And, So, This Is Christmas

And so, this Christmas I join the millions of other people around this country who have been defrauded by people who want to sell out their honesty and integrity to make a quick buck.

This seems to be the theme of Christmas 2008, from the Bush Mortgage meltdown to the Madoff scandal.

I have lost much less than many, at least in dollar terms.

But while for the perpetrators of these schemes it is about dollars, for those who were defrauded it is about some deeper loss.  Some loss of trust and of hope, some loss of dreams and of faith.

It certainly feels dark and cold where I am.

I need the light and warmth that TBB offers.

But I also need the light and warmth that lies trapped inside me.

My mother has made this defrauding about her, another of her failures that prove life sucks and you can’t die fast enough.

I need joy and exuberance, the intensity that the birth of a new baby full of possibility and the power of redemption can bring.

Anyone seen that stuff around?

That’s Life

“That’s life,” my mother tells me, just after I found my “new” Volvo is a complete rip, the warning lights deliberately punched out to deliberately deceive a hopeful buyer.

The mechanic doesn’t want to work on it, as he can’t stand behind the car.   He worries the engine is a cesspool, down to the transmission dipstick stuck in place.

In short, lost car, lost time, lost money and most of all lost hope.

And my mother says “That’s life,” meaning you just get screwed.

And my fear is that she is correct.

If she is, well, who wants to play.

Strengths

So, twenty years ago when I was hiring staff, my basic criteria was simple.   I wanted to know what people were good at, know where they had been successful.   It was my assumption that if they knew how to succeed, they could learn to do it in a new place.

And when I looked at their weaknesses, I almost always found that they were just the flip side of their successes.  Great beancounters got too picky, great salespeople got too talky, great programmers were often not well socialized and so on.  How could I blame them for having both the good and bad parts of a gift?

It was the mediocre that I tended to avoid, the people who weren’t bad at anything but weren’t really good at anything, either.

It has long been my position that one of the key challenges of transpeople is that we are told that our strengths, crossing worlds and seeing past walls, are weaknesses.  We are told that we need to conform, not to follow our hearts, and that means we are always fighting ourselves.

Today Oprah had a repeat of an April show with Marcus Buckingham.  He is a trainer who believes that focusing on weakness makes us weak and crippled, that focusing on our strengths is the key to success.

He asked about a child who came home with one A grade, two C grades and an F grade.  Which is the most important grade, the one that needs the most attention?

Buckingham says that 70% of Americans want to attend to the failure, but that the key is focusing on the A, the excellence.  When we feel good and confident and capable and in our own strengths, we can easily pull up the average.

If you want to know what your strength is, you’ve got to pay attention to how you feel.

It feels like focus.

It feels like concentration.

You feel invigorated.

Energized.

Marcus Buckingham

He is right, of course.  He speaks a classic wisdom.

If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
Jesus Christ (Gnostic Gospel Of Thomas, Saying 70)
What got you here will get you out of here.
Joe Garagiola

How do we believe that what invigorates and energizes us, what gives us focus and concentration, is what will save us?

How do we face the people who want to revel in our failures and stay in our strengths?

Wear A Dress And Be Happy

TBB was happy tonight, well, at least happier than I am after spending 30 hours without power and heat after a nasty ice storm.  Pretty, though, big full moon and all.

There is a couple on the ship, and TBB has been affirming to them.   That’s TBB’s style; empowerment and encouragement, which apparently isn’t very common, at least on the ship.

Last night they invited her out, seeing the new apartment.  The gal’s sister thought TBB is a hoot, fast and funny, another vote for TBB to do professional comedy with “incredible timing.”

And TBB was happy.

It’s great to be on the ship, doing engineering things.  Heck, whistling while she repaired the head got her a chance to work with the Detroit Diesel guys and learn to tune the engines.  Great fun.

That’s the part of being in the moment, selfless and absorbed.  Being happy.

But somehow, that seems to be limited in the “wearing a dress” part. She isn’t really TBB when rebuilding a diesel, even if a bit leaks through.

But last night, she got to both be TBB and be in the moment.  To both wear a dress (or in her case, dress slacks) and be happy

We both know lots of trannys who have to make a choice between being themselves and being in the moment, between wearing a dress and being happy.  For transwomen, too often we have to make that choice: do we stay defended and express ourselves, or do we be open and submerge ourselves?

I know what my choice has always been.  I’d rather be in the moment than wear a dress.

But that’s not what I really want.  I don’t want to have to make that false choice.

I want to both be in the moment and be myself.

I want to both wear a dress and be happy.

Is that too much to ask?

Secret V

You can enter a car by the stretch method, putting your foot in first so one foot is on the ground and one foot is in the car, and shifting your weight until you are over the seat, then sitting down.

But a lady knows that the elegant way to enter a car is to sit and swivel, leaving both feet on the ground, with your back to the car, then sitting down and swinging  both legs into the car.

This allows you to keep your knees together — appropriate — and makes entry easier even in a tight pencil skirt.

I’ve never really had a car that I could do the sit and swivel with.  I’m big, and the combination of the car height with smooth upholstery, well, not really.

But this 1999 Volvo V70?   Leather seats (at least the part you sit on), a big door and low to the ground.  Possible.

When I was a teen, I wanted a Volvo wagon.  I read that Jann Wenner bought one for all the writers at Rolling Stone and imagined Hunter Thompson in his.  I would watch them all around Boston, solid and hip.  I even remember seeing them at Sondre Stromfijord, but since Greenland is owned by Denmark, Swedish cars made sense there.

I have gone through car periods in my life.  I started with hand-me-downs, a 1964 Chevelle with the little 184 truck engine, which I smashed, though I loved it and then a big Plymouth Satellite with a 318 that my parents had me replace the torqueflite in myself to teach me to be a man.

Then it was Toyotas, metric wrenches required, and between my brother and I we went through three or four of them.

After that, it was Dodge Darts with that slant 6 engine, including a tomato red one with black vinyl top.

I did drive Gini’s old Pontiac LeMans for a while, but then it was Subarus, with a vengance.  My first one came from a bank auction, but I found a Subaru trained mechanic who started his own business.

Once I went with the car, and he said “$750.”

“$750 to fix this car?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.  “$750 to buy my wife’s car.”

I bought it.  Sadly, he was called Lucky for the same reason the guy in the Three Stooges was called Curly, and his venture into snowmobile sales wasn’t really successful, so he dissapeared.

I left my last Subaru frozen on the side of the road in Gloversville, and then it was Ford Taurus.  “Like driving down the street on your living room couch,” said Miz Ruby.

It was three of them, and I was really happy with the last one, bought clean from a car proud guy until a farmer pulled out in front of me. The car was totaled and it took six months for his insurance company to pay off half the value.

From then to now, it’s been hand-me-downs; a Plymoth Caravan my brother bought, my mother’s lilac Intrepid, my sister’s Subaru Outback with the replaced (and leaky) head gasket.

I couldn’t really just get in a car and drive.  The Subaru flaked last time they went away, oil light on, and that’s almost a year of fear and staying small.  I drove it to my sister’s this week with failed brakes; if Subaru didn’t have an emergency brake between the seats it would have been impossible.

But now there is a sliver V70 in the driveway that needs $600 worth of work on the power steering.  That’s scheduled for next Friday.

And I resist taking ownership.

You see, I know that car has black upholstery to match my tights.

It’s not a guy junker.

It’s a woman’s car.

And it’s my car.   The car I knew I would have as a kid.

That makes my stomach twitter.

It’s been hard to be around my parents and the car.  My father wouldn’t go out and see it until my sister was here, three days after we picked it up.

I stay quiet and stressed.  I don’t want the butterflies to do away; I want the magic of the car to stay, the magic that started when I got it against their pushing that I go to a dealer, that I not just trust but rather that I follow convention.

That V70 is my secret V.

And I can’t even imagine where it will take me.

Authenticity

A response to a list post from a transwoman whose year of euphoria at being out (as Joan Roughgarden calls it) just ended with a health challenge and the realization she is cut off from family and old connections.

For me, the challenge isn’t figuring out what box I fit into, man or woman, but rather how to live my life with authenticity.

For years I hated that the only way out seemed to be to lie.  I could either pretend to be the man that people assumed was connected with my male body and lie about who I knew myself to be, or I could be the woman that I understood myself to be and be called a liar by the people who claimed that woman meant female bodied.

It was understanding the traditions of other cultures where spirit was valued over flesh, and those who crossed lines were seen as gifted, walking between worlds, shamans, that helped me understand.

It is almost impossible to be a woman if you have never been a girl.  And being a girl always means being one of the girls, with a community of other girls, the social pressures that a girl is exposed to, and the expectations from men and women.  The experience of girlhood is the foundation of womanhood, and anything built without a solid foundation will always be shifting and fragile.

For me, getting past the years of performing as a man meant immersion in the world of women.  Chick flicks, Oprah, women’s spaces on-line, all that and more.  I had to get naked again, washing away the assumptions that attempting manhood had taught me, and letting some other way permeate my performance of self.

That takes many years, at least in my experience.  And it is hard.  I know many transwomen who wear their modified skin as armor, staying defended, and not assimilating.  That seems to mean they push off womanhood.  You know the final tranny surgery?  It’s when you pull the stick out of your own ass and let yourself start to flow.

I’m happy that other women now hear me as speaking “woman.”  Now, they may well know that I am an immigrant to woman, learning the language later in life, and not a native speaker, but as long as I am fluent in the cultures, conventions and assumptions, we can get past most things.

My status as an immigrant is important to me, too.  It means I can speak for change, to help younger transpeople, yes, but it also means I have the power of crossing worlds, a power valued in so many cultures in human history.

It’s easy for me to feel the sadness for how much of my life and energy was wasted dealing with stigma, keeping my light under a bushel, but I also know that in the long run, the only choices I have left are in my present and my future, and that’s where I have to spend the rest of my life.

I hope that your health challenges are just a small bump in the road of your life.

May you find your own authenticity beyond one box or another, finding your own expression and shining in the world.

In the end, that is what everyone on any spiritual journey is called to do.

– – – – – – – –

When you first come out as a transgendered person,
you spend your first year in absolute euphoria.
Then reality sets in, and you have to make a life and deal with the stigma.
Joan Roughgarden, NY Times Magazine, 9 May 2004

Be Leaf

OK, bought a “new” car, a 10 year old Volvo V70 with a busted odometer display, suspicious power steering and weak A/C  for $1800.  But it’s clean and nice, quality and new tyres, all that and looks good on me, more than the hand-me-down cars I have been driving for the last decade have, the Caravan, the Intrepid, the Outback.

Now, why did I start with the bad stuff, and only then go to the good?

Training, I guess.

There has been a lot of pressure on me to shop and buy, but this transaction fell into place easily, though with waiting.  CraigsList, a car that was posted and went away, waiting, first person to see it, an owner who screwed up the power steering by overfilling, and a $500 drop in asking price.  I made the sale simple, he said to me, and I got an apparently nice car (surprises are always possible) for a good price.

I knew that I had to believe things would fall into place, that there would be a harmony and an unfolding, that trusting the universe would be crucial.  I had to do my part — and yes, there was waiting and calling and driving and such — but the universe had to do its part, too.  There is no way I could have prepared myself for what specifically happened, but by having general rehearsal and preparation, I could fix the power steering problem with paper towels and a plastic bag.

It wasn’t about grunting it out, but it was about trusting the process.

This is a very hard place for me to stay, especially around my family.   The tradtion here is to grind, not to trust, to tighten up rather than to go with the flow.   And “help” for me is seen as assisting me in getting more tensioned up, not in assisting me relax and trust.

Personally, I have come to the end of where getting tight is a useful approach.  I am as tight as the parking spot my father chose last night, and it’s not doing squat for me, now, is it?  My body is racked and wracked, my life decaying rather than growing.

But how do I explain to people who approach the world as a struggle that I need to relax?   How do I get them express belief in me, belief in my creator, belief in the possibilities of our world?

To believe, of course, I need to trust that what I know to be true is true, and act on that belief.  (And to not be a fundamentalist, I have to allow that knowlege tested and adjusted as I grow, rather than clinging to beliefs even when the world does not affirm them.)

Marianne Williamson has said that her breakthrough with ACIM was when she accepted the message to relax, that every moment holds miracles if we open to them, and that sometimes a wrong choice can be more valuable than a calculated and forced “right” choice.   Dropping the tension to engage the moment offered much more than struggling to achieve something “perfect” or straining to figure out and do what others think we should do.

I know that to engage my power as a femme, I need to be able to flow.

Is life a dance, or is it a tussle?

I know which of those paths does not work for me.

AssImIlation

“I met someone who is the complete antithesis of you,” TBB told me on while leaving Thanksgiving Home.

“They just want to be normal.  Normal, normal, normal,” she continued.  “And they spent the evening ragging on people who they think don’t come up to standards, including one transwoman who they were calling by their given name.”

“Rude,”  I replied.  “Do not do unto others what would be hateful to you.  It seems they missed the golden rule.”

One of the things I hate about “the interlocking communities around transgender” is how much it is our adolescents who become the face of trans.  By definition, adolescent behavior is not mature behavior, maturity doesn’t need to belittle others to make itself feel bigger.

Gwyneth asks about the expression of womanhood.   I do, absolutely do, believe that expression and maturity go hand in hand.  We have to express who we are to own it, have to express who we are to knock off the edges of our own imaginings and find our own truth.

One of the biggest challenges that other people have with me is that I believe that expression contains meaning.  It may not be the meaning we thought that we were choosing to express, not the meaning that matches our rationalizations, but there is meaning there.

Many people have trouble with the idea that even our lies have meaning because they want to believe that the communicate only out of expediency, only to manipulate others so they can achieve a goal, and not because they are expressing their own beliefs, understandings and desires.

They don’t want me to take their words and choices to have meaning, rather they want me to respond to their words as programming to get me to do their bidding.  It’s a real pain in the ass when I analyze their symbols for meaning about them rather than just accept their will.

We lie to tell the truth, act “as-if,”  express our possibilities until they become us.  That is the process of becoming; we never are what we intend to be, but what we intend to be reveals us, and the process of working to substantiate those claims shapes us into who we become.

The difference between that tranny working to be “normal” and TBB is that TBB isn’t working to claim, rather she is working to become.   TBB isn’t just claiming normal, she is working the path of assimilation: How can she be one of the crowd while also being herself?

My knowledge of myself is in my knowledge of my changing choices.  If I had one thing to say to my younger self it would be this: Trust the truths inside of you, and trust that if you are open and responsive as you express those truths, you will find a place of authenticity.

I was terrified of my truths, so I chose against them rather than with them.   I fought them at every turn, trying to make the choices of a man, and working against my nature sabotaged and destroyed me.

My big breakthrough was when I finally owned my womanhood enough that other women heard me as speaking woman.  Crossdressers didn’t hear it, because they were pretending to speak woman as the Muppet’s Swedish Chef pretends to speak Swedish, and they assumed I was doing the same.  But when Shelia Kirk’s born female partner sat through a meeting with me and Melissa Sherill Lynn and told me “I love that you can say ‘fuck you’ in so many nice ways!” I knew I was onto it.

That continues.  When Jendi Rieter hears echoes of her own struggle in me, surprised to hear it from someone born male, or when someone who knows me as a woman sees me in boy clothes and gets how ill fitting the outfit is, I know that I have reached some kind of assimilation, some kind of truth.

I want to tell my truth, and I have worked hard to find it.  And the post Gwyneth commented on was about how hard it is when other people’s assumptions erase my truth.  Yes, as a woman, clothes are important to me, important as expression.  I have looked at one dress five times in the last few weeks, a rayon/spandex knee length black dress from J. Jill that is still $30 in my local outlet.  That dress calls to me, flowing, well cut and clerical.    I wait for the markdown because I know that even if I buy it now I have no place to wear it, no audience who will see it and understand my choice, understand how my choice of that dress fits into the other choices I make in expressing who I am.

This is a key challenge of being invisible to my self-absorbed parents; I feel destroyed.

I have no doubt that womanhood is discovered in the expression of womanhood and the reponse to reactions to one’s own expression.  Girls learn to be women by trying womanly things and getting feedback to shape and hone those expressions.   I call that process assimilation.

For many transwomen, though, I find that expression gets in the way of reactions.  The clothes become like armor, and we bull our way through any negative reaction, rather than being open and vulnerable enough to engage, respond and change.   That is the trap I did not want to fall into.

You can’t be a woman unless you can express yourself as a woman and have that expression affirmed by other women.  Women own womanhood.    It is a real challenge to walk between the fundamentalist women who reject anyone born male as not woman and the women who are willing to judge others on what they express, but that is the path that leads to connection for me.

I have seen transwomen who are not responsive to other women, who hold their own manly choices behind their expression, and, frankly, I don’t find that pretty.  The worst way to express gender is to tell someone who we are.  The best way is to show people who we are, and we can only do that when we have some mastery of our own expression, mastery that comes with making expressions getting feedback and then reshaping those expressions.

My womanhood is in my choices, not my assertions.  And when other women experience those choices in a way that resonates with their own experience of being a woman, well, that’s good, at least to me.

The experience of being human is prose and is prosaic; we all have the same needs.  The experience of living in gender is poetry and poetic; we have our own approach to things.  I remember a femme friend who had a special denim maxi skirt for working under the car; all the better to wipe greasy tools.  It wasn’t repairing cars that marked her as femme, it was the way she approached those repairs.

There is no doubt that for me, writing is my primary form of expression.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have mastery of dressing myself, or that I don’t love the symbols of dressing as much as I love language.  I agree with that Kentucky woman on “Throwdown With Bobby Flay” that “Any day you get to wear false eyelashes is a good day!”

It’s just that I, like many other women, have limitations that hinder me from that kind of broad expression.  The other women might be physically disabled, may be of size, may have limited means, may be in tough situations, or whatever, but our challenges are similar.  A farm wife may spend most of her life in boots and overalls, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a woman.  She needs to have some mastery of expression with dress, sure, but not the same level of mastery that a Manhattan socialite needs.

I believe in gender as a system of communication, but then, as I said, I believe in humanity as a system of communication.   We are always telling who we are, even as we may think we are trying to hide it.   The one thing I want to people to know about transpeople is that we are working to tell the truth about ourselves, however twisted that seems.

It’s just when we come to an understanding of ourselves as like others, as sharing with others, and they see themselves in us that we begin to have a grouped identity.

The primary duality is between being tame enough to be a member of the group and wild enough to be our own unique person.  That is the challenge every human has.

Where does womanhood inhere?

In here.