Struggle As Joy

Life is struggle. There is no doubt about that.

For the past year and a half, for the past decade, my struggle has been the struggle of my parents.  It was, of course, a struggle to the death.

They both had a different approach.  For my mother, loss was intolerable, so life needed to be constrained.   I tried to get her to see that life held rewards.  For my father, loss was inevitable, so life needed to be embraced.  “Why don’t you speak for you?” he repeatedly asked me from his deathbed.

The challenge for me is how much resource I have left in me for the struggle.

The game of life is hard to play, I’m gonna lose it anyway.”   When you feel shredded of mind, body and ego, where do you bet the little you have left?

“I love it every time someone tells me ‘No,'” a salesman once told me.  “I get a ‘Yes’ maybe once out of every ten times I ask, so every ‘No’ gets me one step closer to a ‘Yes!'”  My salesman friend wasn’t wrong.  You have to be able to take the knocks to get to success, have to be able to get past no to get to ‘Yes.’

For me, my trans expression is about tenderness, about openness, about vulnerability.  It’s about being femme. If I just wanted to bull through being a transwoman, as I have seen in others, I would have transitioned fifteen years ago.

I told all this to bereavement counsellor, about how much I carry, about how safe I end up playing, limiting my exposure, limiting my risk, limiting my expense, yes, but also limiting my possibilities.

There is sunshine out there, she reminds me, and we all need it.  How can you be in the right place at the right time, if you are nowhere at all?

My brother contacted me for the first time since we were in the room where my mother’s body was still warm to have me edit his resume.  There was a job he wanted, but he didn’t have the qualifications, so I had to work hard, struggle to get him to see it wasn’t for him, no matter how much he desired it.  “You can’t be all things to all people,” I told him.

“You can’t be all things to all people.”  As so often, when I give advice I need to listen closely, because it is a message I also need to hear.  TBB thinks it is amusing that she gives me advice she values because I gave it to her and she found it useful, but as C.S. Lewis said, what is a friend but someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget the words?

I left that appointment a little more empowered.  I stopped at TJ Maxx and for the first time in a year I found something to use my gift card on, a pretty taupe cardigan with tiny sequins, holiday bling marked down from $30 to $10.   It is a hopeful purchase, one that I have no place to wear now, but maybe, someday, there will be a perfect occasion to wear something so beautiful.

And I stretched to the store that had the clearance J. Jill dresses.  I had bought one shirt at $9 down from $15, and I wanted one more, but when I got there, the big warehouse sale was on and they were marked down from $15 and $20 to $4 and $6.  I bought an armful.

I took the risk on that sunshine day and found a reward, strong enough I even went to buy the five pound bags of russet potatoes for a buck.

It’s not special to show my nature, just natural.  Waiting for considered occasions doesn’t allow life to happen.

It is possible, I guess, for struggle not to be just struggle, but for struggle to be joy.  The joy of trying, the joy of learning, the joy of succeeding, the joy of getting one more “No” that gets you one step closer to yes.

As my friends on What Not To Wear remind me, showing your beauty in the world shouldn’t just be a sometimes thing.  Shining is always good, good for you and good for the world.  After all, shouldn’t you let people have a chance to love you?

I heard an affirmation in my head:

It’s not dressing like you want that is special. That’s just clothes.

No, Cali, it’s you that is special. Dressing with your heart just lets other people see that.

I want them to see that. I want them to see you and how beautiful you are, because In have seen you and I know you are wonderful.

It’s really easy just to slip into your old armour, the jeans and polo and fleece and walk in the world. You can grind out your chores that way, sure. And it was really useful when you just had to grind out taking care of your parents.

But, honey, it’s not a big special occasion when you just put on a dress and some tights and a little makeup and walk in the world. That’s not just something to be saved for special occasions, whatever they may be. No, it’s just you walking in the world with pride and grace, like any other woman who takes a bit of care with her appearance.

It’s not your clothes that are special. It’s you that is special.

Just go put on something nice and get out there to do whatever.

Show yourself, just because you are you and it is today.

That’s enough, gorgeous. Nail varnish isn’t just for galas, it’s for everyday. It’s for every you.

Put on your everyday gold or silver and walk in the world with your heels tapping on the floor.

You are special. That’s enough, enough reason to show your beautiful choices.

And people, some people, enough people, will see your beauty.

Like I do.

It’s today. Let your beauty shine. Trust in your beauty. Beauty is a good choice, anytime.

Or at least it is for you, beautiful.

Everyday, pretty.  Everyday, Cali.

The gifts of your heart are gifts of beauty, and your mother in the sky asks that you show them.

Beautiful.

Struggle is hard  Life is struggle.

But struggle is not just the path to pain, it is also the path to joy.

You can’t be everything to everyone, no.

But you can be in the right place at the right time, if you put yourself out there.

If I can take the pain.

The Journey

Making a pilgrimage is really important because it represents the journey of your life. The meaning is to leave everybody behind and set out on your own, to face difficulties in order to get closer to God. You become purified because you experience this journey alone.  The place that you don’t know is the place where you can find yourself.

Brother Daniele, Novalesa Abbey, BBC Italy Unpacked, Episode 3, 2013

How can you find out who you are and change to be more in harmony with God when you are always surrounded by people who think they know who you are?

Then again, I see What Not To Wear as a pilgrimage, where people go to see themselves through new eyes and transform themselves so their external appearance is more harmonious with their inner truth.

Despair, with support.

“I completely understand,” TBB said to me last night.  “You are right.  Your ego is shattered, and with it your confidence that you can get what you need.   I’m not even going to try and talk you put of your despair.  What desire do you have left?  What hope can you have?”

TBB spent the weekend being grown up.   She went out of her way for a friend, but the friend just couldn’t reciprocate.  Rather than make a big deal out of it, TBB just said “What good change can come out of me being pissed off?” and when the answer was none, she let it go.   When she went to the bar, her friend went all pussy to stroke a guy, but the guy would rather talk to TBB, and maybe she will see him again.  And when a girlfriend across the country needed affirmation, TBB admitted that she found her attractive.   But, as so often, queer love was beyond the ken so TBB let it go.   “Don’t tell her you want her to be lesbian,” I suggested, “tell her to embrace her inner bisexuality, and with you, she has all the hot monkey bisexual love she ever needs.”  TBB laughed, but the truth is that any relationship she or I have will be queer, no matter who our partner is, because we bring plenty of queerness to bed all by ourselves.

It’s usually hard for other people to stand next to us when we challenge their own identity.  If you have always believed you are straight, how do you handle attraction out of that model?   If you have always believed in boundaries, how do you handle seeing beyond that model?  If you have always held on to comforting ideas, how do you handle seeing that they are not always right?

TBB had a good outcome in finding out how her friend saw her. “Yes, a woman, but a woman who has also been a man.”

“Next time you are with her, suggest that the goal is to get you laid, ” I suggested.   “That way, you can see the place and your relationships through her eyes.  Who is interested in you?  What techniques should you try?  What should you do to be more attractive?”   These are all things girlfriends have helped each other with in younger days, days we missed.

That didn’t stop TBB from trying to see if she could get me “laid.”   This week is NGLTF Creating Change in Atlanta, and as a gathering of smart activists, TBB imagined that it would be a target rich zone for me.    Maybe, in the old days, but I have aged out in many ways, and besides, my ego has been stripped away by years of denial and self-sacrifice.    When I heard about the conference on Thursday, I briefly considered if it was possible for me, but knew the logistics would be a killer.  That didn’t stop TBB from having me look at transportation options, but $500 and 30 hours on a train there and back for a day in Atlanta just seems really not worth the effort at this point, though I understand and appreciate TBB’s intention to get me together with people who might, just possibly might, get the joke.

Sarah and I also chatted, and we found a possible roadtrip, much shorter and more manageable, for after she comes back north.   Sarah loves nature, finding peace with trees, even when they burn in the stove, wonders if that would nourish me.  And Ms. Rachelle wrote to remind me that all families are dysfunctional, people do the best that they can, and things may work out in the end.

When I was a kid, I went to a counsellor who said that I kinda, sorta seemed like I was depressed.  The problem is that the response to stigma of expression in the world seems a lot like depression.  You constrain and limit yourself, you don’t let loose and let go, you do box yourself in.  And now, with the limited financial resources and such, I search hard for good things to do, avoid sweeping my parents lives into garbage bags and spend the rest of the time in stasis.

I know that good things are possible.  I just also know that the amount of resource digging through bad and mediocre things  to find the good seems to be an overwhelming task.

And TBB understands.  As does Sarah and Ms. Rachelle.

Don’t Ask

Warning.

The following is a meditation on power that takes loosely connected declarative statements and weaves them into a spiral into my own enlightened powerlessness.

There is a reason most paths that diminish the ego are fortified with evangelism to take the place of personal motivations.   Missed that part.

=========================================================

I believe that I have the right to do what I want.

I don’t believe that I have the right to demand change from other people, don’t have the right to try and control their actions.  I learned to let it go.

When I was young, manipulation of others was often my goal.  It was definitely my defence.   “Let me talk you into it!”

Not deceitful manipulation, mind you.  I would be happy to tell you my interest.

And to the end, I used those tools on my parents to help them do what they wanted to do.  Sing “Hello Dolly” while my mother kind of just wanted to stay on the bed?  Sure.  We both knew she should start moving, and a laugh with some energy helped that happen.

Christine helped me so much in letting go of my habitual manipulation.  I can’t make you love me.   I would try and she would call me on it, and I ended up letting it go, though that process took decades. Giving up my defences also meant giving up many of my pretenses, coming to grips with my own nature being more exposed.

Nowadays, I will often tell bereavement counsellor of a way in which I don’t get the response from others that I need, and she will say s0mething to the effect of “That must be difficult.”

“Yes,” I will agree, “but it is what it is.  I can’t control other people.”

How much is one allowed to manipulate others to get what you want?   How much do you get to pester, cajole, arm-twist, flatter, threaten, feint, and do whatever else to get them to do what you want?

Power is the ability to get other people to do what you want.  There are a number of paths to power.   You can coerce others with threats and denial, you can use commerce to trade with others, you can convince others, evangelize, to get them to do what you want.   And once you have others doing what you want, you can use the power of coalition, of the group, to do more of the same.

To be powerless is to be abject.  It’s not a good place, depending only on the charity of others.  Trans, though, is often seen as abjection, because to be out and trans is often to have to surrender your old power and turn it in for new power.

For me, I always had the sense of growing up powerless inside my family.  My only power was gained by servicing the desires of others.  They had the needs, I had the requirement.  My first post on this blog, about Thanksgiving 2005, was about being valued as a human doing rather than as a human being.

The question I instinctively ask is “What is reasonable to ask of others?”   But even that question reveals the limits of my thinking.  Is being “reasonable” the only test of what to ask of others?   I suspect that it is not.

In 1992, I drove back from my first Southern Comfort, where I first met TBB, and on the radio was a song Mary Chapin Carpenter.  “It’s too much to expect, but it’s not too much to ask.”  Yes, I understood that sentiment.  I still do.   (And her version of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses” still breaks my heart.)

“I need,” “I want,” “I deserve,” are not phrases that I have learned to use or to trust.    Getting past the ego, getting beyond desire are important parts of getting clear, but getting beyond them also limits achievement in this life.

“If you don’t ask, you won’t get,” the old saw goes.

But a life of denial, self-sacrifice and service does not leave one in a place to confidently go for one’s dreams.  In fact, it can easily leave one bereft of dreams and the energy to boldly go for it, whatever the hell “it” is.

Can’t I just, just find someone else to take care of?

Too hard being me.

 

“I’ve traded my safety for freedom of expression.”

Chris Crocker, after a haircut for an HBO programme  “Me @ The Zoo“, talks about walking in the world looking like a gay man rather than a trans woman.

“I’ve traded my safety for freedom of expression.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcuMTvGwNW4

Being around family and living in Tennessee seems to have a price.

“I am a work in progress.”   “Let us all be able to say when we are on our deathbeds that we did the antithesis of death.  We lived.  And we prospered.”

Whisperer

I once told Ms. R. that I wanted an editor.

“Why?” she asked.  “You write very well.”

“I know,” I said, “but what I don’t have is the perspective on how to package my work up so it resonates with an audience.”   The challenge of making product, the challenge of becoming product.

Walking in the world, I limit the risks that I take.  I play it safe and small.  I know that.

For example, I don’t trust sweetening my voice, afraid it would sound fake and not pretty.  I don’t smile enough, I don’t speak enough and I certainly don’t flirt enough.

My little fantasy is simple.  I imagine wearing a wireless IFB earwig and getting performance tips from a director, one who has a better. less biased and fearful view of what is happening in the moment.   I dream about coaching, someone who can help me go farther towards trusting my feminine side, towards putting my weight on my pins and learning to dance, someone who will help me pull back when needed and push forward when possible.

I watch other transwomen, watch how they have not learned to trust their womanly expression, so they stay defended.   They don’t have the experience of being a teen girl, in the company of friends, learning how to work what they have, learning to trust the power of their beauty.

Every time I don’t trust my own femininity then stigma wins.  I know that.  But stigma wins the conventional way, because other people do feel empowered to call me out, to challenge, humiliate and destroy me in the moment.

When asked about the experience of being a transwoman, I used to tell an old golf joke.

Arnold Palmer gets an offer to play a single round of golf for a million dollars.  His handicap, though, is three gotchas.   He takes the deal, and on the first tee, just as he is about to swing, his opponent shoves his hand between Arnie’s legs, squeezes his scrotum and screams “GOTCHA!” in his ear.  Arnie muffs the shot.  On the second green, just as Arnie is about to putt, it happens again, the hand, the hard squeeze, the “GOTCHA!”   Arnie gets into the clubhouse, and he has lost by six strokes.  His friend asks how he could have lost.  Arnie answers “Did you ever play 16 holes of golf while waiting for the third “GOTCHA!”?”

I need to move beyond the experience of waiting for the third gotcha.  If that’s all I am doing, well, what the hell fun am I going to have anyway?

Where is that voice in my ear that says smile, slow down, look them in the eye, purr, wink, wiggle?   I know the voice that makes my heart thump and hears every “Sir” people call me, the voice that keeps me alert for the third gotcha, but the voice that tells me the feminine looks more authentic on me than my defence does?  That’s the voice I fantasize about hearing in my ear.

How do I understand how far I can go, how loose I can get?

TBB and I laughed again about the ultimate trans operation.  The ultimate trans operation is the one where you finally pull the stick out of your own ass.  “Oooh, that sounds painful,” quipped one gay bartender when I said it.  “Yes,” I agreed, “very painful indeed.  But just think how much more painful it is to leave that stick in there.”

The best time I had yesterday was hitting the supermarket during rush hour.  As just one of the crowd, I was less self-conscious, knowing that others were much more interested in getting what they need and getting home than in judging me.  Good, for someone with acute self-awareness, but more a technique of avoiding scrutiny than of trusting that even under examination I will be found beautiful.

I dream of someone who whispers in my ear to remind me that the looser and more present I am, the more beautiful I am.

But like so many things, I am left to negotiate others fears and hold open space for transformation alone.

And that’s always a challenge.

Visible and Invisible

Walking in the world as a transwoman, it is easy to feel very visible.   I have big bones, big hands, feet, shoulders, my voice is not sweet, I have an adam’s apple, my skin is far from flawless, and I know that the fact I went through puberty as a male is written on my body.

Walking in the world as a transwoman, it is easy to feel very invisible.  I know that few people have any experience of women with a trans history, and that makes it very hard for them to read the symbols of my expression.  My story isn’t a straight line, isn’t really straight at all, and those twists are not in their understanding.  People tend to surface me, assuming I am “really” one thing or another, some model they understand.   My individual story gets surfaced by other people’s expectations.

I felt invisible last night at a meeting of Transgender Advocates, much as I did at a Trans Meet and Greet.  There, a group of transpeople and their advocates wanted to talk about getting local transpeople to fill out surveys to determine needs, to talk about potential social impact of legislation, to talk about process and liberalism, and not to engage the individual stories of those in the room.

The introduction circle asked us to state a name, a preferred pronoun and one word about how we were feeling.   Not why we were there, or one thing we think was important for the group, but one word about feelings.

I said that I was feeling “Old.”  I know that I look like the mother of many people in the room, and I know from experience that age can easily make someone invisible to young people.   It’s often hard to grasp a longer life lived in a historical terrain for someone who needs to be very focused on the choices they are making now.     It is easy and reasonable to be self-centered when you are young, especially when you are a young transperson, both very visible and very invisible in the world.

The leaders of the group very much wanted media training.   Locally, there was an award winning series on trans in the paper, and many participated.  They know, though, that exposing their stories is a challenge, because it doesn’t just expose what they want to show, it also shows the blank bits and twists they have used to construct a life that is both very visible and very invisible.

Years back I used my television interviewing skills to grill another group of trans advocates, and when I was done, they had a sense of revelation, seeing connections they hadn’t thought about before.

In the end, we know our story by telling our story, we learn to stay on message by deeply understanding our message, we learn to make a strong showing by showing ourselves in the mirrors.

That’s clearly what I have been doing here, trying for revelation of a complex, nuanced and thoughtful life.

But that’s not the way most of the world works.  “How could anyone ever dream of having a relationship with someone like you when they never met someone like you?” a friend told me years ago.

My experience with trans advocacy is simple.  What is going to get done is what individuals step up to do.  We have no staff, no budget, can’t assign the work to committees.   Instead, we need to support each other in stepping up and doing the work.

To me, the first work is making trans stories visible.  The big change in lesbian and gay rights came when more people had relationships with out lesbian and gay people, in real life or in the media, when people understood the challenges of walking in the world as gay or lesbian.

Last night there was some chat about a Trans-Night-Out, preferably, at least to leadership, at a bar.

My suggestion was that we choose public events and make them trans-night-out, with a advocates offering big day-glo stickers that said “I’m willing to talk about Trans.”  Give them to everyone who will take them, let the openness be visible event by event.  Open the a little space in the world to trans expression, making even normative people aware of the need to be open to stories they may find rather queer.

A leader of the group pooh-poohed the idea, saying that buttons already exist, showing their own.  Yes, but it’s not really visible from a distance, not an option for straights, doesn’t open up the straights.  I have worn the buttons, Holly’s trans symbol as interpreted by Nancy Nangeroni, a No TransPhobia Button, Rikki’s “Take A Transsexual to Lunch” and more.  She is right, that many transpeople don’t choose to be visible in the world, don’t want to be out, because they fear that being out offers people a reason to deny gender; if they are out, they must really be whatever their birth sex says they are.

But opening up the space for transpeople to feel safe being visible, to feel really seen rather than just surfaced, well, that seems important.

And yes, that seems hard, because  to tell our stories we have to understand our stories, and that means understanding ourselves beyond rationalization and defence.

I know how many words I have gone through to make my own inner self visible in this blog, in other places.

But walking in the world as a transperson it is easy to feel visible, exposed as a character in the wrong stories.  It is easy to feel invisible, beyond the comprehension and expectation of others.

Even at a meeting of self-proclaimed trans advocates.

Garbage Bags

Both my parents are dead for a month now.  At that means they still exist (at least in this world) in only two ways: in the memory of people who loved them, and in the artifacts of the life they left behind.

And now, it’s time for me to process all those artifacts.  My mother had real trouble engaging loss after she was diagnosed and my father broke his back, and that means she did almost nothing to clear up the remains of her own life.  She, as usual, left that to me.

So one day, very soon, I just have to start bagging up crap and getting rid of it.  It’s lovely to think it will go to someone who values it, or someone who can use it, but the truth is that much of it just has to go.

I have to let go of the mass I have left of my parents, have to boil it down so only their essence remains, the potent and the valuable.  I have to cherish the jewels and toss out the dross, and the job of sorting that all out seems, to say the least, daunting.   Crushing might be a better word.

There is a great deal to do in putting together a life for me again.  But clearing the remains of my parents life has to happen.  There is no space for me unless I reclaim the space they no longer need in this world.

So much of the remains of my parents lives have to go into garbage bags, just thrown away.  It is always the result of death, this purge and disposal.

But it still offers me a struggle.

Why Am I Charming?

I suspect, she said, that the reason I am charming — assuming, of course that I have an charm whatsoever — is not because I write earnest and dense blog entries that soberly illuminate the challenges I face in the world.

My blogvoice isn’t really filled with charm, even if it is tinged with insight and illumination.

No, in the end, charm doesn’t come from our virtue, it comes from our vitality, as Sebastian Faulks reminds me.

Our magic isn’t in our polish, it is in our spark.

Am I still sparking?

So TBB was out to dinner at a southern Chophouse last night.  She tried to get people chatting as she had a few cocktails and dinner at the bar, but Monday night wasn’t primetime.  As she watched from the corner of the bar, a beautiful girl in her twenties came in, with her boyfriend.  TBB watched as men came up to her, drawn by her creamy young texture, so inviting to touch.   She was bell of the bar last night, beautiful and gracious, even to TBB when they were both in the ladies.

The last time TBB was there, she was with her big boss, two grown-up women, who had a lovely evening.  They joked with a gay couple and flirted with the bartender, who was working on a new cucumber cocktail for a citywide contest coming later.

Last night, as she left, that same bartender took a moment to take her hand and thank her for coming as she left.   That touch meant something to TBB, earning him a nice tip because his feeling felt sincere and affirming to her.

It’s one thing to be young and ripe, a girl getting swaths of attention, but it’s another thing to be remembered, noticed and valued because you brought the energy.   Last night, Anthony Bourdain ended his Layover in Atlanta with a trip to the Clermont Lounge, where the strippers are between the ages of 29 and 66.  “Straight women don’t mind coming here,” said Blondie, and why would they?  It isn’t a place that markets youthful flesh, it’s a place that celebrates womanly sexuality, where character counts more than perfection.

That’s what we need to count on, TBB told me last night, that our character comes through and charms others, because we sure as hell can’t count on our lush, fresh flawless perfection.

And, she reminded me, she learned that lesson from her friend Callan, who was always at the other end of the phone telling her to be more TBB, reminding her that she was beautiful.

Authenticity is the key, TBB told me again.

I phrase it a slightly different way.

“Do you think transpeople shape their own expression mostly to conceal the facts of their birth sex,” I used to ask people, “or do they dress to reveal the truth they know in their heart?  Are they trying to fool others, or are they trying mostly to tell the truth about themselves?”

If your trans expression is mostly centred around concealing your biology and your history, about trying to pass as going through puberty as female, life will be frustrating and painful, because every revelation will feel like a failure.  And a cycle of failure makes anyone crazy.

If your trans expression is mostly centred around revealing who you know yourself to be, centred around being as authentic, honest, open and beautiful as you know how to be, life will be more rewarding, because every revelation will feel like a success.

A local college started a speech therapy programme designed to help transwomen develop their voice.  I talked about this at the initial meeting, and the director was resistant.  He really wanted to help these transsexual women accomplish their fondest dream, passing as being born female.

About six months later he was back in touch with me.  Working with these women, he had realized the wisdom of my position.  Trying to help them pass just set them up for a failure cycle.  It was teaching them to create a beautiful expression of themselves, a voice that centred on being womanly and authentic rather than a voice that would make them sound female born that gave them power in the world.  “You see voice as a metaphor,” he had told me, different from voice as a technique, but what else can it be?

“You are most charming when you are Callan,” TBB told me last night.  “I can hear it when the boy stuff creeps in, when you come from that place of pretense and protection.”

That matches what bereavement counsellor said, who saw me as more calm, more centred and more present when I came with my expression of choice.

For me, though, finding the touchstone moments where I had an audience that affirmed my expression often escapes me.  We upstaters aren’t known for our support of performance, aren’t known for supporting unique, beautiful and energetic expression wherever it lies.   And I certainly don’t come from a family that knows how to be enthusiastic about beauty, authenticity and exuberance.

In the end, though, my charm is not in my virtue, it is in my vitality.  That is always true.  Vitality is what sparks other people, shared life-force celebrating the gift of humanity.

And I just have to keep trying to reveal my own.

Charming.

Unicorn

Sweet, sweet TBB called me last night to remind me of the fundamentals.

“If you are open, easy, honest and authentic, people will respond positively to you.  You will never be perfect, and striving to cover up all of your nature is just a recipe for sadness.  You need to just trust that you are good enough and appealing enough just as you are, and that’s what will give you strength in the world.”

All excellent points, indeed.  And they are the points I have made to her over the past eight years as she has moved from trying to be a success in the home of transsexual separatism, Trinidad Colorado, through trying to play small in various jobs, trying to hide her nature rather than be exposed, and having that blow up in her face, to the point she is now, an honest and beautiful woman of transsexual experience.   Now she isn’t trying to hide, and that makes people around her much more comfortable, now she has support for who she is because she is strong in being a member of a community at work.

That progress has been great to watch, and that’s why I often just ask her to tell me stories about her life, stories about how she has been affirmed from Taiwan to Charleston.  It’s great and empowering to me to hear about how she gets more and more clear, more close to self.

I understand the concept.  Just stand in front of the mirror and say the serenity prayer, changing what you can, having serene acceptance of the way you are, of what you cannot change, and being centred in the wisdom of knowing and trusting the difference.  If you think you can or of you think you can’t, you are right.

TBB likes the image from The Matrix, where the lead character has to believe that they can leap between buildings before they are able to do that.  They fall, they get back up and they try again, eventually mastering their own power.

I like Joseph Campbell

A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:

“As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.

Jump.

It is not as wide as you think.”

Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Edited by Diane K. Osbon, Harper-Collins 1991

I agree with TBB.  Heck, here is me agreeing in 13 years ago.

It’s just that I know the challenges, too.  Not all of the stories that TBB shares are so positive.  Recently, in NYC, a Indian waiter decided TBB wasn’t worthy, and disrespected her in front of the party she was hosting for her children and their friends.  Nasty.  And at Christmas she hosted a gathering for family, which she succeeded at, but the demand to be dad to the kids, son to her mother and brother to her sibling’s family had a big cost.

TBB is much more in the groove when she is around a group of people who know her as a bold, tender transwoman and treat her like that.  At the end of a day being seen and valued, she can go into the world in a comfort zone, so centred that other people respond in the only way that they can.

Finding that kind of community, well, it’s not easy.  And it’s so easy to get pulled back by fear, by your fear or the fear of people around you.

And one other big thing.  TBB didn’t feel the power of yesterday’s koan, “Always be yourself.  Unless you can be a unicorn.  Then always be a unicorn.”

When I met TBB, she was huge and out there, creating something so powerful and amazing that it lives today, so awesome that it has empowered people of transgender experience for over twenty years now.  She was big and breathtaking.

TBB is not back to that place yet.  She is still trying to be one of the gang.

One thing that we come back to is that we need people to be more themselves, no matter how big that makes them.  We need Kate to be more Kate, we need Holly to be more Holly, need TBB to be TBB, need Cali to be Cali.

In other words, we need people to be the unicorn that we see inside of them.

It’s easy to see the unicorn inside of others and encourage them to bring that out in the world, easy to encourage them to be special, unique and magical.

It’s not nearly as easy to go and always be the unicorn that you glimpse inside yourself, because you know people are just going to try and cut off your damn horn.  You know that because they have done it before, claiming it’s too big, too overwhelming, too sharp, too disruptive in the world.

I know how challenging I am in the world.  I have been told since I was a young child, reminded every day that I was “stupid” for not assimilating and playing small.

I’m really happy that TBB can assimilate so well.  But I miss her being as big and bold and potent as I have seen her be in the world.  I crave the kind of performance from her that fills a room with energy, big brilliant energy, the kind I have seen from her when she lets herself just fly.

I suspect that kind of assimilation isn’t something I get to do.

The deal I cut with TBB last night is simple: I have to keep trying to go out in the world and find affirmation.  It really wasn’t hard to agree, as the only other choice I see is death.  Be reborn or stay dead.

For me, the biggest challenge is not understanding the requirement to leap, or even coming up with strategies.

The biggest challenge is trusting that these strategies will work for me, a goddamn huge unicorn.

“The best lesson I ever got in auditioning,” said Brett Butler, the comic who is very much a “too person,” “is to go in there like you have been killing for twenty minutes.”   I knew that years ago, but unless you own that feeling of success and affirmation, really own it, it is awfully tough to invoke it.

I have quite a memory and see connections quickly.  It’s hard for me to slough off moments by letting them go, leading to both low levels of latent inhibition and a very good imagination for what might go wrong in any moment.   Both of these are strengths, no doubt, but they are also my weaknesses, leaving it hard for me to go into the world with a beginner’s view, as the Buddhists would say.

Still, TBB is right.  “If you are open, easy, honest and authentic, people will respond positively to you.  You will never be perfect, and striving to cover up all of your nature is just a recipe for sadness.  You need to just trust that you are good enough and appealing enough just as you are, and that’s what will give you strength in the world.”

It’s just trusting that this advice can work even for unicorns that often escapes me.  I understand the concept, I just don’t have much experience with good results.

But there is only one way to learn to leap.  Leap, pick yourself up and do it again.

I just fear I am too old and decrepit for that strategy to pay off for me.

But fear doesn’t make magic, only love and trust in connection does.

One more time, eh?

Vulnerable

“I have always depended on the kindness of others,” says Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.

Me?  I have never depended on the kindness of others.  Others kept telling me that I was too big, too smart, too intense, too overwhelming, too queer, and that I should deal with my own damn problems while helping them.

I can tell you lots of stories about when I needed someone to be there for me and they weren’t.  My sister’s handling of the estate is just the most recent failure.

But I’m old, my body is aging — my damn feet give continuous pain, for example — and I know that I am a transwoman.   As an elder, as a woman, as a person, I just can’t stay as defended as I used to be, just can’t do everything, just need some help.

I’m vulnerable.

After a decade of being the one who had to deny self to deal with vulnerable parents, well, that’s a big tumble.  Big.

And I don’t find it easy, not at all.

I remember a crossdresser who shared this poem

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Putting my dreams in the world every time I walk through the grocery store, well, that feels tender.  It only takes one woman who believes she knows what I “really” am to make a stink about me being in the women’s room, or about me being visible by children to create havoc.  And then, my only defence is other women who stand up and say “No.  She belongs here in this space.”

“It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in,”  wrote Jerry Herman in I Am What I Am.   I spoke to a few board members of the local Pride centre on Tuesday, and they didn’t have much idea about what it’s like to walk in the world as an transwoman.

I understand the theory.  My safety depends not on my walls, but on my connections, not on my fears, but on my love.

I need to depend on the kindness of others, need to be willing to trust my own vulnerability somewhere other than in the text of this blog.  Not easy.

There is no problem a transwoman has that any other woman doesn’t have.  The challenge is the order of magnitude, both in lack of training and in having others decide what she “really” is and deny her standing to actually be vulnerable and have problems.  Ms. Rachelle has said that she felt her life was easier when she didn’t expose her problems to others, because they easily said, “Well, if it’s a problem to walk in the world as a woman, why do it?”

I was at the mall yesterday just after it opened.  I went into one plus size store, and the woman behind the counter wanted to talk.  Someone hadn’t properly closed down the computer the night before, and now it was going to take another forty-five minutes to get the registers up and running.  I was a bit disquieted, but she was just someone alone in a store who wanted to share her story with another woman.  Me.

Can I be out there, not in armour, but depending on the kindness of others?

Can I trust in my own vulnerability?

Terrifying thought.

But we shall see, eh?

Ma’am

Third time out yesterday after about four years.

First was New Years Eve at the gay bar where the owner accidentally used one of my email addresses to register a Facebook account.  Second was a trans meet-n-greet at the Pride Center.  Last night’s third was a business networking event sponsored by the Pride Center.

Lots of angst and agita before going in, but had a lovely chat with the director, saw an old friend, and learned again that my chat could be entertaining and educational.  Found a voice that worked, at least a bit.  That’s good.

Stopped to look at the MAC counter on the way back, and while no one was there, another clerk gave me a welcome and a big smile.  Great story 12 years ago at that MAC counter.

Went to Target to return a skirt.  Got my cash from the big, young black man at the service desk and walked away.

Then I heard him call “Ma’am.”  He had to do it twice,  because I just didn’t realize he was calling for me.  It turns out that procedures say that he had to give me back the receipt, even though I had returned the only item on it.

Transwomen tend to notice when the get Ma’amed, until they are out for a while, and then they notice when they don’t, which happens when judgment takes place.   Always aware of the situation, we are, unless we are walking in big armour, which many of us have learned to do.

I may have enough years in to look confident and pulled together, not needing affirmation and support.  No woman my age would expect it.  But I am both my age and newly born, almost born every day, and that is tough.

But one day at a time, and maybe I will learn to take being called Ma’am as just part of people seeing who I am.

Or maybe not.

“When I feel discomfort, that probably means God wants me to pay attention.”

http://religionandpolitics.org/2013/01/03/crossing-boundaries-a-transgender-priest-becomes-a-university-chaplain/

Rev. Christina Beardsley, a trans woman and priest in the Church of England, spoke about the gifts trans clergy bring. There are 7 trans clergy in the U.K. and they are all trans women. “We’ve lived in male roles,” and we’ve lived in female roles, she noted, “which gives us an awful lot of compassion for both men and women.” She continued, “We know about being on the edge of community, sometimes, and about the mystery of boundaries, and the danger, but sometimes the necessity, of boundary crossings.”

Party Girl

I have spent some time looking at today’s representations of transgender people on the internet.

Clearly, the largest quantity of images are of what we used to call non-op transsexuals, specifically those who have chosen to make their living working as “she-males” in the porn business.  Years ago I noted that most of these women look much happier when a penis comes their way rather than when they have to use their own penis.   That made sense to me, as while I understand that while a living can be made playing a fantastic creature, the urgency to have your body femaled wouldn’t seem to often come with much joy about having your own penis.

The porn business mostly attracts dollars from those identified as men, and men value penises.  As for me, penises don’t do much at all for me, and can easily be a turn off, even when I am looking at transwomen who have taken the porn money to help shape their bodies for their own expression.

But the crowd who really get me squicked are the self-defined aspiring sissys.

Continue reading Party Girl

Jerick Hoffer is one smart (and beautiful) queen.

Probably the best narrative I have even seen on the call to drag, the power of drag.  Brilliant.  Amazing.

Drag Becomes Him” – Jerick Hoffer into Jinkx Monsoon

Jinkx Monsoon: “Overnight” (Drag Becomes Him #2)

And since I worked on the first non-Broadway production of Company at MIT, and eventually lost my virginity (to a nice, soft butch) to the Company OBC album, I loved this performance:

Jinkx Monsoon Sings Sondheim

A Deliberate Failure In Personal Imagination

When she tells me what her future should look like, I often ask TBB if she could have predicted where she would be today at any time in the past.

The answer is no.  Her life is a series of twists and turns and she just really can’t see far enough up the road to really predict the future.

It turns out that unpredictability seems to make people uncomfortable, so they tend to assume that things won’t change much from here on in their lives.

John Tierney has an fascinating article in the New York Times about this “End-Of-History” effect.

“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”

People don’t like the unknown, and that’s what’s coming, for each and every one of us.  And change eaters, like out transpeople, tend to remind people that the walls they think are rock solid are really paper thin.  If the wall between men and women doesn’t really exist, what about the wall between sickness and health, or between love and loss?   How can we embrace transience without getting crazy?

The answer, of course, is to hold onto something more eternal than the ephemeral desires of today.

But that’s not easy.

God Talking?

Dear Reverend Trumbore,

I just read your blog post “When God Talks Back” and was engaged.

As a transwoman who has attended your services in the past (we have chatted about your sermons before) the question of what messages to listen to and which to ignore has always been at the forefront for me.  After all, the call to cross gender lines is one that even now can’t easily be obeyed, let alone back when I was growing up.  We police gender by social pressure, and any crossing is sure to bring massive resistance.
Joseph Campbell said that James Joyce was brilliant because he saw the world as symbol.  Engaging the symbols and signs we see in the world engages the voice of the divine inside of us, because, after all,  we are the ones who assigning meaning to symbols.  Seeing symbols unlocks our own inner voice, allows us to hear what we are taught to drown in noise.

For me, the key test for callings is simple: Does what I am being called to do reinforce separation in the world, or does it celebrate connection?   The message to harm, to demonize, to destroy is always a message of separation, one of cleansing the world from those we see as evil.   It is, however a comforting message, because it externalizes the challenge, moves it out of ourselves and into others.  If the scary is out there, we can build an enclave, cast out others, create separation and feel safe.

The message to connect, though, to reach out in love and solidarity, is much harder.   This act forces us to face our own fears and demons, to go inside engage our own relationship to the world, to others, to the creator.  It demands we ignore our own comfort to reach out and do the right thing, do the work of connection, even with those we find distasteful or frightening.

Do we follow the call to fear and separation, or to love and connection?  It’s what A Course In Miracles is all about, and in my experience, a good way to define churches.  Some are lead by Preachy Preachers, who explain how evil is all out there and we must stop it, and some lead by Teachy Preachers, who explain how the challenge is inside of us, learning to act more out of a righteous impulse, moving beyond fear to love.

I have been taking care of my parents full time for almost ten years now, which has lead me to become isolated, but they both died in the past two months.  And now I have to create a new identity beyond caregiver, getting back to speaking for myself and not for them, as my father reminded me often on his death bed.

Than requires me to look at symbols, interpret signs and create life out of calling, even a very queer calling.

It is a challenge, indeed.

Thanks for listening.

Callan
https://callan.wordpress.com

Claiming Myself

I am a huge proponent of positive identity.  I think it’s much more important that you know who and what you are than knowing who and what you are not.

That’s not a usual approach in this culture.  In my experience, when asked about their trans identity, most people start by telling you who they aren’t.  Last night, for example, one gal said she was against the binary, a code that she doesn’t really identify as a man or a woman.  Great, but who or what does she identify as?

So many people know that they aren’t transgender, aren’t a drag queen, aren’t a crossdresser, aren’t a man, aren’t a queer, whatever, but do they know who they are?  Or is their identity just a shadow, a reaction to some other identity that they need to reject?

None of this is really surprising.  Growing up trans is growing up individual in a world that wants to paste a label on you, a challenge to reject the categories and labels foisted on you.  We know people make assumptions, throw us into groups that are wrong and confining, and that is something we very much want to reject.   We are not just one of those kinds of people, we are ourselves.

The reason this is an issue for me is because my identity as my parent’s caregiver is gone now.  No longer am I some kind of functionary merely toiling in the propose of giving my father and my mother one more good day.  No longer does my old uniform of jeans and a polo shirt, sometimes topped with a quarter-zip fleece, still fit.

I am stripped.  And I have to step in the world in a new way.

I have to speak for myself, as my father told me on his deathbed.

And when I start to reassemble that new incarnation, I find myself slipping back into all of those negative identity issues.

I know what I would love to be seen as, but I am too old, too big, my body too maled, and my experience too bruised to ever slide easily and seamlessly into the role of woman.   That still breaks my heart, even after 35 years of struggle.

Yet I do know that many other women of transgender experience are living powerful, potent and harmonious lives as women.  And I also know that when I look in the mirror, me in my clothes of choice makes much more sense, offers much more opening for happiness than my drab invisibility. There is a glimmer of possibility of me connecting with people in a more expressive, more exposed, more vulnerable and more beautiful way.

The eyes are the portal to the soul, and watching eyes tells you more about a person than most other things, and my eyes are the eyes of a femme lesbian.  Someone was putting makeup on me for a television production back in the 1970s,  when she said “Your eyes are so beautiful.  Too bad you aren’t a woman, who can wear makeup.”  I agreed with the sentiment, even if I said nothing. Leslie Feinberg talks about how Minnie Bruce Pratt was always losing sunglasses because she couldn’t imagine talking with them on, and that’s when I started looking at the eyes, instantly being able to tell how femme someone was by the expressiveness in their eyes.

But I am realizing that I still hold a bunch of negative identity issues, of ways that I hate being seen.   Mostly, I guess, these are centred around having other people see me as a man.  I don’t get upset when people acknowledge that I went through puberty as male, that I am male bodied, because that’s true.  But when they use that fact to assign me a gender, that’s painful.   “They deny your own expression of self,” said a nun who understood my point.  “Can you hear over my penis?”  I used to ask, even as I knew it was my old maled bones and other bits that gave them the noise.

I wrote about this 14 years ago now in The Guy-In-A-Dress Line, and the issue is still the same today.  So many transpeople assigned as male at birth or soon thereafter, who went through puberty as males, don’t want to give up manhood or don’t want to claim womanhood, maybe because they see that claiming as impossible.   Since I wrote that piece, the layer of people who feel they can reject gender, especially transpeople assigned as female at birth or soon thereafter, has grown.

I don’t really want to be out of gender.   But I know that the best I can every be is an immigrant to womanhood, not a native born and raised woman. And since womanhood is also defined negatively in many ways — “We are not like those men!” — that makes my position treacherous.   I can’t reject manhood, mostly because of my mission statement: “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

My identity isn’t about satisfying women of my commitment by sacrificing my blood and my voice, my identity is about saying it is the content of our character, not the shape of our skin that defines us as human.

“There are two kinds of people in the world,  those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t,” says Robert Benchley’s Law of Distinction. Last night, with three young transpeople in a meet and greet, I felt I was dismissed with their own version of this law, “There are two kinds of people in the world,  those who reject the binary and those who don’t.”  To be for the binary or to be against the binary is to affirm the reality of the binary; the only way out is to move beyond the binary to individual expression.

As humans, binaries are hard to let go of, which is why I owe such a debt to queer theory, which demanded that I affirm others for their consensual choices and acts without demanding that I first agree or disagree with those choices.  It’s one path I have to embracing continuous common humanity, just trusting the stories of others and knowing that they will show the connection that always exists.

My challenge today is to figure out who Callan, who Cali really is, so I can just go and be her in the world without fearing the assumptions and labels others foist onto me.  After all, the only way to get past those quick assumptions is engagement, and if I shrink from engagement because I shrink from those assumptions, I just end up shrunken and alone.

I can’t let myself be stopped by the binaries that people will slap onto me, even those I dismiss for myself, even those I know to be wrong and find unpleasant to consider.  I just have to trust that as I show myself in fullness, those assumptions will fall, and I will be seen as someone more whole and human, someone worthy of love, respect and support.

In other words, I have to choose love, not fear.

Easier said than done.