words in this were “Be quiet,” which, after provocation, became “Shut Up!” I needed time for him to be patient while I looked, but he felt the need to explain again and again, offering no use, only frustration.
I needed to understand what he wanted. But when I tried to explain back to him, he would seize on a word and explain how I got it wrong. When I said, for example, he wanted me to write a “claim form style letter,” he told me it wasn’t a form. I restated immediately, “a claim letter,” but it was too late. He needed to explain again why I was wrong.
This is a man who cannot take yes for an answer. Even if you agree with him, he has to assault you again with his view, his world, and explain how others get it wrong.
And, of course, in the middle of all this shit, I get slapped.
“I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you with that paper, that you would lose it,” he moaned as I was looking for the scrap with his scrawl on it that I found momentarily. Of course, by then it was too late; I had already met his expectation of failure.
“I know. You couldn’t do it by now because you are so overbooked,” he said in fierce mock pity, trying to make a point of my uselessness.
No. I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to have to enter your world and get beat about the fucking head, that’s why I didn’t do it, you old myopic bastard.
But that’s not possible for you to understand, is it? Not any more than my mother can understand the challenges I face.
This is just one incident, certainly survivable. It’s the pattern, though, that lead me screaming away, pounding my head in frustration.
All I tried to do was have a conversation towards a shared goal. What I got was abuse and indictment, another glimpse at how in his world, I’m shit.
A life of this, and a half decade up close to it, leaves me broken and bleeding, ready to quit.
And he’s sure that I’m just fuckup for not understanding how the world works — how his world works –in the first place.
Shit, shit, shit.
“See, I told you,” a very young girl said, just down the aisle from me in Target.
“I was right. That’s a girl.”
I was pleased that they ended up with the right answer.
I wasn’t so pleased the discussion happened.
Now, having walked by the two little girls and their mother when I walked in the store, but not being privy to the conversation before that, I can’t be sure it was me they were talking about.
But being one of those oversensitive trannys, well, the assumption makes sense.
Kids don’t make assumptions as easily as adults do. They study people around them with open eyes, not expectations.
I guess I just have to be satisfied that she made her judgement for my gender, and not my birth sex.
Maybe, when the bounds of our world were the bounds of our tribe, village or band, we felt safer being human.
But now, our bounds are so big that the world feels out of control all the time.
The answer to that, of course, is to act locally, to take control of what you can, let go of what you can’t control, and work to be wise enough to understand the difference. (And yes, I know I phrased that differently than Niebuhr.)
In New York State, a governor who promised to be absolutely pure and good, living far above the mess, has turned out to be (surprise!) human and frail, with needs. Now the natterbobs are feasting on his carcass, wondering why he had to portray himself as pristine and feasting on evil. Why indeed?
It’s so very American, this attempt at hyperbole in the cause of separating one’s self from human needs, desire, and mess.
TBB was feeling down after a neighbor felt the need to explain how America is losing in the global economy, going down the tubes, and that means we all have to suffer more.
For someone who is already suffering, working a construction job at base pay, seeing her dream of flying being challenged by as human a frailty as a history of kidney stones, and feeling the challenge of not being able to simply integrate into groups, well, there was sadness and tears to get through.
Restarting your life is never easy, but as someone on the edge of understanding & acceptance, well, harder, harder.
We can’t simply approach the world as a woman, because we don’t have the history and our bones are telling. To assert simple womanhood is to ask for challenge and failure.
We can’t simply approach the world as a transperson, because there is no valued social role for transpeople. To assert queerness is to set ourselves apart from the mainstream support we want and need.
To be a woman leaves us with the disadvantage of not having the grounding and not having our unique voice. To be a tranny leaves us with the disadvantage of not having the respect & status and always having to be defended & pigeonholed.
We are messy humanity made visible, the expression of continuous common humanity that so many want to deny, even if they need that humanity so much they retreat to paying to expose it in hotel rooms while decrying it in public.
We either compartmentalize our desire, trying to hide our queer history or queer expression, or we show that Eros on our skin where people feel entitled to tell us how we let down society.
And when we look to society for caring, understanding and protection, we get posturing instead.
We need to be serene enough to accept our nature, strong enough to change our denial, yes, but we also need to be wise enough to know that what we can’t directly change, a huge and twisted society, based on denial of humanity and human needs in the cause of progress and profit, will affect us everyday.
As long as we demand that our leaders be less than human by being more than compartmentalized we will always miss the essence of human connection, that understanding and compassion for individual passions.
And that leaves those of us who need our humanity out in the cold, unable to subsume ourselves into some neat group identity.
Which, in the end, leaves me and my sisters down.
I am, as a lonely long-lost tranny, in need of relationships with humans.
Heck, just having a girlfriend to go to the bar with last night would have made it much easier.
Now, the details of how I go about building those relationships, well they escape me.
I know I have to start somewhere. I start with scouring calendars, in the local arts weekly, in the newspaper, in new age magazines, anywhere.
I know that the best options for me are discussions, because I need to be able to contribute to be seen as at all attractive. Just sitting in the back, well, then people just project on me, and I know that their projections are most likely to be wrong, whatever they are.
My life myth is simple: I am too hip for the room. People don’t get my jokes.
That’s why I love having another old-hand tranny in the room, one whose scars make sense to me, because I know that my scars will probably make sense to them. Thanks Cheryl for being at Rhea’s Cafe. We have known each other for almost twenty years now, since like 1987, and we know the ground, even if you aren’t prone to laugh.
It takes time to build relationships, and time is something I don’t have much of.
But more than that, it takes common ground to build relationships. If I understand your point of view and your challenges, but my point of view and challenges are just baffling and overwhelming to you, well, relationships aren’t going to develop. A thirty year old can be a friend to a twelve year old, but it’s doubtful a twelve year old can be a friend to a thirty year old; they just don’t have the scars and experience. It’s great to care for others, but if others can’t care for you, well, that is limiting.
It’s hard for most people to understand how far off the grid I have had to go, how much pain I have to hold, and how much challenge lives with me in every moment. They live their lives without the requirement of consciousness, and what awareness they hold is the amount that they can manage. Adding awareness of my experience is over the top for them.
My sister suggests that paying for relationships is good, like finding a therapist. It’s my experience, though, having tried many therapists, that I am beyond their easy knowledge, beyond their experience. They want to help, of course, but they need me to train them, which is not a decent relationship, not even a decent therapeutic relationship.
One of the things I am extraordinarily sensitive to is people pulling away from me. I notice, and I let them do it. I think that’s their choice, and probably safer for me. I don’t stand up to people I pass by, rather I cede the space and move out of the way, so as to stay inconspicuous or at least as inoffensive as possible.
That’s not the best way to be present for relationships, and certainly and enormous challenge when you are perceived as strong & powerful, or perceived as queer and expected to have the obligation to put others at social ease, or in other words, to quell their fears and break the ice. The obligation to be the hostess, even in spaces owned by others, may be common, but it is a challenge this introverted and broken person finds hard to address. In my day, society broke all trannys, “for our own good,” so that we would understand how bad we were, and with a family in which social skills were limited, well, too hard.
What I need, what I want, what I crave is doing something with a group of people that is so involving that my self-consciousness dissipates and I am present with others, in relationship, in shared goals.
That, at least for me, has been hard to find. Time, intent, safety and more all create blocks, at least for me. Part of this is based in fact — I am a challenging piece of work — and part based in my own self-protective behaviours, developed over time.
I know this needs to break, or I need to break.
A recent note from me to a friend:
Do you really think that you can find satisfaction in being more of the hermit of the hill?
Your battle, of course, isn’t with anyone else. It’s inside of that vessel we call you. Where she used to fight between her boyself and her girlself, now the fight is between her hermit and her magic. To engage her magic, she has to believe that she has magic, the capacity to amaze, delight and empower, rather than just the power to disappoint, to act out old routines of isolation and failure.
You may not need “a relationship” but you need relationships, because you ARE love. Don’t believe your inner hermit when she tells you that you are doomed to fail anyone you love, that you are doomed to fail in connection, that you are doomed to fail.
Don’t try to please others. Try to please your Magical self. Because if she shows up, open and loving, joyous and free, well, then everyone is going to have a loving time.
I long ago learned that when I am directed to say something to others, I better damn well listen for myself, too.
I need relationships. I need to be open with love.
And I have no idea how to get what I need.
Just for the record, I am insufficiently tedious to be a lesbian.
Or, well, more accurately, to be a lesbian at my local dyke bar, where sweatshirts and jeans are the norm.
Now, I laughed at the first song I heard the DJ play. It was “My Heart Beats Like A Drum,” by ATC. I remember how my heart beat when I first saw Raven perform to that song at Backstreet Atlanta. And I remember when I requested it at my local dance club and was dismissed for requesting a “lesbian song.”
But the crowd, well, it was going to take work there.
I mean, I know it’s not like L-Word, or at least, it never has been, but one can hope eh?
I have no idea how to be that tedious.
I’m not going to the Whole Health Expo in Northampton today.
I thought about it and looked at the flyer. Lots of New Age healers ready to answer your deepest questions from their informed perspective, with the beliefs and visions they have gained on their journey. All those perspectives are nicely packed up in glossy sound bytes, designed to be appealing to urban professionals who have more money than peace, who want comfort and solace more than they want challenge.
That’s the way we do it nowadays. You don’t have to go to the mountain top to find the guru anymore, having to seek enlightenment as a man whose hair is on fire seeks water, as Krishnamurti said, rather there is a mini-guru in your neighborhood with a franchised message who can come to you in a convenient one hour block.
I’m not really useful for much other than being a guru. Heck even in the day I was always the corporate shaman, the one who walked through walls and showed the way.
TantraGal, who has advertisements for her practice in stylish vinyl letters on the outside of her minivan saw it immediately. “There aren’t any powerful trans based books out there,” she told me. “It’s a niche!”
Yeah, it is. Package me up as an author, rather than just the messy writer I am now, and I can sell the message of transformation and change. Cut me up into meal sized pieces, seal me in plastic, and people will grab me off the shelf.
It’s just the way we do guru in this culture.
Me, well, I have a Fear Of Guru in that manner. I look at the workshops schedules and know these people are going to stay on message, because they are much more missionaries than visionaries, message carriers rather than deep seers.
But still, as I told TantraGal when she was feeling uncomfortable about being objectified and commoditized, we have to believe that the message transcends the packaging. We have to believe that, otherwise we are up shit, because packages of some sort or other are required.
Somehow, I gotta get over my FOG and do the packaging. TantraGal wanted to help for a couple of minutes, but she is scrambling for her own practice, and doesn’t need my call to go deeper and write. She may know that’s important, but now, well, now — is it ever really a good time? We will see where that goes.
Could I engage and enthrall an audience for an hour?
I’m pretty sure that I could.
Could I feel good about that?
I don’t remember.
I also hope you no longer feel the need to be quite so miserable as you once were.[I know I just stated that very poorly, but please try to hear me on this.]
You are such a beautiful and magical person in your own right,
it always pained me when I saw you become your own worst enemy, etc.
Holly B, note to me, 07 March 2008.
I don’t think I ever had the need to be miserable.
But I did have the need to challenge & question every desire I had, did have the need to deny those desires. Discipline, always discipline.
Of course, that made me miserable. Same difference, eh?
Being my own worst enemy, the one whose job was to confront me so as to keep me small & scared, well, that was — is — second nature to me. It’s what I was trained to do, all that vigorous and intrusive self-policing.
But maybe, somehow, I can figure out how to shut the doors to that asshole, to my own worst enemy.
I’m not good at closing doors.
Just ask my father. He likes to watch me, prepared to pounce when a door isn’t shut tight. To him, of course it’s a symptom of my going too fast and not thinking, which he has identified as the root cause of all my problems.
It’s been true since they have been away. I have to keep the door to the basement closed, so what little heat is left on stays down in this basement to combat the cement floor and drafty flue that like to steal heat.
And twice I have come back to see the garage door open and the opener’s light blinking, stopped and retracted due to some block. It’s winter, so I need to get to the shovels, but the pile of dissapeared items is large enough to get in the way.
Running out of the house so I will embarass people less by my presence in the neighborhood, well, that means I don’t have time to secure things nicely. Tranny go, go tranny.
I had been meaning to write about this phenomenon, but the New York Times beat me to it. They review Dan Areily’s book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by looking at his work on how cutting off some options can focus our thinking and our efforts.
TBB understands this. She cut of her options (and some other bits) when she had genital reconstruction surgery (GRS), and says that the best part is that no one now tries to convince her she should try to make it work as a man again. She is freed by the limits now set, and that is empowering to her.
This is the deep part where I need to look at my own doors. Oy.
Next entry, please.
When I have to be “that asshole” — the person who lives in the minds of my parents to be blamed for mistakes and then who has to clean them up — it makes me crazy.
I didn’t think that I would be hitting myself in the head while they were away, but my mother can’t use her cell phone — Why didn’t I make it easier? — and my father screwed up filing his taxes — Why did I let him do that instead of demanding he check with me before sealing the envelopes? (He had to unseal his federal anyway.) — and I am in the bum seat, without the power to change or challenge, but with the obligation to fix it, now. The other issues –like dealing with the other fellows insurance on his messy accident where his story was so unclear the cops got it wrong, or plumbing in a drier to his cockamamie hidden vents, well, they just weigh on me without being immediately present.
I know that I am being scapegoated, but I also know I have ALWAYS been the scapegoat in this family, and my skin burns from it, which makes it hard to focus on being powerful, integrated, actualized and empowered.
It hurts, it physically hurts me with tension and pain when I have to be “that asshole.”
But they can’t seem to imagine our relationship any other way.
I am just “stupid,” that asshole. Oy.
I’m fascinated by the issue of hormones in transland.
Many transpeople locate great power in hormone, believing that the changes they go through are all due to hormones, that hormones are what make the difference between the sexes.
There is some truth to this, of course. We can see the physical differences. But as part of his treatment for prostate cancer my father was chemically neutered well over a decade ago, and I can see the effects of testosterone removal in his body. Yet he hasn’t turned into a woman in any way that I can tell.
I have always questioned how much hormones make changes and how much the consumption of hormones allow us leave to expose what we have hidden in the past.
The New York Times has two stories that touch on this issue.
Chemicals change us, no doubt. But they also hold the power of what we believe they can & will do to us.
If we believe that changing our hormones will change who we are, then consuming what we believe to be hormones will entitle and empower us to change our choices.
I know this is the thinking of a “transnatural” person who has seen great changes in her life with no extrinsic changes in her body, but my experience does prove that change in belief & presentation does not require extrinsic changes, though those internal changes may be assisted and facilitated by extrinsic change.
What we believe we believe.
And researchers keep proving the power of that belief in shaping our response to our world.
It was somewhere around 1988. Rachel Crosby was on track for surgery. I started to talk about all the pitfalls, the downsides, the challenges.
Rachel just looked at me and said, “Do you know that you are quite a balloon burster?”
I got it. This was a dream that she needed to pursue, and like any dream, it was fragile and unrealistic at the beginning. But the dream had to keep lifting her, like a balloon, until she got to a place where she could replace it with a new dream.
Last week I went to a little support group and heard a transwoman talk about how everything would be better when she came back from Thailand with her new vagina.
I talked about some of the limits of a neo-vagina; depth, width, lubrication, tone, position. I quoted Dr. Sheila Kirk, who said that if your gynecologist can’t tell your vagina isn’t factory installed, well, you should get a new and observant gynecologist.
This gal carried on, though. She talked about the innovation and perfection of genital reconstruction, about how these doctors were the best in the world, about how she would be able to have even a pelvic exam without doctors knowing. She may not have had an orgasm in many years, but after her surgery, the plumbing would be on and the electrical too, as Kate Bornstein once said.
I got it. Her vagina will be absolutely perfect, at least until she gets it and finds out what the limits are. That’s the dream she is chasing, and that’s the balloon she needs to lift her up and over the obstacles & challenges she faces.
At the initial public meeting of a program in creating “female voice” I felt the need to speak up, to talk about the obstacles and challenges I have experienced and elucidated as a transwoman. I have stayed in the liminal space longer than most, and that means I have been able to find patterns & express them, putting words to the difficulties.
Two of the professionals got what I was saying, found it valuable. They wanted me to join the program because they could learn so much from me, but I don’t have the resource to pay professionals to learn from me anymore. I did, though, make sure to tell them that they have to refer to transpeople with the pronouns of their target gender, because if they want to be therapists of any kind, they need to affirm the possibility that lies within people even more than they have to acknowledge the reality where they now are stuck. Therapists need to affirm possibility, not present, in order to facilitate change.
But the other transpeople around the table? Well, they knew there was insight & scars & truth in what I was saying, but it wasn’t really truth they wanted to internalize.
You see, they need their balloons. They need their dreams that facial surgery or time will change everything, let them pass and assimilate in the way they want.
I told the counselor, after the session, that working to pass as being born female had two problems.
First, trying to pass means that every time you are clocked or read out you feel failure. That’s a spiral which is hard to overcome unless you become blind to people’s reactions, staying defended.
Second, trying to avoid that failure means you have to consciously and continuously edit your expression so that you don’t let your voice slip, either in performance or content. You have to change ex-wifes to ex-husbands, rejigger your boyhood to a girlhood and so on.
“I see,” she said. “You have to lie.”
I wouldn’t call it lying, though Kate said that transsexuality is the only medical condition for which part of the cure is to learn to lie. I would call it editing, self-policing that leaves you disempowered, without an earned voice. (And yes, I tend to use voice more as a metaphor, as the program director noted.)
Yes, I too have the same dream of walking in the world as a woman born female. I have had it since I was four or five or six, praying at night. My heart aches for the denial of that wish, but it aches more for actually getting on with life rather than just just living in broken dreams, behind walls of protection.
I said things like this out loud and after the session, well, none of the transpeople wanted to follow up with me, to connect and share their experiences.
The reason was clear, at least to me. They are on individual journeys, and they need to learn for themselves. They don’t need the balloons of dreams which lift them punctured too early. They don’t need balloon bursters.
People tell me about the law of attraction, which says that we attract what we desire to us. Problem is that when you desire truth, well, that’s not something most people really want in their life. They want the kind of hope that comes in pretty, multi-colored balloons.
Heck even TantraGal, the last person who pitched me that “secret” stuff, seems to have found me a bit challenging in my expounded visions of truth and challenge.
I have spent the last two decades working very hard not to burst balloons. I know we need to be lifted, need to respect the dreams that can move and motivate us to change, even if we know that the realities of that change won’t be quite the simple float we imagine.
I deliberately reach out to support and affirm dreams, even the ones that haven’t yet come to reflect reality. I want people to affirm and support me, so I need to give that to others.
But, well, not so easy. I respond to old friends and they put the letter in the too hard pile. Authors who know they need to be interested in stories understand that I have mine under control. Fledglings listen to me and they decide that they need to learn to fly for themselves, so they don’t want to engage me. Even old friends call me “one hell of a tough critic.”
I get it. It’s not that I’m not loving & supportive, it’s just that part of the way I show love & support is through illumination & challenge. And that, well, who wants to get their delicate balloons of dreams, the only things they have to give them enough lift so they can breathe free, if only a bit, so close to that bloody flame?
What makes you exceptional must inevitably make you lonely, as I have often quoted Lorraine Hansbury.
And if you are a porcupine, well, sometimes you are going to burst balloons, no matter how much you love and value those who inflate their own dreams in such a precious and vulnerable way.
Yes, I am fascinating & powerful.
But soft, unthreatening felt?
I feel the need to melt into a pool of loving & lovely goo.
You know. That state where nothing exists but emotion, propelled by desire.
You sway, you dance, you swoon, just all hot and hungry, ready to touch & be touched.
It’s not a place where you can live, this melty zone. But if you are a femme, it’s a place you have to go to now and then to be nourished. It’s that Bermuda Triangle they go to Bull Durham, lost and found at the same time.
It can happen anywhere. Some of us find it in a nightclub, others in a church. Some of us find it in the kitchen, and many find it in the bedroom. It happens where we feel safe and comfortable, able to drop our stylish (and protective) facade and just become primal, raw and open. When we can sweat and sing, dance and dally without worry someone will think less of us, well, it just might happen there.
To love with abandon, we need to feel loved. To feel loved, we need to feel people are moved by our inner beauty, not just how we play the part they want us to play.
I have a good sense that my mother in the sky loves me. I see magic happen in front of me — those three perfect coats, emotional opening, articles and more. I know that I am a part of that magic, that somehow my presence counts as a catalyst. The magic is waiting to happen, and many forces come together, but I am part of it.
And being part of the magic of love, subsumed into the flow of love, well, that’s what I need to feel. Let me warm up and melt around other people, being vulnerable and witchy, healing and healed. Let me loosen so much that I crash with the waves, breaking apart and coming together again in a warm salty spray. Let me be playful and free, childlike and open, humorous and compassionate, hot and fluid.
I need to get out from under the bucket and feel the radiance emerge from me, light and heat that melts the world around me. I need to feel myself sway in harmony with the universe, all sinuous synchronous swirl, loose and lovely, which surrounds and transforms the hard and the hardened around me.
Moment is energy, energy in the moment that connects and converts love and life. Gooey and graceful, without the sticks and stones that bind us to angles, right or wrong.
Love moment, what I need, now.
TBB had a job interview yesterday, on the phone.
We chatted before the interview, just to help her loosen up and rehearse, some improvisation and polishing. We are The Drama Queens, after all.
One of the key questions in any interview is “So, why did you leave your last job?”
TBB started talking about organizational changes and structural issues, all true.
The fact that they found a reason to let her go soon after she announced her intent to emerge as trans, well, she wasn’t going there.
We talked about it, and I suggested the line “I had some changes I needed to make in my life.” After all, they will probably check references, so hiding isn’t an option if she wants the job.
It worked in the interview, until the fellow from this “family values” organization asked “Tell me about the non-profit organizations you led.”
No way to talk about IFGE and Southern Comfort Conference without being out. So she dove right in.
“I’m a transsexual,” she said.
“My brother’s gay,” the interviewer said, “and I know how painful it is as been for him. I think I understand some of how hard it has been for you. We are an equal opportunity employer, and you definitely have the qualifications for this job. I want to recommend you to the program manager. In the end it will be his call.”
Yup. There it was. You get the big scary secret out and this fella says “queer is in my family.”
I attended a reading by Jennifer Finney Boylan last night. “Professor is the default mode,” as she said after the session, something I saw when I came in and she was going through those peculiar gymnastics we all go through before a performance, the organizing details, warming up the crowd and working through our own performance anxiety.
Jenny’s professor mode is well honed, all Irish wit and writer bravado, jokes and edge that help her manage a gaggle of students.
The reading was organized by a young transwoman who works at Borders, and she had organized a turnout of trannys that was probably less than common on this book tour, now drawing to an end.
It was that audience that opened Jenny up. She read and read, the bigger piece, the “pu-pu” platter and all.
Then, for her “rock star” finish, she read the last four paragraphs from She’s Not There, an essay by her friend Richard Russo talking about their relationship. The end has Russo and Jenny’s partner “Grace” waiting for her to come out from GRS, reflecting on relationships, change and durability.
It was clear that Jenny was rarely as emotional reading those lines as she was last night. Beyond the professor, there is so much in her — a little girl, a hurting tranny, a powerful shaman and more — and some of those ghosts rose to the surface as she read the powerful words about love & connection.
A well trained trouper, she made it through, though with difficulty keeping the emotion down. She snapped back with a little demonstration on how men and women bowed in the days of Shakespeare, and was back on form, but for that moment, I wanted to hug her and let her feel those emotions.
It didn’t look like anyone was taking her out for a burger, which I saw she needed. That craic is important to the Irish. I couldn’t offer; the snow was coming and my parents needed attention, not having spoken to me in 36 hours. Besides, it’s not my strong suit, but I wished TBB was there to offer it.
Since Southern Comfort, I have been focused on the challenge of vulnerability, of being open.
I got to see two trans women open themselves yesterday, gifting themselves to the world.
They said it, and people heard it, and it was good.
And a treat for me.
A reply to a list post where a crossdresser on a straight dating site heard “this one very nice woman warned me about her crossdressing cousin who was lured by a woman he/she met online & was “beaten to a pulp” by three guys she had brought along!”
Being prudent is always a good idea, no doubt.
Yet there are many urban legends out there that are designed to do the same as legends often have, to keep us small and scared of the bogie man.
It’s easy to believe that someone was lured and beaten. It plays right into the fears used to train us to keep our non-normative nature hidden or pay the price.
Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. And my heart goes out to all the trannys who have been hurt, no doubt.
But I do have to wonder about how many transpeople missed a chance at love just because they were afraid, or, better yet, how many trannys found love and whose stories weren’t heard while we tell the story of one who found hate.
I don’t know the truth here, but I do know that for women, love sometimes can turn dangerous. Heck, for men love can sometimes turn dangerous.
But I hope that isn’t a reason to hide from all love. We need it too much.
Be prudent, be sensible.
But don’t be scared small, eh?