Rationalizing Love

Allyson Robinson has a post with notes from a presentation by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott about the seven reasons why “congregations should embrace the trans community.”

Frankly, the whole thing just creeps me out.

Why the hell do we have to justify our inclusion in congegations?  What other humans have to do that?

Why do we ask for them to embrace our “community,”  whatever that is?  Shouldn’t they just embrace transpeople as people, and not as members of some projected identity group?

I’m not going to argue that Ms. Mollenkott has detailed some of the gifts that transpeople can bring to a congregation.   We do offer a view beyond boundaries of expectations, a statement of common humanity and all that.

But more than that, we offer a chance for people of faith to open their hearts to a calling in others that is stigmatized and shunned.  We offer a chance to for congregations to open themselves up and defend the faith by being love, rather than defending the faithful by offering rules of separation and comfort.

At root, though, I guess I balk at casting transpeople as shibboleth, tokens that allow others to see lessons of faith or doubt.

In my experience, every transperson I have ever met has been a human, beautiful and wounded, eternal and bloody.  Each one of us offers our own set of gifts and challenges to any community that we enter. Not all of us come as spiritual mentors, and even if we do come as that, well, we also come as hurting humans.

There are things to be learned from engaging transgender, but they are basically the same things to be learned by engaging any trans, engaging any liminal space where people walk between group identities and reveal a fundamental humanity in the light of essential difference.   In the end, the ultimate lesson is always that our greatest power comes where we cross worlds, whatever that means, because it is in the connection and fusion of what some may see as separate that we bring the spark of the divine.

I value the idea that transpeople have gifts to offer, and that many have seen those gifts over time and cultures.   Those gifts come from removing expectations of separation and embracing commonality, no doubt.

To me, religious groups should embrace all their members.  They should help each and every one of their members make better and more inspired choices, choices that more reflect divine and universal love and less reflect immediate self-interest.

And that’s why, I guess, the idea having to justify our presence in communities of faith just creeps me out.

Meta

I took one of those web quizzes that measures vocabulary, and it found that I had an exemplary knowledge of word meanings.

Then I saw one blogger with a banner saying her blog was at college level, so I tested this blog. It says that this is a junior high school reading level.

I use big words and get a junior high school reading level. I’m proud of that. I don’t want my writing to be dense and impenetrable, I want it to breeze along, carrying the reader with it, starting someplace and ending up where they didn’t expect to go.

I remember one partner who wanted text, so I offered a speech I wrote and never gave. She looked at the length of it and wanted to pass, but then she read it, and realized that it might be long, but it was written for speech, written with breath in it, and carried you along. She posted it.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t baffle. Wendy Parker told me that she used to be given the one page essays I wrote for Asheville’s Gender Quest and the TGIC Transgenderist and told they were great, yet on her first reading they baffled her. Since Sandra liked them, though, she re-read them and and on second reading she found the pieces to be crystal clear and obviously correct. It took her knowing where she was going to engage the journey, took a second time down the trail to let her take in the trip.

Reading something again at a later time is often informative for me, because as Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  We change and so does what we see in anything, including writing we thought we knew.  Besides, rereading often reminds me I have already found words for what I want to say, including what I was thinking just this morning.   Writing leaves our past present, the better to find patterns and holes in it.

Vickie notes on her blog that at least one of her friends refuses to read my blog because it is “too negative.” I remember in business being told that I wasn’t enough of a cheerleader, not always positive and rah-rah, and that was a problem. Yet I remember another time when a staffer was leaving and she thanked me for being so honest. She always knew I was telling the truth, good or bad, and she valued that.

The truth of a transgender life ain’t always pretty. Heck, the truth of any life ain’t always pretty. I just really believe that we have to engage where the pain is before we can really get past it, and that slapping pretty pink paint on everything just mucks up the works, leaving more cheery expectations to disappoint. Gotta clear out the dead wood before we can rebuild with strength and grace, or at least that has been my experience.

And the lovely Sarah has asked me what I would like to write if I could write anything I wanted. The answer, like me, is transitive rather than objective. I don’t want to create a specific object, rather I want to create a specific process.

I would like to write words that pierce people’s hearts, opening them up to learning and growth. I want to touch their emotions in a way that ends up stimulating their brain, want to break through their defenses in a way that opens them to connection, want to lace feelings, ideas and possibilities together in a way that allows them to take another step towards integrating themselves and their lives.

Vickie uses a quote of mine in her sig: If you are not working to integrate your life, you are working to disintegrate it.

My challenge, as I have said so many times before, is to return the gifts of my journeys to this world. This is the hardest part of the hero’s journey, as Campbell reminds us, because if this world wanted the gift they would already have it.

In today’s culture, the way to distribute anything is to package it slickly, marketing it to meet a small niche, and after you have small success to expand, extend and broaden the brand. I need to believe that even when oversimplified my truth will come through, and that once there is an audience for that simplified version, there will come a demand for more and deeper exploration.

Of course, to do that I have to get lots of other people to invest in my work and my words. Publishers and agents, producers and promoters all want to support something that offers returns to them; they have to eat and to grow too. It means changing my art into something I own into a product that we all have a piece of, giving it away, cutting it up and trusting that it will take on a healthy and powerful life of its own.

The challenge for me is becoming product, and that requires trusting my audience, my investors, my world and most of all myself, trusting that I can stay whole, integral, and integrated when I open myself up, stand in the spotlight in a red dress and smile.

TBB was thinking about her movie premiere and imagining what she would talk with Jay Leno about on The Tonight Show. Jay’s uncle ran a restaurant in New Rochelle, and they both love big block Chryslers.

I thought about the amazing LolaCola and her experience after Southern Comfort was released. She partied from Sundance to Berlin, but her life has been quiet since.

I told TBB I didn’t think that would be a problem for her because, well she has some pig genes that would help. TBB is a ham, and once they put the spotlight on her, well, she won’t let go.

It’s my own pig genes I have to trust, the ones I share with megastars like Kiki DuRane. I need to perform, to be a bit of a ham, a little “tooooo intense,” as Kiki would say. I need to trust my voice not only in the quiet of a lonely life but also in the cacophony of the market.

This is my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.

I remember singing that at full blast as the little speedboat roared across Mirror Lake. Such a Streisand parade moment, Jerry Herman and all.

Oh, my. Now I’m worrying that I don’t have a big finish to go here.

I guess that’s why it’s meta.

No Gasp

One of the best things about sharing with grown up trannies is that they know when to gasp.

“Gasp! He really said you were in drag?”

“Gasp! You really haven’t shaved in a month?”

“Gasp!  He bought you a drink?”

My secret need is for other people to know what is a big deal to me, even if lots of people wouldn’t find it a big deal.  Doesn’t matter if it’s big good or big bad, just that it is something remarkable in my tranny life.

I live in a world where few people understand the challenges of a transwoman life enough to know when to gasp, when to offer empathy and understanding for what they know to be a bump.

I do work hard to affirm the blessings of others and to be there when they have bumps, but to gasp at my bumps you have to believe that they are important and challenging, not just something that was nothing in the first place.

But I say things and I get no gasp. Just a “So?” or maybe not even that.

And it makes me feel even more alone.

Another Chance To Be Normal

Got my first speeding ticket ever today.  48 in a 30 mph zone.  Going to my sisters to drop off size 20 shoes for her clown boyfriend.  (No, literally, he is a clown.  A balloon clown.)

I’m upset, but what I realize is that it is one more chance to be normal.  Not to be freaked out, but to handle it like a normal person, taking the hit and moving on.

That’s not easy for me with my deep and abiding fear of authority.  The only way I can do it is to come from power and not sickness.  Yet, I know people will see me as failed, not just as another blip in a life.

I was in invisible mode, so no issues there.  (It was on the same road as the accident in 99)

But I still need to take power, and not the power of invisibility, with this new chance to be normal.

Hard.

Pushing, Pushing

My parents — well, especially my mother — are concerned about my financial future.

I get that.  I get their concern.  It’s good and sweet and appropriate.

The problem is when they try to posit solutions.  Their solutions have no relationship to the real challenges, me swallowing my own power, but rather are based in me being sick in some way.

“Being sick of sickness is not sick,” as Ms. Rachelle so often tells me.  I got to affirm TBB yesterday morning.  The new documentary featuring her comes out June 21, and they are flying her to LA for the premiere. She has seen the film, and sees why people saw her as the tranny in Trinidad who was comfortable in her own skin.

I really think her long term success is based around her being TBB in the world, with that positive energy which can brighten a room and touch hearts.  And I suspect that my long term success is based around being Callan in the world, who can enlighten a room and touch hearts.

My father “knows it is hard,” for me to do what he considers the right and simple thing, but, of course, that is because he sees me as a failure, because he has no idea where I shine or excel.

You cannot erase darkness in the world.  You just can’t.  The best you can do is bring in some light that opens up a bit of darkness for a while.  That’s why trying to help erase sickness will never work; you end up pouring energy down the well of sickness.  You can only foster healing, take the places of strength, goodness & power and make them a little stronger, a little more robust & enduring, a little more present until they create your own light.

My father says that my sister has tried to help me.  Well, that’s true, but the record of her help has never been about engaging the emotional blocks I have constructed to stay small and weak.  Rather, her help has been pushing, pushing the sickness out.  After all, the emotional blocks she has constructed are still the foundation of how she survives in a harsh, commercial world.

In my father’s eyes, though, it’s my fault that I haven’t engaged the “help” my sister has offered.  It doesn’t matter how much she has shown herself to be unsafe with me because she doesn’t need her buttons pushed, doesn’t want to get between me and my parents, how much her need to protect her own sanity and functioning denies her the option to engage me in a positive and empowering way.  I may need to crank up the volume, but she needs to stay stable, and that creates a bit of an impasse.

My fault, though.  It’s unreasonable to expect people to engage, understand and affirm my power, at least in my fathers’ eyes.  I just have to toughen up and get it done.  The notion that my toughness just tightens and cripples me?  How can someone denying his own feelings, his own pain, waddling with a shot hip, ever get that?

I get their concern and love.  I also get their denial and rejection.

And somehow, those are canceling forces.

No Party, Sick

I really wanted to go to the last transparty of the spring tonight. Linda did a good job in hooking up with a lesbian dj, and she promised she would be able to get the upscale lesbians who won’t be caught dead at the local blue-collar bar to this venue. Plus, I could see some pals and it would be good.

Well, it would be good all except for the whole trajectory thing, blasting out of this lethargic house hold, the work of becoming visible and relaxed, then having to be stopped like a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier, hitting the arresting wire so hard I become ruminant and invisible in a moment.

Then, this afternoon, I had that thing in my throat and I knew I was getting sick. It’s rare, but it is real, the tough swallowing and lymph node aches, some kind of infection starting to lay me low with my inner fight. No go, no show, oh no.

My parents haven’t noticed, of course. Not much compassion there.

My father, well, he is just so literal. The valve bracket on the grill rusted out and I had to repair it. I figured out how to do it, but eventually needed a hand, so I asked him.

Of course, that means that we have to do it his way. He has never understood other people’s plans, and when asked for help, the only way possible is for him to understand it and do it his way. I eventually had to reset everything for him, lots of work, just so he could get access and use a hammer, something I was trying to avoid. But he was happy he solved it, not thinking of what I did.

I had already secured the valves by the time I needed him to get the burner feed tubes over the venturis. I told him “I pinned this here.”

“That’s not a pin,” he said. “That’s a screw.”

Yup. I didn’t describe the type of fastener I used, rather I described what action I took. I described it in a transitive way — “I pinned it (with a screw)” — while he heard in an objective way — “That’s a screw, not a pin.”

I don’t know anyway to describe transgender by describing objects rather than actions.  As I have said many times, trans is about engaging the poetry of our lives, not about just changing the plumbing.

As for my mother, well, her response was simple. “I don’t want to hear about it!” she said. “Don’t involve me in any differences or conflict!”

I have, for some reason, been thinking about this show that A&E had the brits produce for them, where they had two males and two females change gender. They didn’t want trannys, and they didn’t want performers, they wanted real people experiencing gender shift.

Problem was that they had trans-type people help the transition rather than normatively gendered folks. They all would mope around the house as birth gender and then have to go out as cross gender. There was no sense of immersion, so no assimilation, no mom to have daily expectations of her “girls,” no dad to enforce expectations of his “boys.”

Needless to say it was a bomb. The closest they got was making trannys, and that was just odd, far far away from the sweeping cross-gender experiment that they promised.

It is, in the end, affirming (or rejecting) the choices that someone makes that changes their behavior. These people in the “experiment” weren’t getting affirmed for making women choices all day long, from dressed right to proper breakfasts to what they loved to everything else, rather they were being affirmed and cajoled for performance.

As transpeople, that’s usual to us. We aren’t kids when we start to emerge, even if it happens in our late teens or twenties, and that means we don’t get the kind of parental style affirmation of our gendered choices. And we are always told to be suspect about choices, because we don’t want to be called out as a liar.

While thinking about the voice lessons, I imagined that one of the sessions was sitting in an observation room watching a focus group panel through a one way mirror. This group would watch videos of us and be very positive, saying how attractive we were, being surprised when we were identified as trans, saying that we should be more feminine and play up our natural beauty, wear more pretty clothes and such.

Now, of course, that group would have to be actors. No real group would want to be so affirmative, rather they would probably think their job was to find fault that could be fixed.

But we are so good at finding fault, so good at having fault found in us, that we don’t need to do that. Rather we need to be able to trust that the womanly choices we make are being read as the choices of a woman, so we can be affirmed in making more of those womanly choices, making more bold choices, making choices that trust our womanhood rather than choices that keep us defended.

The choice I made tonight is not to try to go ballistic, shooting off after dinner and coming down before breakfast, aiming at a star or two before going splat and eating more mud. I chose that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the illness my strangled throat informs me about.

But it’s not a choice that feels affirming, even if it is one that feels affirmed.

My eyes are scratchy though.

Time to sleep.

Voice Lessons

The gent at the local college who is doing speech therapy for transwomen has asked to get together sometime. It seems, after his first course of sessions with a group, that he is beginning to see value in training transwomen to blend as women rather than trying to teach them to pass as female.

This is something I talked about at their meeting, the notion that trying to pass sets up a number of barriers, from having to constantly edit your history & experience to eliminate references that mark you as having been identified as a boy or man, to the feeling of failure as a transsexual if you are clocked as being born male or worse, if you are read out.

I have been thinking about what I would want to say to him, so I will, as is my wont on this blog, scratch it out here so I know what I think about this, so I can rehearse and consider my thoughts.

In my experience, the only way you can be seen as a woman in the world is to actually be a woman. You don’t have to be female to be a woman; many women have flaws to their femaleness. You can even be an immigrant to woman, have it not be your native language. But you can’t not want to be a woman, with all the challenges and benefits, can’t not want to identify as a woman, can’t refuse to engage and assimilate with other women and still be a woman.

For women born female raised as women, being a woman is mostly an unconscious thing. They just follow along. But conscious training in womanhood is far from just a trans thing; upper class women have been sent to finishing schools to polish their womanliness for centuries now. And every woman who is conscious of her deportment is conscious of womanhood as a performance, one that needs to eventually become seamless, a merging of the conscious & constructed with the essential & evanescent that eventually just is you.

Kate Bornstein said that “I was man. I was not man. I was woman. I am not woman.” To me, you can’t be “not man” unless you have been man, can’t be “not woman” unless you have been woman. This use of “not ” is different from the absence of an identity, rather it means the transcendence of it.

I often ask transwomen about their relationship to womanhood in an oblique way. I start by just asking “What women do you admire?” and if they don’t have a thoughtful answer (and often they have no answer at all) then I know they haven’t even started the work required to assimilate as a woman. Gender is a system of communication, and our own gender expression is always a collage, a melding of bits and bobs we have seen others use and then fused together to create our own unique expression. If you don’t watch other women carefully, don’t listen to and engage their expression, then you have no vocabulary to construct your own expression as a woman.

Note that I am not saying that every transperson born male needs to identify as a woman; being androgynous or gender queer or crossdresser or drag queen is fine. But for those in your sessions, who have self-identified as wanting to be more woman in the world, well, they do have that need.

One of the key problems for transwomen is that there are virtually no models of what a grown-up transwoman looks like. You talk of seeing a transwoman on C-SPAN, a business woman and leader, whose voice you found strangulated, tense and disquieting. The ultimate surgery for transpeople is pulling the stick out of our own ass (and if you think that sounds painful, imagine the pain of leaving it in.) This is my term for releasing the tension of trying to control our image, staying small and overly regulated, trying to fit in as what we think is expected of women. It is my term for removing the strictures of passing and and trusting we can be seen as beautiful, something very hard for someone not raised as a girl, never being venerated as pretty.

We may have to “fake it until we make it” but the very real fear that we can never make it, that we can be denounced in any moment as being “really a man” often leaves us tense, constrained and strangulated, and that very tension disquiets people and leave us farther from our goal of authentic and fluid expression.

Because there are virtually no compelling models of what a grown-up, powerful, sexy and attractive transwoman looks like, our old dreams of being just a woman, just a beautiful female woman stays vibrant and potent. We don’t want to be a tranny, we want to be a woman, and want to be female, and that means we avoid expressions of transness, in others and in ourselves.

Every woman, though, has to learn to stand naked in front of a full length mirror and say the bloody serenity prayer. “God grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I don’t know which one of those three requests is harder. Change requires letting the old, familiar and comfortable die, walking away from expectations, getting naked and learning to be new. Serenity requires accepting things we have been taught to hate about ourselves, from a body that denies us being seen as our heart knows we are, to a history that isn’t nearly as pretty as we are. And wisdom requires facing down our own rationalizations, beliefs and stories to get to a more core truth, requires busting through defenses to see and be seen more clearly.

They are all insanely hard for anyone, but for people who have gone through the abusive stigma and separation of being identified as trans, having others try to pound us into normativity “for our own good,” well, the scars, the twists and the pain are very real.

To get to good communication is to get clear. And to get clear as a transwomen in a world where transpeople are still stigmatized, still seen as liars, is far from simple. We need our defenses, and getting to the sixth one — calm — takes almost superhuman ability, requiring us to not be swept into the world of those around us and stay centered.

You noted that I saw voice more as a metaphor than as a physical process. That is correct. And helping transwomen find their voice is something I see as a high calling.

I’m glad you seem to be seeing that takes more than just changing the pitch, timber and inflections we create. It takes owning our own voice in a world where we have been pounded into denying and hiding it.

And that’s both transcendently powerful and terribly hard.