Kicking Myself

I don’t do my father’s bills.  But while he is on the road, I have some obligation to deal with them

I screwed up one of his card payments.  Missed the due date by a week.

And I feel horrible about that.  My gut twists into knots.  I imagine how angry he will be, feel like a screw-up, a failure.

I know that the best thing to do is just to do it when you can, to engage it ASAP and move on.  OK, so you screwed up, fix it and keep going.  That’s what I did in this case.

But that doesn’t stop the twists in my gut.  I feel bad and want to just crawl away, hide, kicking myself all the time and in all the ways I can figure out.  The anxiety squeezes me, incapacitating me.   For years, even.

I have the gift — and the curse — of anticipating problems and contemplating solutions.  As a TV producer, this served me in good stead; let a camera die and I could quickly come up with a plan that didn’t need it.  But as a human, this means I am all too often so bogged down in anticipated problems that I can’t just act on momentary opportunities and pressing challenges.

I know this is a problem for me, but it is the problem of falling off the grid, and the only solution is climbing back on again.  Yet as long as I work to stay invisible, as long as I feel the need and the pressure to stay invisible, there is no way to be present on the grid.

To be invisible, wrapped up in staying small and failing down, requires that I kick myself rather than lift myself.

And the way my gut is churning, I know that call is clear and present.

Everyday Gold

It was a warm day — well, at least warm for April in New York — so the woman in the SUV next to me had her window down.

She was in a black hoodie and her wrist was decorated with a cuff full of gold bangles.

Those bangles didn’t seem to be todays fashion accessory, rather they seemed to be her everyday gold, signature pieces she keeps on day to day.

One thing that has surprised me this period is how often I wear the same outfit two days in a row. Of course, if I was going to the same office daily, I couldn’t do this, but that’s not where I am.

In my exploration days, I would work hard to come up with a new outfit everyday. I remember one person who said I was like a catalog model.

Part of this was getting things worn; even when I had to wear my invisible (boy) clothes, I could still shop, so I ended up with more clothes than I could wear.

But part of this was exploration, going through lots of looks to see what worked, both in the image I presented to others and the way I felt about what I was wearing.

Now, though, I seem to be settling down. I may go through three different eyeshadow colors; Sketch, a kind of browny plum, Shadowy Lady, a dark purple, and Folie, a warm brown, but those are the only three base colors; the rest stay in the tub.

And my high stance, four button Rena Rowan black wool crepe jacket works with almost anything, I have found.

I have found a kind of comfort and power in having a uniform, or at least a series of uniforms. I suppose this is a comfort that lots of people understand right up front; the beautiful Gwyneth was amazed to imagine people had more than 10 outfits in their closet to start with.

When you focus down, you have the chance to work with quality rather than quantity. As you focus you can think less about externals, like your appearance and more about content. You become packaged, a signature, so people know you when they see you and can move onto details, not the new.

All this may be very obvious to normies, who get up every morning being very sure of who they are. They just have their everyday gold and walk in the world with it, bangles clattering from morning to night. One friend complimented my earrings and I had to check to see which I was wearing. “I hate people who have so many they don’t know what they have on!” she huffed.

For me, though, it’s a new possibility, walking in the world with my everyday gold showing. Maybe I could even pierce my ears and leave my earrings in all the time, rather then always having irritation at my lobes.

To pull expression down to routine, or at least to routines — I am a femme, after all — allows one to move on with other things. It allows you to be in the room, relaxed, rather than always conscious of appearance, of presentation, of self.

To be in the world with my everyday gold showing, relaxed and comfortable, focused on other work.

What a concept!

Attacking Myself

Abby, in a comment here, says that “Fuck The Fear” doesn’t seem to work as a mantra for her.

“What we resist persists,” she offers, and suggests that stepping aside in a kind of akido is the best choice.

She is correct, of course. We need to deal gracefully and wisely with what we fear.

To me, though, I don’t think “Fuck What I Fear.” That would be wrong and misguided, because it externalizes the fear as something others do to me, places fear in the objects and people and situations, rather than locating the fear where it lives, inside of me.

It isn’t the fears of others that keep me small. It is my own fear.

For me, it is that fight inside against my own fear that is the most difficult, the fight against the habits and internalized oppression that keeps me small. It is fear itself that I fear, not something external to me but rather something deep inside. Why my fear comes up I self-sabotage, self-destruct, self-cripple, self-destroy.

My fear is a palpable presence to me, a presence that is made holy by the expression of self-sacrifice, the notion that surrendering to that fear is doing something good and valuable for the people I love. They have the right and benefit not to have to engage my own complexity, my own queerness, my own demons, so I have the obligation to use my fear as a limiting and destructive force to attack myself.

Stepping aside myself, well, that’s very hard. The enemy within is the persistent companion, the sapper inside, the one who eats my own strength and possibility.

I don’t need to avoid myself, I need to transcend myself.

I don’t need to fuck what I fear; what I fear isn’t real. I don’t fear actual people and actual situations, rather I imagine people and situations that would hurt me and use that imagination to cut myself to ribbons.

No, what I fear isn’t the problem, at least for me. It is fear itself that is the problem, fear itself that keeps me crippled.

I feel like what I want is affirmation of my strength and power and grace, affirmation of my power of attraction & connection, affirmation of me as beautiful & lovely.

That’s a good thing, of course. We all need as much positive support as possible, encouragement and empowerment.

But as long as I take those affirmations and expose them to the acid bath of my fears, well, then no amount of positive support will sustain me, no amount of positive support will lift me up and ennoble me. Those affirmations will be crumbled to dust by my own fears, my own expectations of failure, sadness and separation.

No, “Fuck What I Fear” is a bad mantra, an opening to act out against ghosts we externalize.

“Fuck The Fear,” on the other hand, well, that’s my crude and limited attempt to transcend what is killing me, to fight what keeps me small and crippled: my internalized fears.

My fear attacks me under the guise of self-discipline and appropriateness, even if it is my ego attempting to avoid pain and avoid calling, and in the process denying me connection, light and affirmation.

But now, as I feel my parents heading back, that ego plays hard, cranking the fear levels up, calling for self-sacrifice so that I have the tools to dismember myself again and place myself back in the tiny box of denial for the good of others.

My real good comes from boldly being who my mother in the sky made me to be.

And if I know that, well, then, I have to fight whatever restrains me from being that woman.

What constrains me? The fear my ego delivers.

And that fear?

Well, I have to fuck it, somehow, so I can get over it.

When I get over my own fears, I can deftly and gracefully handle the fears of others because they don’t stimulate my own fears, don’t trigger my own acting out, which for me, now, is attacking myself.

My fears are the biggest danger to me, not the fears of others, and my fears are the only fears I have the responsibility of removing to live in love.  All I can directly change in this world are my choices and the feelings & thoughts that lead me to make them.

Those fears are my enemy, those fears are the echoes of years of stigma and challenge that others offered to keep me small.  They aren’t real, they are my fears.

Fuck ’em.  Or die.

SurThrival

Ms Rachelle lead me to thinking by noting:

The more serious issue is that your parents are not part of the web of your world,
and never will be, they only want you to be stuck in theirs.

So what you need to think of when they’re around is your own survival.

The question that comes to mind is: “What would aid Callan best when her parents are around?”

Grace offered the following powerful, poignant and heart-breaking comment:

I do have one gift, one I do not return, one I would not reject…
anonymity, absence of existence, unattachment.

I should have used it when I read your post, instead of attaching myself to my response.

Rachelle suggests I be concerned over my survival, and she suggests that because she is concerned over my survival.

But what I have done to aid my survival is to embrace the gift that Grace also engages: “anonymity, absence of existence, unattachment.

I am dead much of the time. That’s what I have learned to do to survive, to turn off, to become invisible, to blink out.

This behaviour, well, it may help me survive, but at the cost of faster and more damaging decay. Staying dead means accepting putrefaction, embracing decomposition. Believe me, I feel that destruction, in my teeth, in my kidneys, in my wallet.

My question, I suspect, has to be more than about surviving. Rather it has to be about thriving, somehow, somewhere. It’s too easy for me just to become invisible, anonymous, absent and detached, too easy and too deathly.

My problem is simple: I’m done. I feel much more wrong in my hiding clothes than in my work clothes. Who wouldn’t want to wear black tights and boots and a bit of makeup? Isn’t that right.

Yet, I still force myself to stay hidden in my parent’s world, and since my sister doesn’t feel good being caught between my world and theirs, I stay hidden to her too. Going back into the coffin, well, that seems challenging. That place where I bury myself in the mud, slogging through and camouflaged, anonymous, absent and detached, where my light burns under a bucket, guttering for want of fresh air.

The question isn’t what we do for survival. Rolling into a ball can help with that.

The question is what I do to thrive, to claim, to dance, to live, in my world, in our world.

Blinking

I went to a PFLAG meeting this afternoon. A number of people knew me, and I even got a warm greeting from the pastor of the church, which was a nice surprise; apparently I had read her wrong in November.

The meeting started at 3 PM, and we went around the circle and spoke. I was last, speaking at 4:50 in a meeting that ended at 5 PM. Joyce, needing to leave at 4:30, had graciously waited until I spoke.

OK, what do I say to this crowd? How do I tell a story in five minutes that will move them?

I decided on two themes.

The first theme was my search for language. The people from HomoRadio understood how that started in 1967 when I heard Virginia Prince on The Steve Fredericks Show, over a tube radio from WMEX. The White Prince Of Crossdressers gave me my first language for my trans nature. I met The Prince in 1991 and co-hosted the Virginia Prince Achievement Awards at IFGE in Portland (1994), Atlanta (1995) and Toronto (1998). I fought with The Prince every time I met them, too, as my developing language and their static language diverged.

We as transpeople still don’t have language we agree on, that offers a simple and clear definition of what trans is and how transpeople want to be seen. I noted that my mother would prefer that I was a gay guy, because she knows how to explain that to other people now, and the parents and gays laughed.

My history has been a search for language, chasing words, first through essays, and now through personal narrative, and while I have helped — one of the hosts of HomoRadio thanked me for being on an email list I started in the 1990s — there is much we have to do.

The second theme was how the experience of transpeople become visible and then become invisible again in patterns. Sometimes that is as fast as one shopping trip, turning visible at the register as the cashier registers our queerness, and sometimes that is over time, where we come out of the closet, transition and go back in. There are lots of other patterns, of course, from the crossdresser who is out between marriages to the transsexual outed by a spouse, and on and on.

We are pulsars and we blink, we transpeople, made invisible by passing (either passing as our assigned gender or our claimed), or by assumptions of normativity imposed on us, and then spotlighted by our own expression or by being used as symbol by others (TBB has a co-worker who has been rude & sexual about her at work, for example.) I offered the old chestnut about how, when I walked into a gay bar, the lesbians saw a male body and wrote me off as a drag queen, and the gay guys wrote me off as a lesbian when they saw my sensible shoes.

And between that darkness and that scrutiny we look to find words that can help us just be, owning our own story and illuminated in a good way. (If all the world is a stage, I want better lighting.)

I stopped a cheap joke about trannys falling because we wear cheap shoes and kept things moving to the point where even the president, who had said that when her son came out as gay she feared he would be trans and she would lose him (she apologized later), thought they needed a meeting on trans issues; trans-language and trans-blinking, moving between invisibility and caricature.

It was almost worth having to run the gauntlet of Sunday families in the development to have gone, almost worth running the spotlight and invisibility to tell my own story.

Almost.

In The Room

I was sitting in Barnes & Noble, looking through Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and feeling very surprised that I was feeling no apprehension, no tension just sitting exposed in the world.

As I sat in the oversized upholstered chair, one leg curled under me, and read her accounts of travels, I started to understand that she wa describing her travels as a series of rooms she passed through, pretty rooms where she had some interaction or other.

I lifted my eyes to the huge room I was in now, full of shelves & books & people, and realized how much time I have actually spent in the room.  For me, life has not been a series of rooms, but rather it has been a series of doorways, gaps between here and there, us and them, past and present, possibility and loss.

I heard the sound of my life as a series of door slams and pounding heartbeats, liminal and lively, but always between and betwixt.

Is it possible, I wondered, to actually be in the room, like I am now?  There is a reason that places I have lived always feel like warehouses, store rooms stuck between the wall and the public world outside.  Steel shelving piled with plastic bins, holding possibility, rather than warm rooms filled with interaction, holding love.

Is it actually possible for me to be in the room?  It is, only if I am present for myself and not simply negotiating the space between worlds, between their space and the other.

One challenge people have with my writing is the transitory nature of it.  There is no through line, no stopping place, rather it is all motion and transition, mercurial thoughts and passing emotions.  You can’t just settle with me, you have to move as I move, and that motion is rapid, challenging and wearing. I don’t invite you into my room, rather I take you along on my journey, clip clip now, here here, move along, come this way.

But yesterday I just felt in the room, like I was centered and supposed to be there.

Can I keep that up when my parents return, and demand I hop and bop between their world and others?  I don’t know.  I doubt it.

But yesterday I was in the room.

And it wasn’t bad at all.

Ideals

A poster said she didn’t feel she was trapped in the wrong body, rather she liked her body and just wanted to show it off the way she wanted to.  She felt “both sexes should play by the same rules”
I replied:

The social system of gender, based on human reproductive dimorphism, has been shaped over thousands of years.

While I have issues with heterosexist, binary gender, compulsory based only on birth genitalia, that kind of gender has only really been present in human cultures who are focused on maximizing reproductive rates, harnessing all females into breeding and all males into supporting that breeding effort.  You know, the kind of gender Roman Catholic priests thought would expand the range of the church fastest.

Lots of other human cultures have had a wider range of gender roles, not just tied to breeding biology.  More than two genders.

I like gender.  I like having a role that includes responsibilities and privileges.  I like the spark of different, people coming together with somewhat defined roles, interacting and functioning.

“Both sexes playing by the same rules,” well, that doesn’t make much sense to me.  I do think that rights should be equal for all, but rules for roles?  However much they cover the same ground, moms are different than dads, and in the end, that helps everyone.

Gender being based on the contents of our character rather than the shape of our crotch, well, that makes lots of sense to me.   Only two moments in being a mom, two moments spaced nine months apart, actually require a vagina.  The next twenty, thirty or forty years, well, they require a big mom heart and not a big mom crotch, and lots more hard work.  Lots of moms even raise children who did not come from their own loins.

I believe in the power of gender.    I believe in the power of gender past heterosexist expectations that the phrase “both sexes” has some sort of deep essential meaning.

Transgender, well, yes.  It’s an individual journey beyond the expectations impressed upon our sexed body, the compulsory obligations that so many think are inherent in bits of flesh, rather than being conventions that are taught and learned.

We get to step beyond compulsory gender to personal expression, but in the end, wouldn’t most of us rather be able to have a gender role where we fit, where we felt seen & respected, where we contributed our gifts and they were accepted gladly, and we didn’t have to get trapped in trying to lie about our birth sex or lie about our heart, like we do in binary, heterosexist culture, where birth genitals count too damn much?

I do want society to play fair for all humans, but I also want to have a system of communication that allows different expression, different rules, different obligations and different privileges to be in play building strong and diverse communities.   Someplace where birth sex isn’t the only marker of “truth” and people get to be all they can be, and have their offerings valued.

But that’s just me, eh?

Creation Vs. Theology

Ms. Rachelle writes:

I’m just back from being “writer in residence” at an undergrad program at Goddard College.Because they have a TG cadre in the program I gave a workshop which was a discussion about people’s trans experiences.  One very post-transition transguy said how in the group he was in if someone seemed to stop somewhere in the middle they prodded him to continue through because they found that most of those who did not ended up dead.  So now he was seeing this new generation of genderqueer kids and is fascinated.  I talked about the idea of going beyond all categories to a kind of Nothing, but having to start at the right place, to be able to fly but only if you first find the ground under your feet.

But here’s something interesting, that you might appreciate.  I also gave a workshop on writing, and the time flew by and there was a lot of exciting things to discuss but with the TG one, while it was lively, there also were times when I would check my watch and see how little time had passed.

Possibly it was just that the writing one was in the morning, and the tg one in the afternoon, with an expedition into town planned for afterward (the consignment shop was having a great sale–Goodwill prices for a couple of very nice things).

And I responded

Of course the writing seminar was more compelling than the trans one.  That was about people working to find some novel, unique and deep expression, where trans seminars are often about parroting the narratives we have already polished, narratives most often formed for functional reasons, parroted regurgitations designed to rationalize and justify our choices.

I, for one, am less interested in campus trans expressions than where it leads.  I see the separation of trans expression as acceptance, embrasure & engagement and trans expression as rejection, denial and acting out as a key difference.  So many of the young genderqueers are empowered by embracing women’s studies, rejecting patriarchy and claiming a politically correct kind of wildness.    That’s cute when you are 21, but not so cute at 31.  As you get older you have to be able to claim who you are, rather than just who you are not.

I remember a workshop in Amherst (Northampton) where people claimed to be men while rejecting manhood in general as a sexist construction.  I imagined what happened if I claimed woman while rejecting womanhood, separating from feminists; I’d be beaten up badly.

Not that this is limited to transpeople assigned as female at birth or shortly therafter.  Crossdressers and drag queens claim womanhood when they are merely rejecting manhood, too.  I often ask transpeople born male what women they admire, who they model bits of themselves after, and find that they have no idea, that their expression of woman has no deeper context in the world of women than what they saw and liked in a catalogue or TV show.

I’m much more interested in people who take on trans as creating identity & expression rather than just rejecting it,  more interested in anyone creating honest & potent expression, which is why I suspect that I too would prefer the writing workshop to the trans one.

Different But The Same

In the long run, “It’s different, but the same,” is the most we as humans can aspire to.

When we finally get there, we get both the fundamental sameness of the human condition and the essential differences between each individual human.  We understand that our uniqueness just highlights our similarity, and that distinctive narratives always contain fundamental human truths.

TantraGal is going through family drama now, drama in which she feels reduced to the hurting little girl whose job was to hold family secrets, seeing the sickness and being the buffer.  That’s how we become the target patient in a family, the one who ends up riding the pain.  On one hand she has broken through that, found a way to help others with her strong mind and strong hands, but on the other hand she still hurts when people act out their own denial on her.

When she thinks, though, looking at the stories of her clients, she sees the commonality, the same threads in every story.  Worse, she also sees the resistance to change so many hold, claiming they want to go to heaven but afraid of dying, clinging to old patterns and sicknesses while going through the routines of asking for healing.

People heal in their own time and their own way, which is the most painful thing for those of us who love them, for those of us who need love from them.

But in the end, as unique and individual as every human story is, flavored with special essence, it is all the same story.  There is only one human nature and we all share it.

Speaking our own personal truth, when we get down to fundamentals, is speaking the language of what we share and can’t simplify down to an equation.  Life is love and love is life, all incomprehensible, all ringing perfectly true.

May you be granted capable and amusing comrades,
observant witnesses, and gentle homecomings.

May you be granted respite from what you know of human evil,
and refuge from what you must know of human pain.

May God defend the goodness in your hearts.

May God defend the sweetness in your souls.

Kate Braestrup, Prayer for Law Enforcement Officers,
from Here If You Need Me: A True Story

Somehow, for example, I see the commonality between those wishes and the wishes of anyone who has to face darkness.

I spent last night working to tell my parents that a friend of theirs passed away.  Hard work, but it needed to be done.  Just another part of the human story.

It’s different, but the same.

It’s human.

Like me.  And you.