if that wasn’t working…

Some list posts, based on this news:

The cost of the binary — you are either one or the other — is so high.

So many people want to use that binary to negate who we are: “You are really what I say you are!”

And we pay the price.

This death makes me sad.

Blessings to Christine/Mike and all who loved them.

And then, to someone who implied that Penner should have had more therapy before:

Yes, de-transitioning happens.  For example, I know a local who is living as a man with a surgically created vagina.  They had genital reconstruction, but their life as a woman wasn’t really satisfying them, so they chose to live as a man again.

I can’t agree, though, that therapy is the answer.

In my understanding, the vast majority of those who de-transition don’t do it because they don’t know themselves to be trans, but rather because the challenge of interacting as a woman with the limits of a body that went through puberty as a male just are too much.

Joan Roughgarden said in the New York Times, “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.”


It’s finding a way to deal with that stigma as a woman, with the defenses of a woman, that is the challenge.

I have seen lots of transpeople come out and assume that they must be transsexual, so they want to change their bodies as fast as possible, with the assumption that if they change their bodies it will change the way people see them.

Until the euphoria wears off, though, you have no way to see clearly.  I will note that Penner detransitioned after about a year; the same time Ms. Roughgarden says that the euphoria wears off and the stigma hits hard.

In the end, there are limits to changing a body, especially a mature one.   So many of us have to come to grips with the notion that the best we can do is pass as a transsexual woman, and not pass as having been born female.  And the life of a transsexual woman has profound challenges, as the New York Times has also begun to discuss.

I accept that there is a wall for transwomen when the euphoria comes off and the stigma hits hard, and then we have to make the best choices we can make to keep what we value; a job, status, a family, expression, truth, whatever.

But then again, that is the challenge for every transperson, everyday.  It’s just that letting the pendulum swing helps us find the balance.  There is no way to find the center point by creeping up on it; you have to swing wide and come back.

Every transperson, even if they don’t, don’t, don’t ever want to live there, has to spend some time in the world between binaries, some time when they are not man, not woman (or not woman, not man) and that’s a real challenge in a heterosexist culture when binaries are enforced like hell.  We need to enter no man’s/no woman’s land to find the path to our own home.

And that’s why I railed about binaries.

We makes our choices, we transpersons.

Penner was Mike and that wasn’t working, so then she was Christine and that wasn’t working, then Mike again.

And if that wasn’t working, well another choice.

Another loss.

And one more, to someone who wants more boxes.

I would never deny anyone the chance to assimilate.

There are many transwomen who have assimilated very well over the years, becoming one of the women, in their relationships with other women, with their community, with men.   They don’t need to be some third thing; they are women.

The primary duality is wild & tame: how much do we want to be tame and assimilated and part of the group, how much do we want to be wild and individual and have unique expression?

Every human has to find their own dynamic balance between these extremes, both valuable in themselves.  No human is an island; we need the support of the group.  No one wants to lose their own unique voice completely.

We all need both to not care what others say about us, be wild and free, and care what others say about us, so we can play our part in the structures of community.  I know how to be an indvidualist, sure, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a job, don’t need friends, don’t want my gifts to be accepted & valued in community.

What has never made sense to me about the idea of a third gender is what that gender would look like.  Would it be manly females or womanly men or something different?

Most times, when I try and hunt that down, people admit that what they mean by a third gender is “O,”  as in “M,” “F,”  “O.”   It’s a catchall that stands for other, a whole range.

To me, that’s not a third gender, that’s just a move away from fixed binary gender, from compulsory binary gendering based on birth genital configuration.

It is time to move away from rigid, binary gender, from heterosexist gender, but that doesn’t mean that it is time to move away from gender.  Gender is an important system of social control, offering us both security & opportunity.  Gosh, without a rich gendered context, how could transpeople ever have the symbols to create a rich gender expression.

That move away from heterosexism is coming, as it comes in any society where reproductive pressure is off.  There is a reason why “Zero Population Growth” and “Gay Liberation” both bloomed in the 1960s, as the children born of mothers who got their first taste of freedom in WWII and then were re-gendered in the 1950s came of age.

But as to Mx. Penner, there were undoubtedly many layers going on.

Like most transwomen, zie probably had dreams of assimilating, of what zie wanted life to look like.

Unlike most of us, zie was also visible from the start, even in the awkward first steps to creating a new and more truthful expression.  Sports columnist for the LA Times, so very visible, and so very vulnerable.

The world has changed, becoming more accepting of gender that isn’t simply this or that.  If it hadn’t, Christine would not have been able to come out and get the support she did.

“People born one way who try and act behave and try to appear the other way;”  that’s a kind of definition of what the word transsexual means, isn’t it? It assumes that there are two ways, a binary.

In my experience, though, it’s when we stop trying and become that the magic happens.

But to get past the fumbling, to create a powerful and authentic expression of who we are, well balanced between assimilation & uniqueness, that takes time.

And for so many emerging transsexuals, that time of grace is denied.  We end up stuck behind our own defenses, whatever they are.   Those defenses protect us sure, but they also limit & isolate us.

The notion of trans is much more acceptable in culture today.  People understand more.

But if being trans means we are denied assimilation, that women who have lived as women for decades are dismissed because they are “really a man,” well that’s a problem.

To me, it’s vital that we have the opportunity to cut loose from compulsory gender, assigned on the basis of birth genitals.

And it is also vital that when we cut loose, we are not always then limited to “other.”

It is vital that we get to assimilate, that our allies open the space for crossing, not just for queering the assigned.

Or at least that is vital to me.

(A note on pronouns: I don’t know how Penner thought of themselves, so I have tried to use gender neutral pronouns talking about them, unless I was talking about one stage.  Reffering to the period when they identified as Mike, I use he, when they identified as Christine, I use she, and to the life, I use zie or they or Penner.  I’m just trying to honor all Penner’s identifications because I don’t know how they would want to be remembered, though I admit, I think of them as Christine.)

My Secret Place

I watch the VH-1 Rehab shows with Dr. Drew Pinsky.

What do you expect?  I’m a process queen, loving process, and the process of stumbling towards healing moves me.

And the truth is that every mirror you use, no matter how cracked, can help with your therapy.  I have never had the luxury of having one professional who sees and can help me, but I’m not sure anyone really does.  All a professional can do is help you process the fragments of yourself you see in the mirrors around you, help you work that image until you come into clearer focus.

On the last three series, I have watched Amber Smith.  A beautiful model and actress, she’s off the opiates now, but is still struggling with her urge to get quick hits from relationships with men, especially from men who remind her of her father.

One of the key challenges Amber has faced is her relationship with her mother.  She had to work to buy drugs for her mother, had to take care of her mother even if it meant prostituting herself.

Dr. Drew addressed this early by also getting Amber’s mother into treatment, so that there could start to be the kind of separation that wouldn’t happen if her mother didn’t do the work she needed to do.

The challenge in the relationship between Amber and her mother is called enmeshment, when relationships are so demanding the boundaries between two people are erased.  For Amber, who learned this as a child, this meant that taking care of her mother became more important than taking care of herself, that she lost her own balance and sobriety to serve her mother.

Sound familar?

It sure does to me.

Watching Amber, I need to wonder why my story turned out different.  Sure, I couldn’t be sold as a beautiful & seductive model, and there were no drugs around, but I needed defenses against this enmeshment too.

I was very, very young when I started to understand that if I wanted to have anything for myself, if I needed to have anything for myself, I had to keep it secret from a mother who thought everything was hers, who was hurt if those around her put other people first, even themselves.

Very young, I learned that I had to have a secret place that I kept hid away from everybody.

Of course, my trans nature also contributed to that; from the age of five onward, I knew that getting caught with girl’s clothes was a problem.   It was a problem I risked all the time, anyway, but I learned it had to be kept secret.

I ended up not going to Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house, after weeks of pounding.  In fact, my mother was pounding me with passive-aggressive slaps trying to get me to change my polo shirt up until the moment she left in a fury.

“You wouldn’t have been able to deal with it,” my sister said.  “There wasn’t enough space.”

“Enough space to go to my secret place?”  I asked her.


I still have the secret place.  I am in it when I write these blog entries, in it when I push the Sansa earplugs in and fill my head with music or stories.

In my secret place, I hum & dance, tell jokes & stories, talk in voices & offer witty comments.

In my secret place, I am happy & funny, safe & comforted, peaceful & free.

In my secret place, I alone & isolated, separate & defended, lost & found.

My lifemyth, the notion that supports and limits me, is that I am “too hip for the room.”   But in my secret place, the audience always gets the jokes.   How could they not; they share my life experience and perspective.

While this blog may be a window into my secret place, it’s not the same.  The playfulness, whimsy and beauty is very hard to place in text.  After all, femmes are the ones who wiggle, and when editors want to collect a femme anthology, they need to be very, very clear if they don’t want fiction; so hard to express our inner lives without allegory and imagination.   That’s why the symbols of fashion are so important to us; they offer us a language we need.

The language I need, though, is in my secret space.   DominaBlue thought my ritual was odd; I would sometimes put on makeup before I showered, so I could experiment and express, then be able to wash it off.  I know that in my secret space I can explore beauty, but I know that in the bigger world, the dominance of the binary and denial of context & nuance means that I am just erased as “Really a. . . .”

The enmeshment I lived with, generated by a passive-aggressive narcissist, taught me coping skills that I used to keep my own spark in the world.

And, like any defense, those habits have also limited & isolated me.

But that’s where I go.

My secret place.


Medical Condition

According to this blurb, Dr. Norman P. Spack,  Director Of Gender Management Service (GeMS) Clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston wants us to view trans as a medical issue rather than a psychological condition.

If I understand correctly, he is just saying that transpeople don’t get broken somehow along the way; we are born trans.

“These people aren’t crazy,” he is quoted as saying.

OK.  I agree there.

My problem is that he goes on to say “It’s a medical condition.”

Is every way people are born a medical condition?

Dr. Spack’s words harken back to the early days of transsexual treatment where the goal was to “fix” transpeople.  You just proved you were a woman — no “wanna be a woman” allowed — by meeting the criteria the doctors set, and they would fix you right up.

Unfortunately, the limited tools we have to shift bodies, like surgery and hormones, had limits.

Now, Dr Spack has a better plan: If the problem is reversing the results of puberty, then let’s delay puberty until we can get it right.

It’s hard to be against that plan.  I have no doubt that those who have never had to learn to perform as assigned sex/gender can do much better living as appropriate sex/gender.  That unlearning has a cost, and the more your body looks normative for your gender, the easier things are.

We have had discussions about the difference between early transitioning and last transitioning transwomen, and it is clear that early transitioning, who have never accepted their assigned gender role have a much easier time.

I stand firmly on supporting people in reshaping their bodies as they wish to express their own inner nature.  That’s great.  The notion of protecting birth sex zealously so that you have to prove some specific identity before you have your body reshaped seems to me to protect doctors from lawsuits more than protect patients from the shifts of a life.

And I have no doubt that working with kids, Dr. Spack sees the most intense cases of gender knowledge.  The kids with more mild cases keep their heads down.

But I also know the traditions of gender crossers in cultures through time and around the world, and I think that we have offered something special to society wherever society can accept it.

So while I have no problem with medical assistance with body reshaping in order to create an expression that is more empowering, no problem with letting doctors help transpeople show their bodies as their own, I do have some problem with calling trans a “medical condition.”

I know, I know; how do we get assistance from medicos and payment from insurance unless they are fixing something?

But how can we have to declare ourselves to be broken, afflicted with a “medical condition,” before people will help us be ourselves?

It’s not good.

Now, it’s better than being called crazy.  And better that we do get help.

But the traditions of those who cross genders, live in the liminal, are rich and deep.  People like Wm. Dragoin has shown the place we hold in culture, how we fit in a socio-biological construct.  It’s good.

And who knows what these delayed-puberty/fixed kids will be like in 20 years?  Sure, they can assimilate now, but will they feel some other call?  I don’t know.

I guess it’s good to have docs saying they know we are born this way, that we are not crazy.

To me, though, we still have some steps to go.

Four Damn Years

It was four years ago I started this blog, Thanksgiving 2005.

I wrote it to write; expression, not discourse, as I told the brilliant & struggling Grace.

I was hoping it would catch people and draw them into my world, as I suspect all writers hope about all of their writing.  We work hard to create a symbolic model of our experience or our imaginings and then we share it.  Note that is different than authors, who often want to share intellectual work or want to evoke emotions in readers, creating a kind of ride that satisfies readers starting where they are.

After all, the acupuncturist that my sister recommended, the one who demanded I accept his theology before treating me and wrote down virtually nothing of what I said in a long “initial interview,” because my answers were just wrong, well, he had previously been to my old website and was “surprised that the writing was so compelling.”

So I wrote.  I got naked in text, revealing what I could reveal.

And I found that I am acquired taste, and one that few have time, energy or inclination to acquire.

I wasn’t really surprised by that.  People are who they are and they are where they are, and they heal in their own time.  They are themselves, in other words.

I resist making conclusions about what the past four years show, because I fear what they will show.

But there is still four years of exposure here, locked in text.

And that must be something.


My mother is raging.

It’s Thanksgiving.

For me, this is another day of service; cooking, cleaning, shopping, personal attendance.

Last weekend, my brother called to invite parents to his house.  My mother accepted.  I said I wasn’t going to go.  She said that if I didn’t go, they wouldn’t go, and I would have to make them Thanksgiving dinner.

I called my sister, leaving a voicemail.  I said that I got to choose my hell, cooking on the old burned out stove or spending more time erased at my sister-in-law’s house.  The last time my brother was here he treated me like a freak, looking shocked when I pulled back as he reached out to grab something he was reaching for.  My sister knew that he had no idea how my reflexes are timed to parents, I stay out of their way, but the tradition in my sister-in-law’s house is judgementalism: everyone is judged against their worldview.  I didn’t want to go.

My sister called back and assured me that I shouldn’t go.  I said that was tricky, but she assured me she would help.

This week has been very hard.  Tuesday my mother decided to buy a new range, and so I had to pick it up and install it by myself.  That might have worked until my father decided to help, and started beating me up about the leveling, bang, bang, bang.  Tuesday night I fell with salsa, and they laughed at my hurting leg.  I walked home five miles by myself.  Yesterday, just as I got the stove together and wanted to start cooking, my father decided to be nice and get takeout, denying me my chance to get to know the stove a bit.  That ended in an hour ride back from the takeout joint as he of no night vision drove in the dark, and finished with cold gluey fish.  As a special treat, thanks to his trademark panic breaking, my dinner had been thrown in the car, and all the bits were mashed together.

I figured I could get through the day.  I cooked and served and all that.

We worked out a schedule for my mother to take her shower at 11:30 AM.  I had to sit and wait for the 45 minutes she dawdled.

My sister showed up around noon.  She was peeved that yesterday my brother told her dinner was at Noon, and now it was at 2 PM.  She would have taken this fine day in the kayak.  So she left, saying that she would meet parents at my brother’s house.

Bang.  Abandoned.

I washed my mother, all the way from scrubbing out her shitty ass crack to washing her feet.  Towels and TV and clothing and all that.  She was still sitting in towels at 1PM when Wife Swap came on.  She loves Wife Swap.

I packed all the stuff into the car and got to her around 1:15.  She had put on the second dress I had to pull and wanted to move.  She started picking at me about a dirty shirt, and I told her it wasn’t important.

She was down about 1:25, but my father was in the bathroom.  She was mad.  And when he emerged at 1:30, he needed to change.

It only took about 15 minutes, but she was boiling.  Boiling.  Even said that she was really angry.

I rolled her to the car and she did this backhanded slap about people not wearing clean clothes, trying to hit me.  “I hope everyone there is in clean clothes,” I responded, but she wouldn’t hear.

I got her in the car and buckled my father in, and started to move off.

“Aren’t you coming?” he asked.

“I told you from the first that I wouldn’t come,” I said.

“Well I never heard that!” my mother huffed.

“We are old, we don’t hear so well,” my father said.

“Fine, fine,” my mother screeched, now totally in martyr meltdown mode.

At around 2, they drove off and I called my sister to warn her.

I got her voicemail.

I came in the house and started doing work I needed to do; boning the turkey, starting the stock, cleaning out the refrigerator, all the required shit it is hard to do with them here.

My mother wants to impose, I get that.  She walked away from a Joy Behar discussion about coming out for Thanksgving.

But my sister promised to back me up on this, to help.

And she failed to come through.


I worked hard to keep her free yesterday, to not drag her in, because today I needed her.

So I sit here, the scent of my mother’s shit still on my hands, feeling both beat up and betrayed.

Yes, yes.

They want the best for me, they want me to be happy.

They just want so many other things more, things that require me to serve.

So that’s my story.

And now, at 2:30, I clean some more.


You can’t diminish darkness.

Darkness is undiminishable.

You can, however, increase the light.

That will change the balance, and while the darkness will still be there, the light will overcome it.

Light doesn’t remove darkness, it only provides light.

In the same way, you can’t really decrease sickness.

You can only increase health.

Sure, you can do some things to remove sickness; a specific medication or antibiotic designed to poison something, or maybe surgery.

But in the end, the only reason to do that is to increase healing.  Sometimes you do have to do some killing to get ground for new life.

It’s the same in business.   You can cut away sick parts, but unless the rest of the organization is viable on its own, it won’t get better just because sickness is removed.

This is why there has been a shift to the idea of health care in medicine.  There is less sickness fighting and more wellness support.  Healthy people just die slower, getting less sickness.

In my life, the big challenge isn’t the costs and abrasion that others hand me.

I can’t focus on making others less demanding or less wearing.  They are others, after all, and I have no direct control over them.

No, the only thing I can focus on is making myself more replenished and vital.   I need to focus on my own healing, not on the sickness of the world.

Who heals the healers?

I know that I can take care of others and they will love it.

I just don’t believe that they can take care of me.

And so much of that is because so much of who I am is invisible to them.

Now, some of me will be invisible no matter what I do.  I am smart and thoughtful and have a unique history.

But so much of me is invisible because society has conspired to make it invisible.

From an early age, from before I was five, I was told that my femme nature had to be kept invisible.

They used that club, that pounding club that there seemed no escape from.

“Really a man.”

The world imposed their reality onto me, and I my truth was made invisible in the process.  Show who I know myself to be and be called a liar, or show who they expect me to be and feel like a liar.

What a destructive choice.

Joy Behar had three gay comedians on to talk about coming out at Thanksgiving.  Judy Gold tried to explain the cost of being in the closet, how wearing it is, but it’s not something easy to capture.

Finding a place in this world that affirms healing, especially for queers, well, that’s hard.    That’s why my sister often doesn’t want to take up the challenge of me (or her, or my parents) healing, rather looking for ways to diminish sickness.

Not a useful strategy.

The best way that I can help others care for me is to show them who I am.

“He doesn’t get on with his sister-in-law,” my mother says of me to a friend on the phone.  “Well, actually, he doesn’t get on with anyone.”

No.  And maybe that’s because he isn’t a he, he is a she.

My trans is no secret in the family.  I’ve been officially out to my family, in some way or other, since 1994, and it’s been known long before then.

It’s just that it stays invisible to them, mostly.  Sure, my father has figured out that I do many things like a woman, but the family needs me to play the role of son, of beast of burden.

Just part of the whole social expectation of invisibility.  “Really a man.”

You can’t remove darkness.  You can only increase light.

Removing sickness is only a small part of the process.  The real goal always has to be becoming more healthy.

And I can’t imagine any way to become renewed, replenished and cared for as long as I face the demand of being invisible.

Though, as I well know, just because I make myself more visible doesn’t mean people will be willing to see.  The social stigma is strong, the family history is long.  “Really a man.”

I really believe that my family wants me to be less sick, less stressed, less upset, less tense, less whatever.

I just also believe that they don’t want me to be well; more empowered, more actualized, more integrated, more healthy, more challenging.

In the end, though, my only chance isn’t to become less sick, rather it is to become more healthy.  I don’t need to  minimize illness but rather to engage healing.

And the healing of one of us places demands on a whole network to engage and affirm healing.  Easier just to demand others eat illness to maintain comfort; after all, their pain isn’t your pain.   “Just remain celibate your whole life long,” the Roman Catholic church says to those with homosexual desire.  “You take the pain for all of us.”

Maybe, if someone could see me, they could help me get what I need.

Or maybe they would just be self-involved and scared.

I know that drill.


I have been having a hard time finding something to feel thankful about this year.  Very hard.

But after a solitary five mile walk back from dinner, sobbing and screaming, I think I found it.

This year, I want to give thanks for my rage.

Under all the death I have lived with in the last half century, under all the attempts by others and by myself to kill off my challenging nature, under all the denial and the swallowing, under all that shite, my rage is still there, buried under the pain and the discipline.

And that rage is the clearest indication I have that the spark my sky mother breathed into me is still there, too.

I am thankful for my clear vision, for the connections that spark between my memories, for my queer sensibility and for my trans-Eros.

I am thankful for the intensity and power of my brain, for the compassion and love in my heart.

I am fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking thankful not for what society has chosen to give me, but rather for what my creator put in my soul.   Sure, I need food and shelter, but I am not a human living a spiritual life, I am spirit living a human life.

That spirit, that gift from God that makes me worthy simply as a shred of her, well, that’s what I need to be thankful for this year.   All those decades of trying to kill it off, and it still burns, even under a bushel.

I get crazy when I have to deny my Eros to try and make others comfortable.  In the end, it doesn’t work either; people read the submerged energy and stay a bit scared.

Thank you for making me a potent, liminal, brilliant and intense being.

Thank you for my unkillable spirit.

Thank you for not letting me be murdered by the demands made on me, no matter how much I tried to disempower myself to fill them.

Thank you, my mother in the sky, for making me all the things I am.

Even all the things that others around me fear.

Thanks for my rage.

Eros blended with vision is the greatest gift.


Burn Baby Burn

TBB just contacted me for the first time in the four weeks since that uncomfortable motel goodbye, where I had to go and deal with my parents and she didn’t want to deal anymore the day after she so misjudged talking to my sister, ending up calling me defensive and choosing to get drunk.

She was at a rest area on the way down to Key West.  She asked about me, but that wasn’t important.

What was important was me looking up the directions for Pearl’s Rainbow in Key West, a lesbian hotel.  http://www.pearlsrainbow.com/

Yeah, she wanted me to take care of her.

It’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance.

There was a big do in Albany on Wednesday.

Capital District

Transgender Day of Remembrance Panel and Vigil
Join us for a discussion of trans-realities and working to end discrimination, followed by honoring those who have passed due to hate violence
Date: Wednesday, November 18
Time: 6 PM
Location: First Congregational Church, 405 Quail St, Albany
Contact: Ejay Carter, (518) 472-3330 ext 306 or ecarter@prideagenda.org

Needless to say, I missed it.

And needless to say, nobody on the local trans list wrote a moving report to share it with the c

But this TDOR morning, I am in a very, very bad place indeed.

I was dealing with the koan “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

But when my mother needs me to be her therapist, and tells me that when my father put the children first, that hurt her, well, that’s just confirming what I already knew.

That bitch needed to spread pain and hopelessness like the spraying contents of her bowels over everyone and everything, so she could always be queen of the dammned.

And I was dammed.    If I put myself first, I was hurting her.  Hell.

I watch Glee quickly.  I like the concept and the songs, but the kids are unrelatable to me.  But when Finn’s mom sees him crying about an unborn baby he has been told he is the father of, well, it’s her compassion through pain that I connect with instantly.

I laid down my life to protect my father and my sister.

And there is still more death to give, more life to deny, more pain to suffer.

I can’t imagine how I get through cooking Thanksgiving on the burned out stove they refuse to replace.  I hauled my mother through the white goods at Boscov’s yesterday afternoon, against her will, but she sees nothing.  It’s all just service.

She will do her Thanksgiving weep, about how joyful and grateful she should be, but she will also make it clear that she is not, that she is angry that none of us have ever done enough to make her happy, that she is bitter and stuck.   She will spew pain and hopelessness over the meal, making it the least festive place to be, as a friend said about my mother’s Christmas in 1971.

And maybe I will pass my table grace to my sister, who might read it in private, knowing it would be painful or incomprehensible to my parents.

When I was a kid, I used to post photos on the wall of my bedroom, alongside the anti-war posters; you know, a girl screaming over a dead body and all that fun.

I had a photo of a van with the roof stove in from a body that fell from over 30 stories.

And I had a pixellated black and white newspaper photo of the plaza in front of the U.N.

In front of the tower, you could see the slabs of stone that made up the surface.

And on one block, there was a wad of something, a melted looking blob.

Those were the remains of the sneakers of a Buddhist monk who immolated themselves as protest.

Today, I imagine the smell of gasoline as it rolls down my body and soaks my robes.

And the match, the moments of pain & terror, and then the leaving.

But who would remember me?

Those who would need to find another caretaker, mostly, I guess.


My mother, well, not only has she chosen me to scrub her ass in the shower, she has also chosen me to be her therapist.

I can do that, yes, though my basic advice is always “You should find a professional that you can work with, someone with whom you can create a therapeutic relationship.”   I understand the benefits of boundaries in the therapeutic process, even if most people don’t get that.

With my mother through, these choices are especially infuriating because she refuses to even call the geriatric psychiatrist she was referred to.  Her primary care doctor has no experience with anti-depressants, and while the change from Zoloft to Cymbalta four years ago gave benefits, the Cymbalta isn’t working as well.   A psychiatrist is expert in precribing and monitoring these medications, but my mother refuses, just like she refuses to go back to physical therapy, or refuses anything that might actually create change.

So she goes through this shit with me, and I channel Phil McGraw, the only touchstone she has, even if he is a rhetorician/psychologist, not a therapist .  “What are you going to do to change that?”  and “How’s that working for you?” are routine responses, along with regular quotes from the serenity prayer.

But I have to put my own feelings on hold.

In a rant about how my father has never made her happy, she went through all her tropes, from the worst thing he said — “You are just like your mother!” — to how he made choices that affected her.

She agrees that she has problems making choices, but when he chose new jobs and new houses, it was bad for her.  He, on the other hand, knew that income had to be protected.

“You know what was bad?” she asks me.

“Sometimes, your father would put the needs of the children first.

“And that hurt!”

Oh, shit.

Why the fuck is she telling me this?

It just affirms what I always knew as a kid: she came first.

It’s the same as a few months ago when she told me:  “I don’t care about anyone else.  I only care about myself.”   That was in the context of me moving her wheelchair out of the way of the traffic in a busy junk store, but it was an essential truth I always knew.

This woman, who wants to call herself my mother, said that she always wanted to be put first, and the few times she was not hurt her.

I knew that.

And I also know that I have pissed away half a century and more putting her first over what I need, because she demanded that or she would lash out and strike her husband and others.

My father was upset when he was told she was complaining.

“I tried, I tried,” he told me.

Yeah.   He did the best that he could do.  Perfect?  No.  Human?  Yes.  And he tried.  I told him this was about her, not him.

But my mother, well, no self-denial for her.

Her life is a failure because other people never made her feel happy.  And if they did everything she told them to do when she told them, she would feel happy, right?


I was a kid, a little kid, who needed my parents to be there and take care of me, needed my parents to give me roots and wings.

Instead I got sickness and obligations.

And she wants me to stay professional and gracious when she admits that she was a bitch pig when she isn’t put first.

I’m supposed to smile and play along with the lies that this is acceptable, that we are all equal, as long as the priority always goes to her, as long as she is the center of the world, as long as she gets what she wants, as long as everyone else cripples themselves to tend to her whims.


But I did it.

What good would lashing out do?   Yeah, I could play that role, but then someone else would have to help her process.

Not going to be my father or my sister.

And she won’t go to a professional.

So I break a bit more, die a bit more, a bit more encumbered by the shards of my shattered life around me.

I can’t just dump her. I have to protect my father and my sister, which I have done for way too long now.

But my mother doesn’t care about anyone else but her, and was hurt when my father put the needs of the kids over her desires, is still hurt by that.


Just Jack

“That wasn’t a girl.  That was just Jack.”

New York Times, 11 November 2009


Yeah, I want more, have always wanted more.

I don’t want to be a solitary outcast freak.

I wanted to be one of the girls.  Still do.

But I believe that’s a bit much too ask.

So all I can be is just Callan, and that’s gotta be enough.

Better than being beaten into silence, eh?


I know that the way my brain works isn’t typical, though I’m not quite sure what typical means.   After all, typical and type have the same root, and there may well be many types of brains, which means my brain is typical, just not the most common type, whatever that means.

I went through this brain difference stuff years ago when examining myself and “attention deficit disorder” or ADD.   ADD is definitely a misnomer; all people defined as ADD are capable of what they call hyper-attention, the ability to become so attentive that they become lost in time.   The deficit is not in attention, but rather in attention as it is defined in specific settings, like schools, where attention to the mundane is required.

In other words, our brains are different from the typical brain, although I’m not quite sure what typical means.

My mother tells the story of being invited to observe in Miss Hansen’s fifth grade classroom.  Miss Hansen and I were often at loggerheads.  She didn’t like the style other teachers had tolerated or even encouraged, which included me helping other students.   She wanted the attention she wanted, not the challenge.

The day my mother came, Miss Hansen was teaching some mathematical concept.  She called me up to the front of the class and wrote an equation on the board, asking me to solve it.

My mother understood that I was supposed to fail to solve it, so Miss Hansen could then go on to teach the concept.

Problem was that I didn’t care what I was supposed to do.

I just solved the equation, using the concepts I already had to work it through.  We “concept formers” were always trouble.

This meant, noted my mother, that I then needed to sit in my chair for thirty minutes while Miss Hansen taught the other kids a concept that I already owned.  Actually, she probably just taught them a process; the concept would come later, if it did.

My favourite model of ADD comes from a fellow named Thom Hartmann who took a kind of sociobiological approach.

If there were so many people with this ADD thingy, he reasoned, there must be some benefit, or it wouldn’t have stayed in the population so long and so broadly.

What might the benefit be to this kind of mind?

Farmers need a kind of routine attention, regular and constant, to attend to crops.

Hunters, on the other hand, need very focused and intense attention to “think like the prey.”

Maybe it’s just that some of us have brains that best suit farming while others have brains that best suit hunting.

That made sense to me.

It’s not that my brain is defective, it’s just that it isn’t typical farmer.

In my case, what I hunt is concepts.  I like the connections, the threads and the words (symbols) we use to communicate those concepts.

Some people say that House MD loves puzzles.  I find that construction a bit off.  After all, he is not a crossword expert, or into anagrams.

No.  To me, anyway, House loves connections.  He loves finding out how things are connected, and then testing those connections to see how they change under stress.  It’s not about some constructed puzzle with a solution, it’s about connected organisms and where the connections are disrupted or twisted.

Now, that view of a fictional character undoubtedly tells you more about me than about him, me seeing my own challenges in his (constructed) behaviors.

I see autism as the effects of a brain that has limited flexibility.   That rigidity may have corresponding benefits, like the ability to go deep and intense into specific areas.

I don’t quite see my own brain that way.  I do know that I am more sensitive than others to many things — that I have lower levels of “latent inhibition,” less ability to slough off hurts —  and that I carry my history like a yoke.  One fellow said that a key indicator he identified for success was if people could move beyond their own history.  That makes sense to me: the believer is happy, but the doubter is wise, said the Hungarians, and being able to always believe in the next possibility is the basis for much American success.

I just think that brains have conceptual structures & habits, and learning to make the most of the gifts you have, even if some categorize those gifts as deficits, is very important to self-actualization.

Brains are odd things.  I just saw a blogpost that asked if you, as a transperson, could change your brain to match your body, would you do it?  For me, it’s hard to imagine that, because I am my brain, not my body.  I see things the way I am, and my vision is limited to and colored by the current shape of my brain.   I just wouldn’t be me if my brain were different (which might not be a bad thing), but I do know I would be me even if my body were different.  Might a different body continue to reshape the wetware of my brain?  Sure.  But that is about time and process, change by living in the world, not about bang-bang brain change.

I get why people like to have concepts that they can use to help tell others how they are different.  And I get why, in the medical creation myth world, those concepts now come as diagnoses, rather than, say, discussions of the different spirit guide who animates you.   Today others are supposed to respect diagnoses even as they dismiss spirit stories.

I just like concepts that empower better than concepts which pathologize.

But heck, I guess that’s just me.


My sister is into the whole Aspie thing, and she likes this website where an author gives you tables of Asperger’s characteristics as seen in females (one, two.)

Problem for me is that so many of these things seem like what a magician calls a “cold read.”  I can say that “You have two hands, one of which you use a lot more than the other,” or “few people really understand you,”  or “you have had difficulties in finding love,” and virtually everyone will agree.   The classic experiment where students fill out a form, then get a computer printout of about themselves and find it very accurate, only to discover that many other people got the same printout and found it accurate, well, that’s an example.

Problem with these tables is that there is no comparison to a non-Aspergers sample, so these anecdotal lists, so much fun to make in a workshop, do not eliminate what is also common to the population at large.  For example, doesn’t almost everyone have a collection of something, somewhere?

The sweeping thing I see is that women who identify themselves as having Aspergers also identify themselves as separate from the masses, and identify connecting with other people as a distinct performance that wears them out, rather than something that comes “naturally.”   Other people just connect, but “we” have to work at it.

I get that, and I really get how that is an appealing identity factor.  “They just connect, but I am separate.”

Problem is that I suspect everyone does performance on some level.

To me, the key difference seems to be the level of awareness of that performance, the heightened sense of being an observer.

I understand this completely.  I am not good at smalltalk; I want to talk about something, not nothing.  In the bar, TBB said that the bartender was sure she belonged there, but wasn’t sure that I did.  I agreed.  I didn’t belong there, drinking and chatting, didn’t fit in, didn’t belong there.  It was boring and not-fun to me to just go through the same old pantomime of social discourse.  Yawn.

But I’m not sure that key difference places me with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Though I am sure that schools have an interest in defining kids like me as sick, to be treated; so much easier to herd the herdable rather than the heavy observers.

I have used the word “too” people to describe people like me.   My father’s inability to take “yes” for an answer is a key mark in my understanding of him with Asperger’s.  He can’t hear agreement or hear questions, but rather needs to play out his own idea over and over. And my mother’s physical clumsiness along wiher her lack of empathy for others (“I don’t care about anyone else. I only care about me,” as she said to me when I tried to move her out of the way of others in the junk store) are also clues.

But is feeling more observer than participant really a clue to autism, any more than having some kind of stomach gripes (“90% have them!” says the table.)?

I’m not convinced.  And a list of shared experiences doesn’t help convince me.

But I do agree that those people who don’t just fall into the crowd and into unconsidered social ritual are more interesting to me.

To me,  the essence of what how humans communicate is performance, either habitual or considered.

I just like considered better.

Out Of Asperger’s

My life has been, the way I see it today, a journey out of Asperger’s.

Asperger’s syndrome is an “autism spectrum disorder,” where Dr. Asperger tried to describe the commonality between patients he saw; hyperfocused, lack of empathy, and mostly having trouble in social situations.

The symptoms are not clearly diagnosed, which is one reason why there is a current move to remove the diagnosis from the DSM.

It’s been a few years now since I started looking at Asperger’s, after one of my brother’s adopted kids was diagnosed.  In looking at the symptoms, I saw my father very clearly: “active but odd.”

Since Asperger’s has been called “manhood on steroids,” and 75% of the diagnoses go to men, it’s often hard to see the behaviors in women.

But in looking at my mother led me to the conclusion that she also has signs.  I suspect that my parents saw similar challenges in each other, and that’s why they hooked up.

I sent the New York Times article linked above to my sister, and it piqued her interest.  She started looking at it, and decided that Asperger’s made sense of her social challenges, especially at work.

So there we have my father and my mother, whose choices I see as fitting the Asperger’s model, and my sister, who sees her choices that way.

And then there is me.

It has long been clear to me that my brain doesn’t work the way other people’s do.   I have the early behaviors that worried my mother, like being outside in the cold without a coat or abandoning classmates I brought home to play, and the later behaviors, where I don’t fit well.   Social has never been part of this family; today I am disconnected just as my parents are, being constrained into their world as a caretaker in way too many ways.

My journey to self-awareness and actualization, such as it is, has been about how my mind works in the world.  Sure, I have had to understand myself and my own process, but that has been impossible without understanding my relationship to my family.  First in that, of course, is my role as caretaker or worse from my earliest days, but more is the way I tried to create my persona by modeling from my parents.  I tried to find solutions for my own challenges by following their lead, and their lead, well, it was heavily influenced by Asperger’s and the corresponding social challenges.

I didn’t separate from my parents in a useful way, and a large part of that was the massive and overwhelming need for support and companionship that came from their inability to create normative social networks.  I felt obligated to care for them, and in doing that, I sacrificed my own life, my own vigor, my own possibilities, my own health.

Sure, I have my own mental challenges in connecting with people.  My biggest challenge is staying observer and not slipping into the spirit of the crowd.  That observer role, though, reveals that I am not that deep in Asperger’s behaviors, as people with Asperger’s have trouble getting past their own stuff when watching others.  For me, though, not being able to trust the emotional responses of my parents meant that I had to closely monitor them, so I learned how to watch the little details and understand how the patterns fir together.

It also meant that I had to learn to monitor and control myself.  I had emotions as a kid, but I was constantly being told that they were stupid, that I was stupid.  “Stupid” was my name in the family, at least until I was twelve and the shrink told them to cut it out.  I learned to use my sharp brain to monitor not only others but also myself, and also to try to control both myself and others until Christine helped me break that behavior in the 1980s.

Whatever my own brain differences are, and there is no doubt to me that my brain doesn’t just “work like everyone else’s,” Aspergers has shaped my life and continues to do so.  Since I am only really in relationship with three people, and now that my sister has self identified, all three can be seen as being in line with Asperger’s behaviors, my life is constrained by Asperger’s.

My parents cant respect personal boundaries even if they are hit over the head with them, and I should know; I have hit them over the head many times.

My sister has challenges with empathy and entering emotional states.

And all of them need and crave routine in a way that makes me loathe to create the changes I need to move on with my growth process.  They bridle at change or demands, so for the past half century I have been bridled with them.

And I don’t see any way out of Asperger’s.


In his “My Life In Comedy,” Garrison Keillor makes the point that while existentialism, doom and bleakness are universal, easily seen in the aggregate, happiness is very specific, only seen in the details of any moment.

If you want to explore happiness, you have to explore specific moments, specific details and move away from generalization.

I read a story in the New York Times about the plans to end the specific diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and instead categorize it as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.  How do people survive the declassification of their identity label?

Dr. Susan Swedo of NIH is quoted as saying ““People say that in autism, everybody is a snowflake. It’s the perfect analogy.”

Okay, sure.

But isn’t every human a snowflake?

I mean Mr. Rogers was telling me I was special and unique since 1962 (and in Canada, no less.)

In the end, queer liberation is about the simple idea that “everybody is a snowflake.”

Does that make Mr. Rogers queer empowering?

Sure.  He wanted you to be the best you can be, and wanted others to listen and engage your specialness.

Our power isn’t in some overarching group identity model.

It’s in the specifics of our unique lives.

And as Garrison Keillor notes, that’s where our happiness is, too.

ache for ritual

There were two things I wanted to do with TBB when she was here.

I wanted her to help me hang the damn fucking shit flat screen that has caused so much pain to now and will cause more — I had to slam myself through dinner, pounding my head for discipline against my father taking up my cooking time to natter about the damn mount.

And I wanted ritual.

I needed ritual.

I got to take care of her instead; a chat, her indulging a fantasy of being a healer by stroking my sister’s crap, shopping, a drunk and a hang over.

No TV, no ritual.

She hasn’t contacted me in a week and a half after, and probably won’t until she needs me.  She is in the place of avoiding her own history, her own fears, her own nature, all by playing the gadfly.

But here, well, here the decay continues.

I didn’t clean the chicken fat off the main burner of the twenty-year old stove because I hate getting things back together, between the rust and decay.  The resulting fire turned electrical, and took out the burner, after I stopped it by myself.

We looked at new stoves, but that takes life, so the solution is to work with a gaping hole, being forced to work around the decay and be pounded by the intervening microwave.  To me, it’s just like managing the decay in my mouth, all ache and emptyness, workaround and death.

After all, the only person who is really affected by the stove is me, and I am, after all, my family’s abuse taker.  They get to slop and shit, and I am expected to take the abuse, to be the absorber bit, cleaning up and working around.

It’s been this way since I can remember, of course.  As long as I just take the hit by submurging my own needs and becoming more selfless, the damage and decay can be ignored in the family.  It was just yesterday my father was pretending that my mother cared about what I wanted to do, when it was clear that all she wanted was for us to figure out what she wanted to do and do it.

I told Ms. Rachelle that I really didn’t mind the monastic life of asthetic denial, but what I missed was the performances.

“Did nuns have performance?” she asked, and then answered herself, “Of course!  Ritual was always required.”

Yeah.  Dedication and benediction, dressing up and honoring connection, touching the divine.  I remember sitting at Old Country Buffet as Ms. Rachelle read me the forward to her book on ritual ( http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=2091 ) and helped as she cut the opening down to the statement of ritual connecting us to god.

This weekend was a key ritual for many of us, the time of the year when the veil between this world and other worlds is thinnest, when the liminal is present.

And I got to clean more shit, like I have for seven years, like I have for fifty years.

It is my capacity to eat shit that binds this family.  And too many think that I only suffer in bursts, and when those pass, things are OK again.

My brother was here on Friday, as my mother decided on a whim that she wanted to entertain his family just before his second daughter, over 21 and the graduate of a good university, leaves towards Guatemala with her first boyfriend and new husband, but only after she goes out trick-or-treating.

He reached to remove some newspapers my father had left on the table just as I reached for them.  I immediately pulled back, as I always have to do around my parents, to give them space, and he looked at me as if I was deranged.  I wondered what he planned to do with the papers, but a plan was irrelevant to him; he just was entitled, just as he opened a second bag of tortilla chips to satisfy his daughter’s need, not thinking to ask.

I was seen as sick.  His departing daughter asked me if I built the wheelchair ramp in the garage, and I remembered last year when I was told my brother wanted to help, and I said I needed someone to negotiate with my father on the ramp.  That turned out to be a lie, though; the real help was to beat me into compliance with my mother’s wishes, which got hellacious soon.

TBB told me that my sister was sorry for her actions and that I should let it go.  Did TBB plumb the depths of that sorrow, or is my family’s need for deniability and comfort sufficient for me to take the hit again, and eat the pain of being attacked to gain compliance?  “She was acting out to hurt me in order to break me,” I told TBB, and TBB just said to accept that, as if the Golden rule means nothing.

It certainly wouldn’t have been acceptable if I acted out; I would get piled on with shit.  After all, I am the smart, queer and therefore scary one, so I have more responsibility.  You know, like the Roman Catholic church says that priests can accept chastity, but gays have no choice; chastity is their only route to acceptance in the church or in heaven.  They must deny for the, well, comfort of the community, which is seen as the will of God, protecting the church being the most important thing.  Submit to the will of the normative or be cast out, you queer!

But me, well, it has always been the queer ones who are the caretakers, because they have always had to be able to function in worlds not of their own making, always had to be able to be the flexible bits that absorb shock.

For me, though, without performance, without ritual, without connection, it is just cost without replenishment, a healer unhealed.

TBB knows this, she does, but it is a place she still dares not go, the pain of being queer and a fear object still something to keep submurged, though she also knows that she will not be able to do that forever.