Growing Empowerment

I’m going to the Regional LGBT Student Conference at SUNYA tomorrow.

I haven’t been asked to speak, nor have I asked to speak.

But when has that every stopped me from putting together a speech?

Here is what I would say tomorrow:

There are two basic models of growth in the world.

In one model, people grow in straight line fashion, simply extending who they are as they age and mature. The line may curve or even jog a bit, but it is a through line from birth to death, a line tracing definition and normalcy

In the other model, people grow through transformation, going through a kind of hash mark period and coming out new and different. This is the notion of growth as Joseph Campbell found it in The Heroes Journey, going through and becoming both who you always were and something completely new.

For me and my people, our lives are never simple and linear. We live lives of transformation, of jarring change, of becoming new.

This process is exactly the process that so many learn in college, the taking a construction, deconstructing it, and then reconstructing it in a new way.

Of course we keep that which is fundamental in us, the continuous common humanity we all share, and what is essential, that special us, those special gifts we were born with and have polished.

What we change is mindset we see our lives through, that amalgam of expectations, assumptions, beliefs, and habits which inform and shape our choices. It is when that amalgam is changed that we change, often beyond the expectations, assumptions and beliefs of those who have known us before.

Shaw said it in Man And Superman

I had become a new person;
and those who knew the old person laughed at me.
The only men who behaved sensibly was my tailor:
he took my measure anew every time he saw me,
whilst all the rest went in with their old measurements
and expected them to fit me.
George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman”

What I would like to say here today?

I would like to say what Jamison Green said so profoundly about transgender, that when you hear the word it doesn’t represent some group of people, or some belief set, rather it identifies people who are on a journey — some might say a heroic journey — to discover and claim the privilege of a life, becoming themselves.

This journey of transformations is, by definition, always a journey of fits and starts, of experiments and blind ends, of grabbing onto one idea or label or theory for a while, and then letting go when it no longer fits. We seem to be grounded one moment, then we are loose again in the next as we go through our lives.

The fits we go through, the periods of seeing our queer calling as the call to deconstruct, are vital, important and crucial to becoming ourselves. This is the period of trans as rejection, rejection of those assumptions, expectations and beliefs placed on our history and our biology.

To me, though, it is the starts that I find much more interesting, the way we claim our own new identity to try it on and see how it works for us.

It is my experience that personal expression is always collage, created out of bits of our own fundament and essence along with social patterns and expression that we combine in our own way. We blend wild and tame, the wild & unique expression that defines us as a special individual and the tame & common expression that binds us as an assimilated member of a group.

This is the basic challenge of every human life, both being special with something unique to offer and being one of the tribe, sharing in the benefits of community. The community demands assimilation, acting like them, even as our nature demands individualism, following the beat of our own heart.

How do we claim who we are while also getting what we need; getting the love, the affirmation, the community? This is the most profound challenge any transperson faces on the road to finding power.

I have seen many transpeople reject their own queerness, their own unique and individual expression, in order to try to assimilate into a community that seemed to have what they need in this moment.

Kate Bornstein asked me why she sees so few transwomen, transpeople born male at her college events. To me the answer was simple: Because to be an out transwoman makes it very hard to get laid! If you identify as a crossdresser you can be with straight or bi women, and if you identify as a drag queen you can be with gay men. But to identify as a transwoman means you have to navigate the shoals of straight guys and women’s studies at the same time, something most find too difficult to even contemplate.

Transpeople need community. And transpeople need freedom beyond expectation and assumption, so they can swing their pendulum wide, find their center, and create their own unique collage of gender role, one that includes enough freedom and enough responsibility to keep balanced, a valued member of community, contributing their special gifts.

It’s when community demands assimilation from transpeople that both lose. Community loses the gifts that transpeople can bring, and transpeople lose their own hearts while grabbing to get the promises that assimilation offers, being one of the group. We twist ourselves into who others expect us to be to try and get what we need, and that causes suffering all around.

To move beyond an expectation of group identity to queer identity is to move towards personal empowerment and personal responsibility. To move towards personal empowerment is to move towards a life where transformation is possible, growth beyond the expected curve of normal lives. To move towards a life where transformation is possible is to move towards a life where people can live the truth of their hearts and the potential of their souls.

Lives of transformational growth support the possibility of transformation, support the power of change in our world. Lives beyond group identity are lives of human creation and human grace.

When you think about transgender, don’t think about group identity. Think about people on a journey — maybe even a heroic journey — to discover and claim the privilege of a life, becoming yourself.

And that’s something we can all reach for in our own queerness.

3 thoughts on “Growing Empowerment”

  1. Lives beyond group identity are lives of human creation and human grace.

    I believe that, and I like the whole speech indeed.

    Having said that, it is simply too difficult for me to navigate this without the resources I need. Getting the resources I need requires precisely what you describe — community — and not the independantly asocial model of self I grew up working towards with all my fury.

    I didn’t let myself understand what I wanted for almost three decades, and it’s so hard to try to find some way to tell myself, “It’s okay to want to be like, and be liked by, other people. It’s okay.”

    And then someone will come and remind me that I don’t have to do that…which I am aware of.

    I am angry with myself, as you know. I am sorry I took it out on you.

  2. Callie,

    Thank you once again for the profound and moving insight of your words.

    Better than anyone I know, you express both the challenges and gifts of being transgender.

    The rewards of becoming and living as our authentic selves are incalculable. Fortunately, the courage it takes to realize those rewards, while great, is not unattainable.

    Ours truly is a heroes’ journey.


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